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SHOREDITCH

 

CHARITY & SICKNESS

 

In the years 1833-5 John Ware conducted a survey of Shoreditch's various parochial benefactors and found 116 gifts, ranging from almshouse charities, to donations of a pulpit cloth and cushion.  The earliest dated from 1581; medieval gifts would have been linked to chantries, with prayers for the deceased donor, and all of these were swept away in 1547.  Charitable bequests were common to all Anglican churches, but Shoreditch's proximity to the City of London, combined with its suburban charms, made it an ideal location for the almshouses and as late as 1850 there were no less than eighteen in the parish, but many were to vanish in the ensuing two decades and only one set of buildings now remain.

 

The Reformation ended the belief in the giving of alms for remission of the soul from Purgatory, but from the mid-sixteenth century there were more bequests intended to help the poor, many from City of London merchants.  The Statute of Charitable Uses in 1601 improved the administration of charities and contributed to greater generosity in the ensuing forty years.  This was interrupted by the Civil War, the Commonwealth years, and financial pressures on the merchant community in the reigns of Charles II and James II.  After 1688 the flow of gifts increased, with donors able to establish a school or an almshouse and make provision for an income to maintain the foundation for the future.  But from the 1690s donations could be made through subscriptions to some of the newer bodies, like the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge or to older hospitals for the sick.  Almshouses were less appropriate for subscription funding, since gifts could only be used for pensions of the almspeople, salaries of officials and the maintenance of the buildings, and there was a gradual decline in new foundations after 1735.  It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that there was a revival in interest in almshouses, leading to the rebuilding of some and additional endowments for others in the period up to 1850, after which the fashion for "giving" was to change again.

 

The history of almshouses in Shoreditch reflects this pattern.  The earliest was established under the will of John Fuller, a judge and sometime Treasurer of the Inner Temple, whose will of 1592 directed that two almshouses be built; one in Stepney for twelve men, and the other, for twelve women, in Shoreditch.  Fuller's widow acquired a site on the south side of Old Street and built the almshouses before 1605, adding a further endowment before her death in 1623, though the almshouses were not incorporated as her late husband had intended until 1680.  Fuller's Hospital, administered by Shoreditch Parish, was rebuilt in 1787 and moved to new buildings in Wood Green in 1865 when the site was taken for the construction of a fire station and a town hall for Shoreditch Vestry.

 

Shoreditch parish ran three other almshouses.  Badger's Almshouses, at the south-east end of Hoxton Street, were in a charitable huddle with three other foundations - the Refuge for the Destitute to the rear, Weavers' Almshouses to the south, and Walters' and Porter's Almshouses to the south east.  Founded under the will of Allen Badger in 1674, the almshouses were built in 1698, accommodating six women until demolition in 1873.  Hackney Road almshouses were converted from an engine and watch house built in 1825 in the grounds of the additional churchyard laid out in 1625 on the north side of Hackney Road.  Appropriately it was intended that two of the four old almsmen should have been former watchmen for the parish.  After the creation of a united Shoreditch parish almshouse at Wood Green, the Hackney Road buildings were demolished in 1904 and the site is now a playground.  The last parochial foundation, the Shoreditch New Almshouses, founded in Kent Street, Haggerston in 1852 for twenty locals, lasted until just after the Second World War.

 

The most impressive foundations were set up under the auspices of the City Livery Companies.  Aske's Hospital in Pitfield Street was established by the Haberdashers' Company under the will of Robert Aske, dated 1689.  Established by an Act of Parliament, the charity acquired the Pitfield Street site, and invested the balance of the bequest in lands in Kent.  Robert Hooke designed the first buildings, which were completed in 1695.  The foundation housed twenty poor freemen of the Company and a school for twenty sons of freemen.  After the development of the grounds for housing, the original buildings were demolished in 1822 and replaced by a range designed by David Riddell Roper, completed in 1827.  Changes in the charity during 1873 led to the closure of the almshouses and expansion of the school; Shoreditch Vestry then prevailed the London County Council to house Shoreditch Technical Institute there from 1898.

 

Along the east side of Kingsland Road, there were three foundations.  South of the present Geffrye Museum were Harwar's Almshouses, founded in 1704 and managed by the Drapers' Company.  The Geffrye began as the Ironmongers' Company almshouses, built in 1712, with a small central chapel, and to the north lay Bourne's Almshouses founded under the auspices of the Framework Knitters' Company in 1734.  The Drapers' Company administered Walters' and Porter's Almshouses on the site of the present Old Street Magistrates Court.  These had been founded in 1656 under the terms of the wills of John Walter and his widow Alice.  Originally catering for eight almspeople, jointly appointed by the Company and Shoreditch parish, the almshouses were extended through the gift of Thomas Porter in 1826 and the entire site rebuilt.  Adjoining and to the east were the Weavers' Company almshouses built on land leased from the parish for 200 years in 1669.   These seem to have gone on the expiry of the lease.  Last of the Livery Company foundations was Richard Morrell's foundation, built in the fields of Haggerston in 1705 for poor members of the Goldsmiths' Company on the path which was to become Goldsmiths' Row.   Although in poor repair in 1863, the almshouses lasted until 1889, when the combination of building costs and the poverty of the surrounding area led the Company to sell the site for redevelopment and divert the charity into pensions.

