Almshouses – Part One
Tuskar Street. SE10
I’ve been meaning to look at Greenwich’s numerous almshouses for some time – sadly since they aren’t time-sensitive they’ve been bumped virtually every time I’ve tried. But hey – it’s about time – so I’m going to start – not with the grandest, we’ll get to them later – but with one of the most tucked away – so much so that if you don’t live virtually on top of them, you may not even know they exist…
What we see today are relatively modern buildings – 1938 – but William Hatcliffe (1560-1620) himself is a far older figure. I got quite excited when I started to research him as it began to look like he could be William Shakespeare’s mysterious “Mr W.H.” to whom the first 126 sonnets are dedicated. Apparently a William Hattcliffe was an extremely popular law student at Grays Inn and was even voted “Prince Purpoole”in 1588 – Lord of the Revels. That would make him 28, though – a bit old for a law student, and especially for a law student that everyone fancied, and, rather annoyingly I then found another William Hatcliffe – 1568 – 1631 who looks a more likely candidate for Shakespeare’s affections.
No matter. Our William Hatcliffe is still quite interesting – though little is known of his life. He was Chief Avenor (whatever one of those is) of King James’s stables and must have ended his days quite wealthy. In his will, after leaving £30 to his sister, the unfortunately-named Anne Duck, to buy a mourning outfit, he left his land – in East Greenwich, Lee and Lewisham to be used for the relief of the poor.
Though the powers-that-be were thinking about it as early as 1839, it wasn’t until 1857 that anyone got round to doing anything about it. A set of almshouses were built in Lewisham – until Lewisham council built the town hall on top of them. They were rebuilt nearby but destroyed by an air raid in WWII. The London Footprints website reckons that the East Greenwich Almshouses were also built in 1857, but I’m not totally sure about that – they look younger to me. Maybe someone can set me right.
What I know is that in the 20th Century four doughty Greenwich ladies coughed up enough cash to either build or extend the almshouses in Tuskar St. Adelaide Mary, Henrietta Martyr, Mary Jane and Helen Mortimer Smith of Crooms Hill left money for the handsome red-brick row with its Dutch gabled ends. Not as splendid as, perhaps, Trinity Hospital, Queen Elizabeth College or even the Jubilee Almshouses, it is still a lovely little block – of its own time and with an honesty that still works.
Sadly the Hatcliffe Almshouses didn’t last much longer. They started going downhill and by the early 1980s they were virtually derelict – mainly boarded up.
I am glad to report that it’s no longer like that, and the buildings are once again being used for their original purpose, as sheltered housing for elderly people who have lived in Greenwich for at least ten years. As long as they don’t have pets, there are 13 one-bed flats available, though I suspect you probably have to put your name down for one of them at birth.
There appears to be work going on there at the moment. I am assuming it’s more improvements. But next time you’re walking along Trafalgar Road, take a small detour to find these quiet, hidden buildings…