Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Whitgift Almshouses, Croydon

Incongruously ancient amidst the trams and chain stores, Whitgift Almshouses are an intriguing feature of central Croydon. The annual Heritage Festival offers a rare opportunity to walk through the gates and explore these historical buildings which are also very much a living community. 

John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a major benefactor to Croydon, and his name can be found on all sorts of places. Some, like the shopping centre, were built long after his time.

However, he was very much involved in establishing the almshouses, and set admission criteria which still apply today: residents must be over 60, of modest circumstances, members of the Church of England, and come from the parishes of Lambeth or Croydon or the County of Kent. Those who meet the criteria and are admitted get one of fifteen flats in sheltered accommodation, as well as use of the chapel and garden. They also receive a weekly stipend: on Friday mornings, the senior resident rings the chapel bell and each resident is given 70p (65p for men). Once a quarter, the men receive a further stipend of £3 and the women £1. 

The foundation stone was laid on 22 March 1596, after Elizabeth I gave Whitgift permission to establish the Hospital of the Holy Trinity. He had his summer residence in Croydon, and sought to address its poverty and (through founding a school at the same time) promote education.

While the flats have been modernised, converted from thirty or so individual rooms, the historical fabric of the buildings has largely survived, especially externally. Whitgift was a regular visitor to his almshouses, and his rooms remain. Their features include a staircase with alcove for a guard (the Archbishop was not always popular, especially as he was highly intolerant of Puritanism). There is a story that one night, the servant on guard fell asleep: falling down the steep stairs, he broke his neck and died. 

It's worth risking your neck on the steps, as they lead to the Audience Chamber with its original oak panelling and fireplace.

Safely back on the ground floor, the residents' common room has stained glass from various periods, including one piece spelling out a financial contribution!

Visits end where they began, in the Quadrangle. Its inclusion in the Hospital design reflects Whitgift's Cambridge connections: he was Master of Trinity College. 

The clock, which has only one hand, is from 1608. It's a reminder of the centuries which have passed in this lovely, peaceful place.

If you'd like to visit the Almshouses, there are free guided tours on Saturday 24 June as part of the Croydon Heritage Festival - book here.


Kay G. said...

I told my husband to read this post (he is from Croydon) and he said that he only knew this from the outside. So, thank you for showing him (and me) what it looks like on the inside. Lovely stained glass.
He said these almshouses are right in the centre of town on two very busy roads.

Tony said...

Not so busy now George St mainly trams and North End now pedestrianised, although when I visited as a scholl boy 50 odd yesrs ago the quadrangle was on ossis of peace!.Well worth a visit

CarolineLD said...

Thank you, Kay - I was excited to finally see inside when I did the tour.

Tony, it seems busy enough even now with all the shoppers! It really must have been an oasis when there were vehicles as well.

Hels said...

"Residents must be over 60, of modest circumstances, members of the Church of England, and come from the parishes of Lambeth or Croydon or the County of Kent". Well, I meet one of those criteria :)

Did/do the residents get to cook, eat and bathe in the privacy of their own flats or were these functions conducted communally? The garden photos are lovely... I hope there were benches outside.