Sunday, 16 April 2017

Uncovering more of those who lived in Eltham's Alms Houses in the April of 1851

The Alms Houses in 1909
Sometimes the past can be quite stubborn about revealing the lives of people.

But then I am constantly surprised at how much there is, particularly on the “little people” whose rank, occupation and position in society merited little interest.

Which is the starting point for an exploration of the lives of the nine people who lived in the six Alms houses on Eltham High Street in the April of 1851.

The alms houses had been built by Thomas Philpot in 1694 and were to accommodate “six poor people of that parish [Eltham] and Chislehurst £5 per annum each, four to be chosen out of Eltham and two out of Chislehurst.”*

They consisted of two rooms, one above the other, a wash-house and a small garden and over 200 years after their construction were still reckoned to be “kept in good repair at the expense of the Trust.”**

In 1851 the average age of those living there was 86 with Sarah Glazebrook at 84 and Elizabeth Blackman aged 62.  I suppose I should also have included Mary Inson who was a mere babe at 53 but she described herself as a lodger and sadly the past has been unkind to her for apart from one reference in the 1851 census she remains hidden to us.

Residents of the Alms Houses in 1851
But not so some of the others.

In total there were nine occupants of these six houses and along with Mary Inson were the widows, Jane Rivers, Sarah Glazenbrook, Elizabeth Dean, and Mary Fulgar as well as George and Elizabeth Blackman and Thomas and Ann Foster.

Thomas Foster had been born in Carlisle around 1771 but was in Eltham by 1819 when his son was attending the first National School.  He worked the smithy on the High Street which was a little to the west of the present library and was well known enough for stories of his exploits to have lingered on a full fifty years after his death. ***

Exactly when he died is unclear but the records show that three men with his name died between 1852-54, unfortunately the parish records for those years are missing and it is the same story for his wife Ann who may have died in 1869 but does not show up in the burial records of the church.

But we are on firmer ground with Elizabeth Dean who was one of those "two out of Chislehurst" where she had been living in 1841.

Detail of the Alms Houses, 1909
Born in Cornwall she was here in Eltham in 1812 when she and her husband baptized their son at St John’s and she was buried at St John’s in the February of 1854, but alas so far any more on her son Edmund or her husband William has yet to be found.

All of which leaves us with two of the widows.

Jane Rivers who had been born in 1769 in Burford in Essex can be traced to a cottage in the High Street in 1841, while her future neighbour, Sarah Glazebrook was  living in Court Yard.

All of which is slim picking I know and hardly the stuff that makes a riveting story but it is a start on bringing some more of Eltham’s people out of the shadows and that can’t be bad.

Location; Eltham, London

Picture; The Alms Houses from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, and extract from the 1851 census, Enu 1c 31, Eltham, Kent, & National Archives

*Charity Commissioners Report 1895 quoted in The Story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909
**R.R.C. Gregory, the Story of Royal Eltham, 1909

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