There are a surprising number of references to almshouses in St Mary Street and we have been attempting to identify where these places were located. Some of them originated a long time ago and their history is difficult to trace because the records are hard to read and have only vague descriptions of where the places were. It is made more difficult by having to rely on conflicting transcriptions of the same old documents. Hence it is inevitable that we have made some wrong assumptions.
Before the introduction of the Welfare State, it was left to the generosity of the richer townsfolk to provide for the needy. Over the years several benefactors in Thornbury made arrangements to provide alms for the poor. The money was used in various ways including paying for apprenticeships for young lads, coats and shawls were issued as gifts at Christmas to help the poor get through the winter and various houses were given to provide the poor with free or cheap accommodation.
The various charities were originally managed through appointed trustees (or feoffees as they were called) but as time went on the responsibility was vested in the Corporation, in the form of the Mayor and Aldermen of the Town. Following the Municipal Corporations Act 1883, the Corporation became extinct and in 1890 their responsibilities for running almshouses were vested in the Thornbury Town Trustees according to a scheme of the Charities Commissioners. The almshouses run by Sir John Stafford’s Charity continued to operate independently for a short time until they too were incorporated into the Town Trust in the early 1900’s.
We know of the following almshouses in St Mary Street:
1. Sir John Stafford’s Almshouse – there were 6 almshouses located on the west wide of St Mary Street, just up from the rear access to the Swan Hotel. Their history goes back until before 1620 when Sir John Stafford of Marlewood Park arranged for a set of trustees to manage his ‘hospital’ which was already providing facilities for the poor people of Thornbury. The almshouses were managed by the Feoffees of Sir John Stafford’s Charity until the early 1900’s when the responsibility was taken over by the Town Trust. Unfortunately we do not have a clear photo of the houses, but click here to read more about them
2. Two almshouses were situated at the bottom of St Mary Street on the east side, just up from The Plough, or more precisely up from the motor garage operated by Thornbury Motors. The history of these houses goes back to the late sixteenth century. Katherine Rippe is the person who is acknowledged as giving the properties for the benefit of the poor. They are not mentioned in her will as being gifted at that time. She did arrange for the the income from another property to be used on the upkeep of the almshouses so we assume that Katherine had already gifted the properties before she wrote the will. The original houses comprised four separate units of one room up and one room down and were often referred to as ‘the Lower Almshouses’. They were eventually demolished in the late 1700’s when they had been allowed to get into a bad state. Two new cottages were built by Kingsmill Grove to replace these houses, although the records suggest that they may not have been built on the same site. The cottages survived until the late 1960’s and were used for most of this time to provide free housing for the needy. When house numbering was introduced in the 1950’s they became known as 7 & 9 St Mary Street. Click here to read more and see a photo of the houses
3. There was a small group of houses further up St Mary Street on the east side. The earliest reference we have of these houses is 1580 when they were given, with other land and property in Thornbury, by Thomas Slimbridge for the benefit of the poor of the Borough. There were originally four separate houses, but about 1859 these were converted by the Corporation into 2 houses. These were run by the Town Trust from 1890 onwards and when house numbering was introduced in the 1950’s they were called 15 and 17 St Mary Street. The buildings still exist and are now used as shops. Click here to read more and see a photo of the buildings
4. There were 2 more Town Trust properties nearer the top of St Mary Street on the west side. They were actually located up from the stable which was located on the corner of Soapers Lane. When street numbering was introduced in the 1950’s they were given the numbers 8 and 10 St Mary Street. The earliest reference we have of these houses is 1580 when they were given, with other land and property in Thornbury, by Thomas Slimbridge for the benefit of the poor of the Borough. In the 1840 Tithe Map they were owned by the Corporation of Thornbury but by 1890 the Town Trust took over. When house numbering was introduced in the 1950’s they were called 8 and 10 St Mary Street. Click here to read more and see a photo of the building
5. There is a reference in the Mayors Accounts for 1790 which says: ‘Received of John Search a year’s chief rent for the house and garden (formerly two messuages) in his occupation near Bell’s Cross. Received of Ann Williams for a house and garden in the lower part of the Back Street at the end of malthouse of George Rolph. These last above mentioned premises were the gift and donation of Katherine Rippe and were heretofore four small messuages and called the Upper Almshouse‘. Katherine Rippe owned a lot of property in Thornbury and was a major benefactor to the poor in Thornbury. Click here to read about Katherine Rippe
We suspect that these almshouses covered the two plots shown in the 1840 Tithe Survey as Plots 204 and 205. The property occupied by John Search appears to refer to the Corner House, which Katherine Rippe had left in the her will to the poor people of Thornbury for use as an almshouse. Presumably the other three houses were built in the garden of the Corner House between it and the Malthouse. Two of the houses had disappeared by 1790. An indenture dated 1824 between James Bevan and James Withers refers to an almshouse which appears to be located on the corner near the junction between The Plain and St Mary Street. In the early 1800’s the building was in a ruinous state and various proposals were considered by the Corporation over the years to replace the building. These included plans for two new houses, a register office and even a gasometer. This building was eventually demolished and became the site of a weighbridge house was erected in the 1860’s and used whenever the market was held on the Plain.
The property occupied by Ann Williams in the Mayor’s Accounts 1790 was also left by Katherine Rippe and was one of the two houses remaining in 1790. We believe this property was the one on Plot 205 of the Tithe Map. In the absence of any other name or number, for the purposes of this website, we have called the property ‘The Birt House’. This was located on the end of the malthouse which still stands at the bottom of St Mary Street on the west side. The house continued to be owned by the Corporation of Thornbury and from 1890 by the Thornbury Town Trust. The house was last used as a house about 1898 after which it was leased by John Hodges Williams and used for storage. In the 1920’s it was demolished and replaced by the public conveniences which still stand at the bottom of the street, although now sadly closed. Click here to read about the Corner House and the Birt House