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Not Brentford New

Almsmen and women

Brentford Almshouses

Brentford 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:

Almshouse charities

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The above does not say much about the almsmen and women, but historical documents show who lived in the almshouses, their age, birthplace and sometimes former occupation.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, age

The 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:
  • George Weblin, the 11 year old grandson of Sarah Stokes (1851)
  • Thomas Shackle, 35, the married son of Charlotte Shackle (1851); he was a porter and jobbing man
  • Thomas E Batten, 14 year old grandson of Ann Pritchard (1901)

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.

OS map 1893 showing almshouses 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.

Considering ages:

  • youngest: Mary Chutoy, 55 (in 1861)
  • oldest: Sarah Lingwood, 90 (1891)
The average age of residents was just under 73 years. Presumably the almswomen were old but not infirm: from 1851 onwards the census included a column to note those who were blind, deaf and dumb, or imbecile, idiot, lunatic or feeble-minded - none of the almswomen was indicated as such. There is some evidence they were mobile: in 1851 two residents 'slept from home', suggesting they were able to get out and about. The layout of the almshouses required residents to have some agility: the two WCs they shared were in the garden; they had to get coal out of the coalhouses at the back; half of the women lived on the top floor, accessible by stairs; and the shopping centre of Brentford was a good walk westwards past the malodorous gas works. As the residents grew older they may have required more help; this might explain some of the relatives who were staying on census night.

Marital status

Nearly 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 residence

Once 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 place

The 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 years

Finally, 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
"provided for a non-contributory old age pension for people over the age of 70... It was enacted in January 1909 and paid a weekly pension of 5s a week (7s 6d for married couples) to half a million who were eligible" (wikipedia.

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 almswoman

To 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

Year Surname Forename(s) Condition Age Occupation Birthplace
1861 Ambridge Phebe widow 71 nurse born Escot Herts
1891 Armitage Martha widow 80 born Ealing
1841 Arnold Sarah 80 almswoman born Middlesex
1841 Astridge Sarah 65 almswoman not born Middlesex
1881 Basley Eliza widow 62 born Brentford
1891 Bazley Eliza spinster 72 born Brentford
1851 Brooks Ann 70 alms woman born Barnes Surrey
1939 Church Agnes widow 80 incapacitated born 9 July 1859
1861 Chutoy Mary unmarried 55 chair woman born Brentford
1871 Chutter Mary widow 68 born Brentford
1891 Dawson Susanna spinster (?24 - seems unlikely) born Holborn London
1841 Dear Anne 60 almswoman born Middlesex
1881 Dickenson Jane widow 80 born Staines
1861 Earl Sarah widow 73 born Walton Suffolk
1851 Ellis Sarah widow 71 alms woman born Ware Herts
1861 Ellis Sarah widow 80 formerly chair woman Ware Herts
1841 Everard Sarah 80 almswoman born Middlesex
1901 Field Maria widow 65 born Brentford
1911 Field Maria widow 72 old age pensioner born Old Brentford 13th July
1881 Hall Georgina widow 72 born Chelsea
1841 Harris Frances 75 almswoman born Middlesex
1871 Hart Elliner widow 79 born ? ford born Surrey?
1939 Hickey Kate E widow 77 old age pensioner born 27 Mar 1862
1939 Keen Agnes widow 74 old age pensioner born 16 June 1865
1861 Kelley Ann widow 71 formerly a Hawker born Blumsbury (Bloomsbury) London
1871 Kelley Ann widow 80 born London
1881 Lingwood Sarah widow 80 born Binnington (Benington?) Hertfordshire
1891 Lingwood Sarah widow 90 (birthplace blank)
1939 Main Bridget widow 70 old age pensioner born 14 June 1869
1861 Marshall Sarah widow 66 born Brentford
1901 Martin Phoebe widow 81 born Egham
1939 McCarthy Mary A widow 80 old age pensioner born 10 Feb 1859
1871 Morgan Margaret widow 72 born (?) Merthyr Tydfil Wales
1851 Narroway Mary widow 58 alms-woman (lacemaker) born Winslow Bucks
1861 Narroway Mary widow 70 formerly lace maker born Winslow Bucks
1871 Narraway Mary widow 76 formerly lace maker born Winslow
1911 Newman Harriett Elizabeth widow 80 old age pensioner born Paddington Middlesex
1911 Newton Harriett widow 72 monthly nurse born in the County of Waterford Ireland
1901 Parkins Mary widow 75 born Brentford
1841 Pearse Susannah 70 almswoman not born Middlesex
1841 Powell Mary 60 almswoman born Middlesex
1851 Powell Mary widow 70 alms woman born Brentford
1901 Pritchard Ann widow 72 born Dover Kent
1901 Rand Judith widow 76 born Plumstead Norfolk
1871 Richardson Ann widow 61 born Hadstock Essex
1881 Richardson Ann widow 70 born Hadstock Essex
1891 Richardson Ann widow 79 (birthplace blank)
1881 Richardson Sarah unmarried 81 born Brentford; her sister Mercy Sansom
1891 Sansom Mercy widow 82 born Brentford
1911 Seares Catherine single 76 old age pensioner born Isleworth
1851 Shackle Charlotte widow 73 alms woman born Brentford
1901 Sheppard Emma widow 66 born Brentford End Isleworth
1911 Sheppard Emma Jane widow 76 9 children, 8 were still living; old age pensioner born Brentford
1841 Snow Anne 77 almswoman born Middlesex
1939 Stepney Ann widow 80 incapacitated born 11 Mar 1859
1851 Stokes Jane widow 74 alms-woman born Brentford
1939 Ten? Eliza widow 79 old age pensioner born 19 Sep 1860
1911 Thomas Mary Ann widow 74 old age pensioner born Brentford
1881 Treadaway Ann widow 76 born Ascot Berkshire
1881 Walsh Mary widow 64 born Cork Co.
1861 Watson Hannah widow 70 nurse born London
1871 Weatherly Charlotte widow 81 born Surrey?
1891 Weblin Hannah widow 59 born Brentford
1901 Weblin Ann(a?) widow 69 charwoman born Ealing Road Brentford
1891 Welch Mary widow 76 born Ireland
1911 Wheatley Matilda Jane widow 78 old age pensioner born Thorpe Surrey
1871 Wilde Mary Ann widow 74 needlewoman born Warborough Oxon
1901 Wills Hannah widow 65 born Isleworth

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Page published November 2016