Almshouses (3) Queen Elizabeth’s College

Greenwich has had its full share of charidee supporters over the centuries – and judging from the giant wooden plaques all over her churches – especially St Alfege’s – and unlike Dave Nice and Mike Smash, they most certainly did like to talk about it.

But in the case of some of our almshouses – still going strong today – it’s sort of hard to moan. Some are grander than others – certainly the sweet little Hatcliffe almshouses in Tuskar St are far more modest than, say the elegant Trinity jobbies on the Thames path next to the Power Station, but they all have a charm that makes me smile whenever I see them.

Queen Elizabeth’s College is right up there on the grander end of the scale. It was set up by wealthy landowner (he owned vast swathes of the Peninsula) William Lambarde. He was also an ‘antiquarian,’ though I had to delve into my Hasted to find out exactly what that entailed in his case.

Lambarde was of the legal profession; admitted to Linclon’s Inn in 1556, became a bench- man, Justice of the Peace for Kent, then Master in Chancery. He finally rose to the giddy ranks of Keeper of the Records at the Tower of London.

He wrote (among several frightening-looking tomes, such as a translation of Saxon Laws, several record-books and the thrillingly-titled The Duties of Constables, Borsholders, Tithing-Men And Other Such Low Ministers of the Peace) Kent’s first-ever tourist guide, The Perambulation of Kent, published in 1576.

He opened his Collegium Pauperum Reginae Elizabeth the same year (he needed permission from the queen, which is presumably why he named it after her), in Greenwich High Road, now opposite the station. Lambarde endowed the project to the tune of £104 annually to support 20 local poor, elderly people. They came from around and about, but he insisted that one had to come from Woolwich, one from Lee and three from Lewisham. In Victorian times, Hasted tells us that most generously they decided to allow their wives to join them, so Lewisham then sent six people.

He also tells us that the running of the place was entrusted to the Drapers Company, who still do so today. The Drapers are one of the most powerful liveries in the City – they’re Number 3 in the Top Twelve; so the almshouses are still very much active.

Of course the cottages didn’t look like they do now (Benedict, who supplied these pics, tells me that they’re affectionately known as ‘Hobbit Houses’ by their residents.)In fact I have no idea what they looked like – there don’t appear to be any pics anywhere (though I have been hearing tantalising reports of an 18th century “Panorama” of Greenwich which has just come to light – more about that will be gratefully received…)

The old buildings were pulled down in 1818 during a little spurt of general Greenwich prettification and replaced with something far more “Tudor” (in the eyes of the Regency builders, natch…)

They were extended in 1884 to double the number of occupants and Lambarde House,a frankly less-than-exciting additional block was put up next door in 1967. It provides 34 extra places – less pretty to look at from the outside, but if these are anything like most old almshouses, probably more comfy to live in than the historic buildings. Some of them even have a second bedroom.

I’ve never been inside, but the website tells me there are pleasant landscaped gardens. “Facilities include a Community Hall for social activities, a Chapel and a laundry. There is an active social club, organised by the residents, providing a range of activities and outings.”

So how do you get in?

Again from the website:

“You can apply to live in the Almshouses if you are nearing or over retirement age and currently reside in the London Boroughs of Greenwich or Lewisham.”

I should point out that you also have to prove you’re financially ‘deserving’ – i.e. you haven’t got enough cash to live elswhere, but don’t fret if you have a furry friend. Unlike many retirement homes, cats and dogs are accepted – though if Fido cops-it, you can’t replace him.

More almshouses another day…

One Comment to “Almshouses (3) Queen Elizabeth’s College”

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