Charles Foxe Almshouses, 1593 – 1993

Charles Foxe (d. 1552), founder of the Almshouses in Corve Street which bear his name, was arguably the most powerful man in Ludlow in the second half of the 16th century. The second son of William Foxe of Ludford, who was Member of Parliament for Ludlow on several occasions, Charles was born into a world of influence and intrigue. Trained as a lawyer, he became Secretary to the Council of the Marches in 1558, at a time when that Council, after an uncertain start, was stamping its authority on Wales and the border counties. 'With the skill of a gifted pluralist', he obtained other Council posts for himself, including the Clerkship of the Council.

Foxe enjoyed a life style to match his position. Early in his career, he purchased the buildings and lands of the former Benedictine Priory at Bromfield, where he built himself a fine new house, incorporating the chancel of the parish church as a private chapel. Later he acquired the adjoining park — formerly used for hunting by the lords of Ludlow Castle — thus creating the future Oakly Park estate. He also constructed a grand town house around what was later known as Quality Square, a building fine enough to catch the eye of a visiting poet in 1587 who called it 'the fayre house of Maister Secretarie Foxe'.

As well as his own house, Charles Foxe bought several properties in Ludlow, including two in Corve Street. One of these (plots 117/118 on the 1825 map below) consisted of land which had previously belonged to the Knights Hospitaller of Dinmore. They had built a small chapel there in the late 12th century — and dedicated it to St Leonard. The other was land adjoining to the south (plots 115/116), which had previously belonged to the Carmelite Friary.

Like John Hosyer some 125 years later, Charles Foxe took no action to found the almshouses until late in his life, although the land had been in his possession for many years. In his will, dated 12 October 1590, he stated that he had begun to 'erect four almshouses for four poor and impotent persons'. He endowed the foundation with four houses and other property in Worcester and made careful provision for the spiritual well-being of the residents: divine service was to be read in St Leonard's Chapel at certain times each week, and a sermon was to be preached at Christmas and Lent. He also gave two bells to be hung in the steeple of the chapel.

Charles Foxe died a few weeks after completing his will and was buried at Bromfield on 21 December 1590. His executors — three of his sons and his brother Edward — confirmed the foundation of the almshouses in a scheme dated 2 April 1593. The residents were to be poor people from the parishes of Ludlow and Bromfield and should continue there for life, unless removed for misbehaviour. The curate of Ludford was appointed to read service in the chapel every Wednesday and Friday, and every Sunday and festival day in the year.

This photograph is from the Francis Frith collection, taken in the late 1940's, shows the Charles Foxe Almshouses on the right.

The almshouse building, begun in 1590 and completed before 1593, is of two storeys, each unit having one main room at each level, with a small kitchen to the rear. There are two large chimney stacks at the rear. The walls are of coursed rubble, and crude oak rafters support the ceilings. There was considerable restoration in the 19th century and the rear kitchens have been extended, but the general feel of the late Tudor building remains.

For the next 176 years the administration of the Almshouses remained in the hands of the Foxe family. For much of this period the trust was taken seriously, as in 1689 when Somerset Foxe of Caynham — previously a Colonel in Prince Rupert's Royalist army — left 20s. Yearly to the 'Hospital of St Leonard' and another 20s. To the Preacher of Ludlow for preaching three sermons in the chapel. But in the 18th century, when all local branches of the family had died out, the chapel, in particular, was neglected. This led to a local court ruling in 1757 that the tiling should be taken off the chapel because it was 'a great nuisance and very unsafe to passengers'.

In 1769 the last surviving trustee, James Foxe, who lived 'remote from the premises', asserted that he had continued to pay and maintain 'four poor women' in the almshouses. This is supported by surviving records which show, for example, that in 1763 the Foxe Almshouses were occupied by Widow Griffin, Widow Mire, Widow Hayward and Widow Powell. He acknowledged, however, that the chapel was 'in a decayed and ruinous state'. He agreed, therefore, to convey the lands and buildings of the foundation, including the properties at Worcester, to Ludlow Borough Corporation, subject to the original purposes of the charity.

For the next 68 years the Charles Foxe Charity was in the care of the Corporation. Throughout, they maintained the almshouses and supported the inmates, so in that regard they were true to the trust they had acquired. But their breach of trust with regard to the chapel became notorious, causing the Lord Chief Justice to remark that he had not expected to find 'such gross neglect of duty in a Christian country'. They began by allowing the chapel to be demolished in the 1770s, selling some of the materials and using others to repair Corve Bridge and for other public works. Then they issued a 99-year lease of the chapel site to Edward Acton, one of their members, and allowed him to build premises there for glove making — the present Nos. 38 and 39 Corve Street. These misappropriations were later used against the Corporation by radical reformers and resulted in an action in the Court of Chancery, but it was not until 1870 that the chapel was rebuilt on another site

We use cookies on this website, no personal information is gathered.

Read More Read Less

Cookies & how we use them

A cookie is a small file, which is placed on your computer's hard drive, that helps analyse web traffic or lets you know when you visit a particular site. We use cookies, as most websites do, to help us improve our site and provide you with the best experience we can.

The only cookies we use are those provided Google Analytics to help us track the use of the site - these store no personal information about the users of the site and are completely unobtrusive to your use of the internet and our site.

By continuing we will assume that you have given consent to the use of cookies - you can update your browsers preferences at any time to prevent their use.