Sean Gubbins walks us through Hackney’s Almshouses

Walk the length of today’s Hackney, from Stamford Hill to Shoreditch, and you can find evidence of some of the thirty three almshouses once established in the area. Founded in what was then countryside, they were instigated by wealthy individuals, for local poor, or by a City Livery Company for its elderly members, usually in groups of 6 to 12 women or men. Perhaps, because of its proximity to London, over half of these almshouses were in Shoreditch.

Not all were Christian establishments. The Pacifico Almshouses, in south-east London Fields, were for elderly members of the Jewish Sephardic community. Still to be seen in Egerton Road, Stamford Hill, are the buildings of the Emanuel Almshouses, after they transferred from Whitechapel.

These foundations were not just for the English. Mossbourne Academy Victoria Park now occupies the chateau-esque building which housed 40 male and 20 female French Huguenots. In 1688, London’s Dutch Church established a house for poor church members, towards today’s Liverpool Street station. In 1865, the almsfolk moved to Kent.

As the fields around them transformed to bricks and mortar, most of the almshouses closed or moved. The buildings of some survive. The Ironmonger’s Company sold the Kingsland Road site of Sir Robert Geffrye’s foundation of 1712. Its inhabitants having moved to Kent, the buildings became a museum. The building which housed Robert Aske’s 1689 foundation, established by the Haberdasher’s Company, is still to be seen in Hoxton, now apartments. The most recent to close were Bishop Wood’s at Clapton Pond, dating from 1669. Their sale realised funds to purchase another property to provide more accommodation.

Others only left their names behind. Goldsmiths Row, south of Broadway Market, is named after Richard Morrell’s 1705 foundation for the Goldsmiths’ Company. Retreat Place, west of Well Street, is named not for fleeing soldiers but for Robinson’s Retreat: almshouses endowed in 1812 by Samuel Robinson for twelve widows of non-conformist ministers.

Five of Hackney’s almshouses survive. The oldest was established in 1666, at the behest of Dr William Spurstowe, in Sylvester Path opposite ‘The Old Ship’, for six women of ‘good life and conversation.’ The foundation has expanded and now occupies its fourth successive building, Spurstowe House, in Navarino Road. Its doors have opened to men, no doubt of good life, if not conversation.

Looking for something to do one weekend?  Intrigued to find out more about Hackney?

Look up and pick a walk that takes your fancy. The next four are in this edition’s What’s On section. I look forward to welcoming you on one of my walks.

Images © and courtesy of Sean Gubbins