by John | Nov 25, 2014 |

The Seckford Almshouses

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On Seckford Street, just off Woodbridge’s Market Hill, you will find the Almshouses. Since the 16th century, they have been providing accommodation for older people in the town...


The Early Years

In 1587, Queen Elizabeth I granted Thomas Seckford a royal licence to build and endow almshouses in Woodbridge.

Those interested in becoming almsmen were selected by Seckford and the local vicar; all they needed to show was that they had lived ‘honestly’ in Woodbridge for at least three years.


The original Almshouses consisted of seven, two storey flats, constructed of brick and stone and set within two acres, close to the land the almsmen cultivated.

Within them lived twelve men and a principal almsman, who each received £112-13s-4d a year from Thomas Seckford’s business interests in Clerkenwell. The Woodbridge almsmen were mostly skilled or semi-skilled workers around the age of 60.


There was no provision for poor women, although three widows were employed as nurses for the sick almsmen, for which they received accommodation and £2-13-4d a year.


In return for their £5 annual pension, the Almsmen lived by strict rules, wearing uniforms and silver badges bearing Thomas Seckford’s coat of arms, following regimes to keep them from ‘idleness’, abstaining from alcohol, attending church three days a week, and unable to leave the Almshouses without permission. If they failed their responsibilities, they were made to pay fines or risked being expelled from the Almshouses altogether.


The 17th Century

Following Seckford’s death in 1587, the future of the Almshouses was jeopardised.

Though he had wished for the premises to be handed over to a body of trustees, the family contested his will and their claims to the Almhouses were not refuted for 100 years. During that time, the condition of the buildings and their inhabitants declined. No attempt was made to replace the nurses or the principal when they died.

Thomas Seckford nephew, Henry Seckford, inherited the whole estate towards the end of the 17th century and handed the Almshouses over to trustees to be administered according to his uncle’s wishes.


The 18th Century

Whilst in theory, the almshouses were administered by trustees in London, in reality they were being run by church wardens who decided how the income from the Thomas Seckford’s Almshouse Endowment was spent.

They failed to use funds intended for the benefit of the almsmen solely for that purpose, mixing up Almshouses’ funding with other monies intended to alleviate poverty in Woodbridge. The almsmen thus became impoverished and in 1718 the principal almsman, John Blomfield, complained that the pension was keeping almsmen near to starvation and short of basic clothing, such as shoes and shirts.

Blomfield’s complaint prompted an investigation, which led to the financial chaos being rectified. Pensions were increased to £9 a year and a new building was agreed on.

The pensions increased further still in 1748, when the new buildings opened thanks to increased property prices in Clerkenwell.


The 19th Century

During the 19th century, the oldest Elizabethan buildings on the site were demolished. A new almshouse (consisting of a two storey central block with east and west wings and a communal kitchen) for married couples and single women were built. Eight married couples and eight single women, along with a nurse, moved in, and pensions being increased to £30 per year (couple), £20 per year (single people).

As Clerkenwell’s wealth grew, so did the money sent to support the Seckford Almshouses and the welfare of older people in Woodbridge was well supported. The same was not true for local children who remained impoverished particularly in the quality of their education. The trustees decided to use the annual income from Thomas Seckford’s endowment to form a single charity, to serve both old and young, combining the Seckford Almshouses and the Woodbridge Free Grammar School. It was called the Seckford Foundation.



In 2005 the old almshouse buildings were converted into 28 self-contained very sheltered flats (double and single).


 


Main image by Tamasin Davies


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