Cirencester Civic Society guide us through the towns old almshouses
There is evidence to suggest that the earliest almshouses in England are here in Cirencester. St. Lawrence’s Hospital Charity was founded in 1235 and St. John’s Hospital Charity in 1319. These were followed by St. Thomas’s Hospital Charity in 1476 and by Bowly’s Almshouse Charity in 1826. Between them, they own and manage some 70 dwellings which provide low-cost housing around the town.
The origins of St. Lawrence’s and St. John the Evangelist (1133) can be traced to the establishment of chapels and associated hospitals in Gloucester Street and Spitalgate. Both were acquired by the Abbey of St. Mary thanks to the actions of King Edward 3rd in the 14th Century. When King Henry 8th abolished the Monasteries in 1539 they were gifted to Dr Masters his physician. The Trustees of St. Lawrence’s have recently commissioned a historian to research the history at Gloucestershire County Archives and have promised to write a detailed article in the Autumn.
The Chantry of St. John’s Hospital is all that remains –most of the almshouses were built in 1793 to replace the ruinous hospital, a cottage was built inside the Chantry and removed in 1968 and four flats were built in 1980’s. St Johns has 6 properties on Lewis Lane, which were re-endowed by William Lennox Bathurst (5th Earl) in 1874 in memory of his sister. There are also three houses on Querns Lane (formerly six very small cottages).
St. Thomas’s Hospital in Thomas Street, known as Weavers Hall, is one of the earliest buildings in almost continuous occupation in Cirencester, having been built in about 1476 by the founder of the charity, Sir William Nottingham, to house poor weavers- it has for many years been divided into two small one-bedroom homes.
In 1826 a terrace of eight almshouses were built in Watermoor Road by Christopher Bowly, a quaker, whose descendants Christopher and Sarah Bowly built two more in 1918 and a further six in 1924. Not to be outdone Thomas Bowly built six almshouses in Querns Lane in 1883- a truly generous family of benefactors.
All four charities are overseen by elected Trustees and employ Clerks to administer them in accordance with their constitutions. The Trustees and their Clerks meet regularly each year and constantly strive to maintain and improve their properties. The gardens of some of these almshouses are usually opened for Heritage Open Days each September such is the pride which the residents have in their homes.
Cirencester can be very proud of its long running history of providing homes for those residents whose means are limited- now stretching back some 800 years!
Cirencester Civic Society