Hosyer’s Almshouses under Ludlow Borough Corporation

Following the Chantry Acts of 1545 and 1547, the Palmers Guild of Ludlow was dissolved in 1551. Within a year, however, negotiations between Crown Commissioners and Ludlow Borough Corporation resulted in the estates of the Guild being transferred to the Borough, in return for the Borough assuming responsibilities for the Guild charities. These included Hosyer's Almshouses.

The transfer is specified in Clause VII of the The Charter of King Edward VI to the Town of Ludlow, dated 26 April 1552. This states: The same bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty of our town or borough . . . shall keep and maintain . . . with the issues and profits of the said messuages, and of the other premises . . . belonging to the said guild . . . thirty three poor indigent persons within the said town or borough of Ludlow, giving or paying to every one of them four pence every week annually, and also one chamber for every of them to live in, to be continued for ever. . . .

This is why, in the 19th century, the almshouses were classified, with the Grammar School and the support of assistant clergy, as one of King Edward's VI charities, even though their foundation is nearly a century earlier than the 1552 charter.

The increasing number of the poor was a persistent social problem under the Tudors, in Ludlow and elsewhere. Understandably, Ludlow Borough Corporation made use of their newly acquired almshouse to ease the situation. Regulations drawn up in 1591 restricted admission to the aged and impotent poor who had spent their youth in the town, though in 1593 it was agreed that this should be waived in certain cases. Inmates were forbidden to receive lodgers and the almshouse doors were ordered to be locked at 9 p.m. and opened at 6 a.m. General inspections of the almshouses to remove children and other intruders and to check the qualifications of the inmates were ordered from time to time, e.g. in 1594 and 1694.

By 1580 a chaplain was being employed to say morning prayers in the almshouses. By the 18th century it was customary for one or both of the town beadles to be granted a chamber there. The head beadle came to perform the functions previously exercised by the bellman. He was also responsible for distributing payments to inmates.

The maintenance of the building was a continuing expense for the Corporation, but from 1732 onwards there were persistent complaints that residents were in 'manifest danger of their lives' due to the collapse of the timber-framed partitions and the poor condition of the floors. In the 1750's, therefore, it was decided to rebuild the Almshouses, as part of the prog-ramme of improving public buildings which began with the new Butter Cross in the mid 1740's and finished with the remodelling of the Guildhall in 1768.

In 1756 William Baker, architect of the Butter Cross, was asked to pro-vide a plan for the Almshouses, but this came to nothing, perhaps because his costs were too high. Two years later it was agreed that Thomas Farnolls Pritchard (1723-77) of Shrewsbury would design the new building, the first of several major works by him in Ludlow, including the Guildhall. The new building, largely made of local brick, still had 33 chambers — 11 on each of the three floors — but the plan was now a broad U shape opening eastwards towards the parish church. To provide a prestige entrance, the three central bays of this eastern front are set forward and are surmounted by a pediment containing a large cartouche with the Ludlow arms.

In addition to their accommodation, food and heating, the inmates received 4d a week until 1716, when the amount doubled. There were further increases, giving a total of 2s 6d in the early 19th century. After the new building had been erected, the Corporation resolved that a bedstead and 'three or four' shelves should be provided in each room, but inmates could provide additional furniture themselves. Toilet arrangements must have been meagre, for inmates were often presented to the local courts for emptying their chamber pots in the churchyard!

Lists of residents can be drawn up for various years, the example for 1763, as shown opposite. In that year, as on other occasions, six of the 33 rooms were shared, by married couples or by a mother and daughter. Of the 21 cases where the former occupation is known — of the almsperson or of a deceased spouse — about half were labourers, but there is a wide spread of other trades. In the case of Richard Eaton, joiner, he had been a journeyman, working for a master craftsman, but Samuel .Griffiths, butcher, and Thomas Vaughan, shoemaker, are known to have had their own small businesses. The most dramatic case of social decline is that of Walthall Fenton, the nephew of a former Rector of Ludlow. For some years he had been landlord of The Crown, Ludlow's largest coaching inn, and in some documents, including the parish registers, he was at that time dignified by the prefix 'Mr'.

Surviving documents allow only occasional glimpses into the lives of the almsfolk. Many of them endured much poverty and hardship, before members of the Corporation picked them out from the great mass of Ludlow's poor, as worthy of the receipt of John Hosyer's charity. They had lived, for the most part, in the poorer parts of the town, such as Galdeford, Lower Broad Street and Raven Lane, where low quality back buildings were stretching out down the historic burgages. Several of the residents had had more than one spouse before coming to Hosyer's, notably Thomas Cleeton, who had three wives, all of whom pre-deceased him. Most of them had had children, and nearly all of those had experienced the pain of losing at least one child. Thus the two wives of Benjamin Carless bore him ten children, but four died in infancy. In at least one case, however, that of Henry Bannister, a resident married whilst at Hosyer's. His first wife, living with him at Hosyer's in 1763, died in 1774, but two years later he married again, and moved out of the almshouses for the last five years of his life!

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