History of Beeston’s Almshouses, Peckham
Along Consort Road in Peckham you can admire the quaint-looking Beeston’s almshouses.
As well as their charming appearance and characteristic almshouse layout, the aspect that really piqued my interest was the shield of the Girdlers’ Company.
You can spot more of these in Farringdon (featured on my Clerkenwell walk in my book!)
The Worshipful Company of Girdlers
The Girdlers’ Company have a recorded history going back to 1327 when King Edward III granted them Letters Patent. This gave them a monopoly over the trade of girdles (making belts and other metalwork) and allowed them to regulate manufacturing standards and see off competitors.
The company’s Arms – granted in 1454 – contains three gridirons, chosen because griddle-iron sounds similar to girdler. Their patron saint is Lawrence of Rome who was grilled to death(!) on a gridiron in AD258.
The church of St Lawrence Jewry by the City of London Guildhall has a gridiron weathervane and the Girdlers’ Company have been associated with that church for centuries.
The name Beeston is a nod to Cuthbert Beeston, a past Master of the Girdlers’ Company who left seven houses to the company in his will of 1582.
Originally, the bequeathed houses weren’t in Peckham, but at the south end of London Bridge. These were compulsory purchased in 1834 when the Old London Bridge (1209-1831) was being replaced by the John Rennie’s London Bridge (1831-1970).
In the 1828 map below you can see both the new and old London bridges marked across the Thames. The original almshouses were on the south approach to the Old London Bridge.
The proceeds of that sale funded a two-storey almshouse building in Peckham.
Today they’re home to 20 residents and when the occasional vacancy does appear the criteria is fairly strict, the charity stipulating that the residents shall be “poor persons in the following categories”;
- Freemen of the City of London;
- Persons who are, or have been, employed in trades akin to that of a Girdler (including workers in metals, leather, cloths and fabrics);
- Persons resident in the former administrative county of London, as constituted on 31st March 1965.
The almshouses were built in 1834, designed in a Tudor-esque style with gabled roofs at each end and hexagonal chimneys. Presumably this is a nod to their 16th century foundation and I found the overall effect visually striking and totally charming.
Peckham has a few other notable almshouses. I wrote about the former Asylum and Caroline Gardens chapel after visiting for Open House London.
There’s also more Girdlers’ Company almshouses in Choumert Road. Similar to Beeston’s, they were funded by a past Master, George Palyn in 1610 and were originally in the City before moving further into the London suburbs. You can see photos of them here.
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