 

The parishes of St. Botolph's Aldgate and St. Botolph Bishopsgate, were left funds by Elizabeth, Viscount Lumley for an almshouse in 1657, but took fifteen years before admitting that they could not find a site in either parish.  In 1672 they used a site on the east side of Shepherdess Walk and the resulting foundation, rebuilt in 1822, lasted until 1898.  Other almshouses with religious associations included Berman's Almshouses, founded by a Presbyterian minister for eight women in 1703.  The original almshouses, east of Hoxton Street, were replaced by buildings in Basing Square, off Kingsland Road, in 1813.

 

Another almshouse with Presbyterian associations was founded by Mrs. Mary Westby and her sister in 1749.  Westby's Almshouses, on the east side of Pitfield Street, south of Bacchus Walk, lasted until 1881, when the site was taken for a board school.  They were originally for Protestant or dissenting widows or spinsters, and were known locally as "The Old Maids' Almshouses".  Prior to 1865 there was an almshouse founded by the Dutch Church in London, between Crown Street and Whitecross Alley.  Built in 1688 for poor church members, the site was acquired by the London and North Western Railway in 1865 and the foundation moved to Charlton in Kent.

 

Some of the parochial donations included land and houses in Shoreditch parish, others funded gifts of bread or money to apprentice local children.  Of the many donations, two have lasted until modern times.  Thomas Fairchild, the Hoxton nurseryman, left money in his will of 1728 for the preaching of an annual sermon at Whitsun on either "The wonderful works of God in Creation" or "On the certainty of the resurrection of the dead, proved by certain changes of the animal and vegetable parts of creation".  Known locally as "The Vegetable Sermon", Fairchild's bequest was observed until recent years.  John Dawson, an exciseman, left a substantial library in his will of 1763.  The majority of these books survive, in the care of  Hackney Archives Department, and Dawson's library is one of the few remaining parochial libraries left in London.

 

The education of the poor was also left to charitable foundations.  The parish's own charity school opened in 1705, funded by subscriptions from each of the liberties, catering for fifty boys chosen from the different areas of Shoreditch in proportion to the funds each contributed.  Beginning in a room in Pitfield Street, the school later moved to a house at the south east end of Kingsland Road.  A girls' school was opened in 1709.  Donations funded clothing for the pupils, which often ended up being worn by their parents.  There were no great aspirations to high academic standards - the goal was apprenticeships for the boys and domestic service for the girls.  In 1799 widening of the Kingsland Road provided the opportunity and some help with the funding to build a new school on the same site.  The foundation of other schools in Shoreditch in the 1830s gradually diminished the importance of the charity school, though it did not close until 1889.  The school building of 1799 survives as a betting shop.

 

Orphans had a even tougher time than the parish poor.  In 1758 a group of nonconformists established the Orphan Working School in a small house in Hoxton Street, initially taking in twenty boys, but later admitting twenty girls; again with the objective of apprenticing the boys and training the girls to be domestic servants.  They would appear to have taken over a complete house (part of which survived to become 46-8 Hoxton Street) but the age of the Hoxton property led to the school moving to new premises on the south side of City Road in 1775.  It was to remain there until 1847, when the end of the lease enabled the governors to move their 240 charges to Haverstock Hill.  In 1988 the school was at Reigate, called the Royal Alexandra and Albert School.

 

Shoreditch's own poor were catered for in the parish workhouse from 1726, when one was built on the west side of Hoxton Street, between Ivy Street (originally Workhouse Lane) and the later Hemsworth Street.  Among the bequests the parish received was a gift of an estate on the opposite side of Hoxton Street, called the Land of Promise.  When a lease came up for renewal in 1776 the eastern half, including the Kingsland Road frontage were passed over to the newly-created Trustees of the Poor to build a new workhouse, completed in the following year.   Workhouses also catered for sick as well as healthy paupers, and after a succession of parish doctors of varying ability, the parish was lucky to secure the services of James Parkinson and his son in 1813.   The Parkinsons initiated improvements in the care of the sick, including the separation of surgical from medical sick, the establishment of a maternity ward and the isolation of fever cases.  The last reform was given impetus by the typhus outbreak of 1815 which spread through the courts and alleys of Hoxton, and Parkinson's fever block was the first of its kind in London.  In a later outbreak, only five people died, such was the success of the new policy.  Parkinson had produced a pamphlet on parochial fever wards, but it is for his Essay of the Shaking Palsy, which appeared in 1817 that he is remembered today, through the illness that now bears his name, Parkinson's Disease.

 

 

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