Hosyer’s Almshouses under the Palmers Guild

John Hosyer purchased the site for the almshouses on 22 April 1462. A large rectangular plot, this was one of the burgages opening to the original High Street or market place. It was laid out in the town's first phase of development, probably in the late llth or early 12th centuries. Like other burgages in this part of Ludlow, the frontage width was exactly three perches, i.e. 49 feet, the perch (16% feet) being the standard unit of measurement in medieval town plans. The side of the present building, onto what is now Church Street, retains this width, an evocative link with the early Norman surveyors.

By the 5th century his prime site was owned by John Wolfe, a Ludlow merchant. On his death it passed to his daughter Joan and her husband, John Eye of Eye, a parish a few miles south of Ludlow. It was from John Eye that Hosyer made his purchase. His will instructs his executors to “complete the building of the almshouse begun by me by the church . . . with all possible haste’, soil can be assumed that work had started sometime between the purchase 0T2? April 1462 and the making of John Hosyer's will on 3 June 1463.

It is not known when the building work was finished but it was certainly before 8 December 1486, when a final settlement of the endowment was signed by the two surviving trustees and by the town’s bailiffs. This charter is an important document, for it provided the articles of government for the next 65 years — and influenced the way that the Charity was administered in later periods.

The charter specified land: from John Hosyer’s estates which had been conveyed to the Palmers Guild by his executors. These were in Ludlow itself, Hopton Wafers, Cleobury North and Stanton Lacy. They yielded rents of £9 13s 4d a year. The Guild was also given a silver cup and a capital sum together worth £20. In return, the Guild had lo mainland the almshouses and support 33 inmates, each of whom had a heated chamber. One of those was appointed bellman. He was to receive 2s. a year, For which his duty was to summon the inmates to prayer in the almshouse chapel twice daily - at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The trustees also made elaborate arrangements for commemorative masses to be said for Hosyer and his family at the Chantry chapel of the Holy Trinity. This was just inside the west door of the parish church, on the north side. The priest serving this chantry had a chamber in the almshouses, giving a total of 34 rooms.

The inmates of the Almshouses were to be Guild members. For admission, members paid a substantial fine - 6s 8d or 13s 4d for a married couple. Such a figure meant that the poorest members of Ludlow society could never have attained Guild membership and would therefore not be eligible for residence at Hosyer‘s almshouse. Those who were admitted must have been people whose income and therefore social status had fallen, due to commercial misfortune, infirmity or, most commonly, widowhood.

No picture or detailed description survives of the first almshouse but a reasonable reconstruction can be made. References to the east and west ranges and to upper and lower chambers suggest that it was U shaped, with an open side onto what is now Church Street but which was then called Almshouse Lane. This is a not uncommon form for medieval communal buildings, utilising the long narrow shape of medieval burgages. The 34 chambers perhaps made up two ranges of 14 chambers each, i.e. seven on each floor, with six more facing the entrance, with three on each floor. Every room was heated, so there would have been many chimney stacks. The building material was probably sandstone, large blocks of which were retained as a foundation when the present building was erected in 1758.

In late medieval Ludlow this must have been a large and striking building, situated as it was on a prominent site next to the parish church. The almshouses certainly caught the eye of John Leland, the Tudor topographer, when he visited Ludlow about 1540. He wrote:

There was a very rich merchant in Ludlowe not long synce called Hosier, buried in the parish church, who founded a cantarie... endowing it with 10. or 12. £ land be the yeare.

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