Inside The Geffrye Almshouse
Wednesday 31 May marked the very first London History Day. That date was chosen because on that day in 1859 Big Ben was first heard across London.
To celebrate, London museums and galleries opened for special events, so I took the opportunity to have a peep inside the Geffrye Almshouse, dating from 1714.
What’s an Almshouse?
Essentially they’re charitable lodgings, built for the elderly poor and supported by bequests from wealthy patrons.
Often they cater for a specific group of people or cause; like poor sailors, soldiers or local women and The Geffrye Almshouses were intended for poor, retired Ironmongers.
Sir Robert Geffrye
Twice master of the worshipful company of Ironmongers and a previous Mayor of London, Robert Geffrye left money to set up Almshouses in Hoxton for 50 pensioners in 1714.
Robert is immortalised in the centre of the Almshouse, still there today, despite public pressure to remove the statue because of his links to the transatlantic slave trade.
And below is the almshouse as it was planned in 1714, looking remarkably similar to today, hence the Grade-I listed status.
Let’s Go Inside…
The almshouse is split into two sections; accommodation as it would’ve appeared in the 1700s and a second room based on a typical 1800s appearance.
But first we descend to the basement; complete with the heating equipment and a large sink to wash clothes, this was a communal area.
It was pretty basic…
Upstairs, each resident had their own room which looked comfortable and light, but there are hardly any personal possessions. The people who lived here were very poor but were provided with a kind of pension for food and warmth.
In contrast, the rooms for 19th Century residents reflect a change in the London economy. The Industrial Revolution was driving people into cities where there were more jobs available and money to be made.
The residents living here in the 1800s were able to afford more furniture and other possessions so these rooms give a kind of eerie reminder of the person who might have lived here.
Very little of the objects on display actually belonged to former residents, but have instead been installed as historically accurate facsimiles.
By the dawn of the 20th Century Hoxton was overcrowded and largely full of unsavoury slum dwellings. The Ironmonger’s Company sold their Kingsland Road property to relocate to a nicer, airy part of London and the almshouses were bought by the London County Council.
Thankfully the LCC decided to keep the green space open to the public and opened the Geffrye Museum of the Home in 1914, a great little museum that’s still there today.
The museum is free and open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm and contains 11 period rooms and a herb garden. Find out more here.
The Almshouse is within the same building and to see their latest tour schedule, click here. Tours cost £4 per person.
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