We have combined the history of two houses, both of them long gone. They were both part of a group of four houses known as ‘The Upper Almshouses‘. The photo above shows their location near the corner of The Plain and the west side of St Mary Street.
The Corner House
In the extract of the 1840 Tithe Map shown on the left, we believe the Corner House to be the house on Plot 204 just under the letter ‘N’. Our earliest knowledge of this house comes from the her last will and testament of Katherine Rippe that she wrote in 1594.
Katherine was the widow of William Rippe, a tanner and when she died she left a considerable number of properties. Most of these properties were left to nephews and nieces as her son had pre-deceased her. She did however leave two properties for the benefit of the poor in Thornbury. One of these was the ‘Corner House and its backside belonging’ which adjoined Katherine’s bruern (which we assume to have been the old Malthouse). Click here to read more about Katherine and her family
The Corner House appears to have been already used as an almshouse by 1594 because in her will Katherine directed that the Mayor and the masters of the town should not put out the poor that were then there during their lives. She also requested that they would permit Margaret Thomas to dwell in the almshouse during her life in view of the fact that Katherine had built the almshouse.
We can’t be sure but we suspect that in 1594 when Katherine wrote her will the Corner House was the only building on the land shown in the Tithe Map as plots 204 and 205 and that the Corner House’s ‘backside’ adjoined Katherine’s Bruerne (plot 206). Certainly, as can be seen from the extract of the Mayors Accounts in 1790 (referred to below), at some stage before that time there had been four houses on the two plots.
When the local benefactor, John Hylpe, made an indenture dated 1604 he arranged for subsequent owners of several of his properties to pay an annual rent charge to the Mayor for the benefit of the poor. The list of properties included ‘another house called a corner house at the lower end of St Mary Street with a barn and brewhouse late in the tenure of Katherine Rippe’. The rent charge was 4 shillings and 4 pence.
The 1670 Rent Roll also lists the Almshouses in St Mary Street as being between the Bruern and the bottom of the street.
At some time before 1790 two of the houses were taken down or the four houses were re-developed to form two. A reference in the Mayors Accounts for 1790 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’.
We believe that it was John Search who lived in the Corner House. John is listed in the Mayors Accounts as paying his rent of 6d per annum from 1782 to 1805. William Search appears to have replaced John Search in this property but it appears to have become dilapidated in the 1820’s and never occupied again.
The Corporation had various plans to use the site. It was considered for the site for a Register Office, but this was rejected in favour of a site in the High Street. Then in 1862 it was agreed that part of the site should be used for the erection of a weighing machine for the Market then held in the High Street and The Plain. Agreement was also made to erect a gas meter on the wall for the use of Thornbury Gas Company. A little shed or office was also built for the weighing machine attendant. The Weighing Machine continued to operate on that site until 1921. A Gazette article printed at that time referred to the concern expressed by farmers who now had to take their cattle to the nearest weighbridge at the Railway Station.
The Birt House
This house was never officially known by the name of the ‘Birt House’ but in the absence of house numbering we are calling it by that name in recognition of the family that lived there for a long time. It stood on the end of the Malthouse and is shown in the extract of the Tithe Map (shown at the top of the page) as the small building on the left of the letter ‘S’.
The house was one of the four almshouses owned by the Corporation. Our earliest record of any occupant was Ann Williams referred to above. She was listed as being a tenant there from 1785 to 1794. Ann was a widow who died aged 66 and was buried on 4th January 1794. The next tenant listed in the Account Books was Thomas Lyddiatt who is first mentioned in 1799. The accounts show that Thomas was ‘a poor man’ and allowed to live there rent free for a few years, but by 1801 he was paying his £1 per annum rent again. From 1805 to 1811 Hester Lydiatt, presumably his widow, was shown as the tenant. From 1812 to 1819 the Overseers of the Poor were listed as paying the rent with no particular tenant mentioned. From 1820 onwards Joseph Birt became the tenant paying £1 per annum rent. See details of Joseph and other tenants below.
We admit to being confused about the ownership of the house at the time of the 1840 Tithe Survey. The house was then plot 205 owned by Samuel Leonard and occupied by Joseph Birt. The only Samuel Leonard in the area at that time was a farmer at Nupdown Farm. However we know from the Mayors Accounts Books and later by the Rate Books from 1876 to 1885 that the Corporation of Thornbury owned the property from as early as 1820 and that the Birt family, starting with Joseph Birt, paid them rent until about 1886. We cannot explain this.
