Alms houses in Brighton

An almshouse is a place where poor people could reside. They were usually paid for out of someone’s will, with a few places reserved for the needy. Here is some history about some almshouses in Brighton.

FALMER
In 1869, Knights Almshouses were built alongside the village pond, erected in memory of Mary Chichester, the wife of Henry Thomas Pelham, third Earl of Chichester. The two cottages, now known as Pelham Cottages, share a porch, above which is a carved stone tablet, bearing the arms of the Pelham family. Over the windows on the front elevation are two more stone tablets, which bear the Countess’s initials ‘MC’ and the date 1869.

HOWELL’S
In George St, off St James St, a three-storey row of houses known as Howells Court was erected in 1987 on the site of Howell’s Almshouses — ten small, stuccoed houses built in 1859 by a Charles Howell ‘for the benefit of the reduced inhabitants of Brighton and Hove’. The almshouses had become derelict by 1965.

PERCY AND WAGNER
The first six of these almshouses — the oldest buildings in Hanover — were built in 1795 at the bottom of Elm Grove, by Mrs Margaret Marriot, to commemorate her friends, the late Dorothea and Philadelphia Percy, daughters of the Duke of Northumberland. She stipulated that the houses had to be occupied by six poor widows who were members of the Church of England. The women were also given £48 per annum and a new gown and cloak every second year; this was later increased to £96 and two gowns and bonnets each year, and a duffel coat every third year. The original houses, nos.4-9, were the first Gothic revival buildings in Brighton. In 1859, another six houses, for six ‘poor maidens’, were added by the Revd Henry Wagner and his sister Mary, in memory of the Marquess of Bristol. By the 1960s, the almshouses were in a dilapidated condition and seemed doomed for demolition but were listed in March 1971 and restored in 1975-6, with financial assistance from Brighton Council. The interiors were redesigned and new kitchen and bathroom extensions were built at the back of the houses.

PILGRIM’S COTTAGES
This row of almshouses were built in 1852 in Spa St by the Soames’ family, for poor widows aged 60 and over; they were occupied until the mid-1960s.

ST BARTHOLOMEW’S
The Church and Priory of St Bartholomew stood on the site of Bartholomew House, just to the south-west of the junction of Market St and Prince Albert St. The chapel was established between 1120 and 1147 by the great Cluniac Priory of St Pancras at Lewes. It was partially destroyed by French raiders in 1514, but the Prior’s Lodge, a residence connected with the chapel, was spared. In 1547, the priory was dissolved under Henry VIII and some almshouses were erected on the land then known as the Bartholomews, which stretched from Little East St to Black Lion St. In 1592, the ruinous chapel and the other buildings of the Bartholomews were purchased on behalf of the town, and the almshouses were sold to the parish in 1733 for £17. The land was acquired by the town commissioners in 1824 for the construction of a new town hall.

STANMER
Numbers 11-12 of the village street were built as almhouses in 1912, in memory of Lilla, Countess of Chichester. Thomas Pelham was the first Earl of Chichester and, until 1947, the Pelham family owned Stanmer village.

Allot meant a lot in bygone days

In its earliest incarnation, Brighton was a town was a quarter of a mile square, comprising North St, West St, East St and South St, with ‘allotments’ of land in the middle of these; ‘The Lanes’ were the pathways between these ‘allotments’.

Prior to WWII, there was one allotment to every 16 households; after the wartime publicity drive to encourage people to ‘Dig for Victory’, this increased to one for every 12 households.

After the end of WWII and food rationing, many allotments in Brighton lay unused and some were sold off in the 1980s.

But the late 20th century’s rise in food prices and an interest in organic, grow-your-own produce in the town saw the demand for plots rocket and the waiting list for a plot on many sites is five years or more, with 1,979 people in the queue — some since January 1998.

There are 37 allotment sites in Brighton and Hove, providing plots for 2,500 tenants. In 2002, Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation launched an £80,000 appeal to convert three plots for disabled users and set up accessible raised box beds.

In 2009, the council announced that 100 new sites would be created to help meet demand: 40 new plots on Whitehawk Hill, and another 60 in neighbouring Craven Vale. Also that year, the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership received £500,000 from the Big Lottery fund for a three-year Harvest Brighton and Hove project, to identify and utilise new green spaces for growing food. The project also promotes food-growing in the city and initiatives, such as scrumping for unharvested apples.

However, on the minus side, in November 2009, a government planning inspector gave the go-ahead for four houses to be built on a narrow strip of former railway land allotments between London Rd station and Springfield Rd, at the back of the Open House pub. Developers Kingsbury Estate Ltd had taken the plans to a public inquiry after they were initially rejected by Brighton and Hove City Council, because of the impact on wildlife.

The group Friends of London Rd Old Railway Allotments was formed to oppose the proposal. Until 1992, the site was allotments cultivated by railway workers but the developers denied there were ever any allotments there. In January 2010, it was announced that a shortlist of proposals for the draft Sustainable Communities Act included one submitted by Brighton & Hove Council, which would enable allotment-holders to sell fruit and vegetables they grow.