Mr Grellier’s initial plans provided for eight Almshouses each comprising one large room with a stove and a bedstead and a separate wash house. If this seems Spartan by today’s standards, it is fair to remember that in 1834, two years before the first pensioners took up residence, the Poor Law Amendment Act had come into force, providing for the first time the mandatory indoor relief familiar to readers of “Oliver Twist”, and which in the case of the aged poor must have been not very different from a sentence of life imprisonment. Compared to that the accommodation offered by Almshouses such as these may have been almost luxurious. By November 1835 the Committee reported that this block of eight Almshouses would be ready for occupation by Christmas. The cost of building
The Nineteenth Century - Page 9
Page 9 of 10known. The site did, however, have much to commend it, being in the hamlet of Kingsland astride the boundaries of the parishes of Hackney and Islington and just two miles up what is now the A10 from Bishopsgate. In the 17th century the young Samuel Pepys and his brother had been boarded out there with their nurse, Goody Lawrence, when it was an area of grazing land and market gardens. It was a scene to which Pepys delighted to return in later years, writing in his diary on 12th May 1667, after one such visit that “it puts me in mind of my boy’s time when I used to … shoot with my bow and arrows in these fields. A very pretty place it is”. In 1835 a writer describes Kingsland in the following words ”here are brickfields and some part of the ground is occupied by nurserymen and market gardeners” and indeed a map of the same date shows “Bassingtons’s Nursey” on the eastern boundary of the land on which the Company’s Almshouses were to be built. The Almshouses site had a frontage to a lane called King Henry’s Walk which led off Balls Pond Road in a north- easterly direction, and which according to local legend was so called as being a favourite walk of Henry VIII when staying at Newington Green for the “pleasures of the chase”. The mention in the description of 1835 however of brickfields makes it clear that the days of market gardening and nurseries were numbered, and some of the brickfields were undoubtedly those of Williams Rhodes the Master of the Company in 1825 who may have drawn the attention of the Almshouse Committee to the site. While these and other brickfields would over the next few decades provide the materials for extending the tentacles of London around and beyond Kingsland, it was still, and would for a little longer remain not only a healthy but also a pleasant rural surrounding for the pensioners. That the Company was not alone in regarding the site as desirable is shown by the fact that in the next few years Almshouses would be built on the same site by the Dyers (1841) and Cutlers (1850), both Livery Companies, and by the “Bookbinders” (1843) and the Metropolitan Benevolent Societies (1836). By the time the Company closed its Almshouses in 1937 the others had all closed too or moved on elsewhere, except for those of the Metropolitan Benevolent Societies, which still remains facing Balls Pond Road, a pleasing example of what the others must have been like in their heyday.