In 1890 the Thornbury Town Trust took over the property and administration of the charities which had previously been in the hands of the mayor and aldermen of the Corporation. Until 1899 the property was used as a dwelling house. From that time the house became a storeroom used by John Hodges Williams who ran a shop on the corner of the High Street and The Plain.
John Hodges Williams finally bought the property in 1924. The house building can just be seen in an aerial photograph taken in the 1928. The Council had expressed a desire to erect a public lavatory in the Town and the Gazette in 1924 included a report of a council meeting which discussed the subject. It was recognised that the need for toilets was ‘long overdue’. In response to a question from Councillor Short ‘all agreed that the cost would be prohibitive, except in the case of one suitable site, which it was feared, was too far removed from the centre of town to be any real benefit. It was decided that the question remain in abeyance for the present.’ On 28th February 1934 John Hodges Williams gave the property to the Town Council ‘in consideration of the affection which he has for the Town of Thornbury’ so that the public conveniences could be built. It is interesting that John Thomas Oates, the councillor has been acknowledged as being the person who was responsible for the provision of toilets. Click here to read about John Hodges Williams
Occupants of the house
Joseph Birt – the Mayors Accounts Book show that Joseph was living in the house from at least 1820 paying a rent of £1 per annum. Although the 1840 Tithe Survey shows he was renting the house at the time, he had in fact moved away and his son, George Birt had taken over this house. The 1841 census shows Joseph had moved to Castle Street. Click here to read more
George and Harriet Birt – George was listed as living in the house in the 1841 census. He was one of the sons of Joseph Birt who had been living here previously. George and Harriett, his wife, continued living for most of their lives. George died in 1871 and Harriett moved away about 1886 a few years before she died in 1889. Click here to read more
The Wilsons – the Mayors Account Book shows that following the departure of Harriett Birt, the house was taken over by ‘W. Wilson’ in 1887. The 1887 rate book adds that this is William Wilson. The Mayors Accounts show that in 1888 and 1889 it is let to ‘Mrs Wilson’. We don’t know if this is the same person or anything else to identify them.
Lucy Gough – in 1890 the house was taken over by her daughter-in-law, Lucy Gough. Lucy was married to James Gough, Harriett’s son by her first marriage to James Gough. Lucy Dartnell came from Swansea and in 1851 census she was working as a cook in service on College Green in Bristol. She married James Gough in 1859 and in 1861 they were living in St Mary Street, we think it was at the house which later became number 13 and they were still there in the 1871 census when they appear to be sharing the with other families. James was a blacksmith. He and Lucy had two children in 1871: Mary Jane aged 10 and James G aged 8.
The 1876 rate book and the 1881 census show that James and Lucy had moved to the house which later became known as 11 Gloucester Road. The census shows that James was an unemployed blacksmith and that their son, James was a shoemaker’s apprentice. They were still living in Gloucester Road in the 1885 rate book. James died 1890 aged 56.
The 1890 rate book shows ‘Mrs Gough’ was now living in the house in St Mary Street. The 1891 census shows Lucy Gough was living there with her young grandchildren: Ellen Wellington and Thomas John, the children of Lucy’s daughter Mary Jane. Lucy continued living in the St Mary Street house until she died aged 77 and was buried on 29th December 1899.
John Hodges Williams – on the 4th February 1901 the Trustees of the Thornbury Town Trust agreed to lease the property to John Hodges Williams for a period of 21 years for an annual rent of £8. He already owned some of the adjoining properties on The Plain/High Street and the old Malthouse next door on St Mary Street. The indenture shows the lease includes the cottage and garden now void late in the occupation of ‘Gough Widow’ and the small shed or office used as a weigh office by the proprietors of the Thornbury Weighbridge Company as tenants.
We know from correspondence that in 1924 the property was still being leased by the Thornbury Town Trust to John Hodges Williams. The old cottage was now being used as a storeroom. It was put up for auction in 1924 with the adjoining garden land and sold to John Hodges Williams for £640. The property was almost 15 perches including a frontage of 58 ft 3 inches on St Mary Street and a frontage of 46ft 6 inches on The Plain. The old house was replaced by the public conveniences.