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Almsmen and women
Brentford AlmshousesBrentford had two sets of almshouses, one at the corner of Ferry Lane for 7 residents and the other at no. 6 High Street, known as the St George's or Salutation Almshouses - they were across the road from the Salutation pub - with room for 8.
I have not found a good photo of the Ferry Lane Almshouses, but they are visible in a postcard from the early 1900s. The following, from 1845: 'Close by the road side, are situated seven small almshouses which have lately been repaired out of the Ealing Dean rents' (from The History and Antiquities of Brentford, Ealing and Chiswick by Thomas Faulkner) may also refer to the Ferry Lane (also known as the St Paul's) Almshouses).
A photo of the Salutation Almshouses taken around 1945 shows a plaque over the imposing entrance arch: no doubt this would have provided information about when the almshouses were built, who for and possibly the benefactor(s); however I have not found a transcription of the plaque - an example of what seems relatively recent history fading away. Fortunately British History Online has a page 'Ealing and Brentford: Charities for the poor' which includes the following:
There were almshouses in 1573, presumably the queen's seven almshouses at Brentford which were to be repaired in 1576. It is possible that they were the four old almshouses of 1811 later called the St. Paul's or Ferry Lane almshouses, at the corner of High Street and Ferry Lane, Old Brentford. Unendowed and of unknown origin in 1867, they numbered seven in 1870 and were demolished after closure in 1949.
Four double almshouses, later called Salutation or St. George's, also stood on the south side of High Street, Old Brentford, near the Salutation inn. They were built in 1794 by the churchwardens of Ealing, probably with the help of a gift from Henry Beaufoy of Castle Hill Lodge, were not endowed, and were demolished c. 1953.
The almshouses' only income came from rent for land behind St. George's almshouses and from the use of a wall in Ferry Lane for advertisements. Stock was bought after the sites had been sold and a pension fund was established, yielding c. £174 in 1979, when it was distributed monthly among six widows.
The above does not say much about the almsmen and women, but historical documents show who lived in the almshouses, their age, birthplace and sometimes former occupation. These records have been used to prepare the following notes, which focus on the residents of the Salutation Almshouses.
The Salutation Almshouses, having a High Street address, were within the remit of the original High Street project and provided a useful marker at the eastern end of the High Street in the 1841-1871 censuses, before the High Street was numbered. A chronological list of the occupants from the censuses and 1939 Register is included with notes about the almshouse layout in the property section; a surname index of the occupants is included below. So what do the records tell us about the people who lived here?
Gender, living conditions, ageThe Salutation Almshouses were for women: in the records between 1841 and 1939, giving nine snapshots of the residents, just three males were recorded and they were all relatives of an almswoman:
There are also instances where a daughter stayed with her mother on census night. The way in which census data was compiled means it is not possible to determine whether any of these relatives were making a short visit or living there on a longer-term basis. However there is circumstantial evidence that one group of three women shared a room, possibly for several years. Sarah Richardson (81) occupied Room 1 in 1881 and living with her were her widowed sister Mercy Sansom (71) and Susan Stannard, age 17, a boarder. I was surprised to find the same unit of three living at another Brentford High Street address ten years earlier, Susan(nah) then being 7 years old and a nurse child. It would appear all three decamped to the almshouse between 1871 and 1881. The death registration of a Sarah Richardson in Brentford, third quarter of 1889, age 89 is a good match to our almswoman, suggesting she lived here for at least eight years. A couple of years later the 1891 census shows Mercy Sansom was still living in the almshouse: it seems possible she took over her sister's room after her death.
The Almshouses are shown in the map: four units, two either side of the entry arch, with steps down to a yard or garden and a second area beyond, running down to the Thames. A series of steps bordered the western almshouse. Each almshouses consisted of a 13 foot square room, a small living area for one person, let alone three, by modern standards, but the BBC The Victorian Slum series, 2016, shows it was not unusual for more than one generation to sleep, live and even work in one room. The almshouse offered much more space than that in a common lodging house, where 'coffin beds' - essentially wooden drawers laid side by side - meant ten or more could sleep in one room. Brentford had several such lodging houses and eventually a piece will be prepared about them. Another alternative for a poor widow, the workhouse, provided dormitory style housing; the almshouse would be a more agreeable option for most.
Marital statusNearly all of the women were widows: the death of a husband may have taken away their only substantial source of income and left them unable to afford the rent. The census indicates that some of the almswomen had worked previously, but in low-paid or irregular work, for example Mary Narroway was a lace-maker, Mary Ann Wilde a needlewoman, Harriet Newton a monthly nurse, Mary Chutoy and Sarah Ellis were char women and finally Ann Kelley was a hawker. I may have missed a few: the list at the end shows all of the women.
