Saturday, 14 July 2018

In one of the six Alms Houses on Eltham High Street in 1851

The Alms Houses in 1909
For many of us the Workhouse with its stigma and the horrors that went with being shut up behind its grim walls is just a few generations away.

In my case it was my great grandmother who in 1902 gave birth to her last child in the Derby Workhouse Infirmary, and there after it was the Guardians of that place who kept a watching eye on my grandfather and his siblings while they grew up in various homes.

And it was these self same Guardians who placed great uncle Jack with a blacksmith to learn a trade, great aunt Dolly in service in Northumberland, grandfather in a Naval reformatory school and gave great Uncle Roger the choice of the same boot camp or a new start in Canada as a British Home Child.

Now the Workhouse has always been a refuge of the poor, and long before the 1834 Poor Law and the creation of the Poor Law Bastilles, seeking help from the parish was  accepted as one of the strategies most working families fell back on when times got hard.

But after 1834 the price was high, with families being separated on admission and at the mercy of petty regulations which reinforced the shame of poverty.

And of course it was the old who more than most would come to rely on the institution, often warn out after a life time of struggle and hard work with the prospect of their last few years separated from loved ones and the prospect of a pauper’s grave at the end.

And if it wasn’t the Workhouse or some other form of parish relief then it might have been a charity.

The Alms Houses numbered 224, in 1853
Like as not in Eltham this might have been one of the six alms houses in the High Street which had been built by Thomas Philipot in 1694 at a cost of £302 on part of a field called Blunt’s Croft.

They consisted of two rooms, one above the other, a wash-house and a small garden.  The average age of those living there in 1851 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 I rather think cannot strictly be included.

Now a lot more research needs to be done to track all eight back across the years in Eltham.  None had been born here but I suspect all had passed most of their lives in the place.

Some at least I know, like old Thomas Foster who had been one of the blacksmiths.   His smithy stood to the west of Sun Yard nearer to the lane and was one of the features of the High Street.*

He was originally from Carlisle but was in Eltham by 1819 when his son was attending the first National School.

And in time I will discover more about  his wife Ann, along with the widows, Jane Rivers, Sarah Glazenbrook, Elizabeth Dean, Mary Fulgar and her lodger the 53 year old Mary Inson and George and Elizabeth Blackman.

I have no way of knowing how hard their lives had been or what struggles they endured in the alms houses or even what support and comfort their families were to them.

So I shall leave them on that spring day in 1851 in their cottages which looked out across the High Street to an empty field and wonder just what gardening Mr Foster did in his small garden behind the meadows.

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 detail of the High Street from detail of the land to the north of 1843 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone,

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