There are a couple of inconsistencies in the recording of marital status in consecutive censuses. For example Eliza Basley was recorded as a widow in 1881 and a spinster in 1891; similarly Mary Chutoy was unmarried in 1861 and a widow ten years later. The former is probably correct as Mary was living on Back Lane Brentford in 1851, and was then recorded as an unmarried char woman aged 48.
The 1911 census was completed by the almswomen (earlier censuses were copied by census enumerators from forms) and it appears all were able to write. The form was quite complicated to complete and it is unsurprising three residents mistakenly completed the section about the length of their marriage and children they had borne, which was supposed to be completed by women who were still married. This shows Harriet Newton had been married 45 years (presumably she included the years following her husband's death) and had 14 children, 9 of whom survived; Maria Field had one child that had died; Emma Jane Sheppard, had 9 children, 8 still living. Whether those with children preferred to retain their independence by moving to the almshouse, or their children could not or preferred not to have their mother living with them is impossible to know...
Length of residenceOnce a woman had a place in the almshouse it was not unusual for her to stay for ten or more years. Twelve almswomen are in this category, for example the aforementioned Mary Chutoy, age 55 in 1861, remained a resident in 1871 when she was recorded as Mary Chutter, age 68. These longer staying residents can be picked out at the end: there are some differences in spelling of their names and their ages but enough common detail to indicate the same person is being recorded.
Mary Narroway and Ann Richardson are the longest recorded residents found so far, each being resident for over 20 years. However none of the women recorded in the 1911 census were still in the almshouse 28 years later in 1939.
Eligibility for a placeThe women's birthplaces recorded in censuses from 1851 to 1911 (birthplace was not recorded in the 1939 Register) show the almshouses did not restrict access to locally-born women; those from Ireland, Wales and several English counties were able to make their home here. Of the 59 instances where a birthplace was given, 30 (just over a half) were born outside Middlesex; 18 were Brentford-born (just over 30%) and 11 were Middlesex-born (around 19 percent). Three of the latter group were born in nearby Isleworth.
That leaves the group of widows born outside Brentford; did their husbands come from the town?
Almswoman Judith Rand has an unusual name which makes it easier to locate her before she appears as an almswoman in 1901, age 76, a widow, born Plumstead in Norfolk. In 1891 she was living in Brentford, age 67, with her husband, William Rand, 76. William's birthplace was Southchurch Essex, suggesting his widow's eligibility for a place was based on her residence in the town. They were both were 'living on relief' - William was unable to work due to old age, infirmity or perhaps shortage of work. His death was registered around 5 years later in 1896 and presumably this is when Judith moved into the almshouse. She died in 1906 so may have spent ten years there.
The sole Irish-born almswoman, Harriet Newton, proved more of a challenge to trace. In 1911 she claimed to have been born in Waterford and to have had 14 children, of whom 9 survived. Searches of the census found a Harriet Newton born in Scotland of about the right age; she was living with her husband John in Nelson Row, Old Brentford in 1881 and they had moved to The Ham by 1891. Harriet remained here in 1901 but by then her husband, John Newton, an army pensionser who was born in Staffordshire, had died. Harriet was consistent about her birthplace being Scotland throughout. Was this the same Harriet Newton who professed to be Irish in 1911? If so it would again seem her residence in Brentford made her eligible for a place.
Comparison across the yearsFinally, are there any obvious changes in the group of residents over time? Just two things...
The 1911 census it shows all of the almswomen were over 70 and all but one were old age pensioners (the other individual, Harriett Newton being a monthly nurse). This is the first reference to the residents being in receipt of a pension, and follows the implementation of the Old Age Pensions Act 1908, which
Previous I noted there were no inidcations of infirmity in the census entries from 1814 to 1911, but in 1939 two of the seven residents were 'incapacitated' (incidentally they were living in rooms 6 & 8 on the ground floor).
A typical almswomanTo conclude, from this small sample it would appear a typical almswoman had lived in Brentford for at least part of her latter life, had been married and widowed, was aged over 70 but in reasonable health; after arriving at the almshouse she might live a further ten or more years. A scan of newspaper articles suggest the occupants did not fall foul of the law, nor were they victims of crime. They would seem to be the deserving poor.
It will be interesting to see whether the Ferry Lane Almshouses reveal any further insights...
Index of names, 1841-1939
Page published November 2016