St. Catherine`s Almshouses

extract from Rev. W.H. Jones`s History of Bradford on Avon:
This is the oldest of the Charitable Institutions connected with Bradford-on-Avon. No exact account can be given, it is believed, either of its foundation or its endowment. According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus' (vol. i. p- 276) the Rectory of Bradford was chargeable with £3 6s. 8d. per annum for the support of " twelve poor persons at Bradford, there Praying for the Founder of the Monastery at Shaftesbury. It is not unlikely that at the Reformation out of the proceeds of the Manor of Bradford, which, as being the property of the dissolved Monastery at Shaftesbury, then lapsed to the Crown, some provision was made for the maintenance of a few of those poor persons who had before, from a similar source, derived their support.
It is probable, also, that there was a chapel dedicated to St. Catharine, and that it formed part of what is now called the Old Women's Almshouse, situated at the southern extremity of the town, at what used to be called Clay acre, now Clay farm. That there was a chapel at this spot we can have no doubt. Aubrey, in fact, 200 years ago, says expressly, " A little beyond the bridge is a chapel and almshouse of ancient date."
It may be mentioned, as confirmatory of this opinion, that there is still the remnant of the observance of a holiday on St. Catharine's day. Within a few years only, cakes called cattern-cakes were made in considerable numbers and sent by the bakers to their customers. Many of the old people reckon their ages by the festival of this Saint. A very short time ago an old bed-ridden woman said to the writer of this paper in true Wiltshire, and, we may add, very fair Anglo-Saxon-(and really they are often convertible terms),-" I'll be vower-score come Kattern-tide, and I beant yeable now to doff or don myself," which in modern English meant, "I shall be fourscore next St. Catherine's-tide, and I am not able now to undress (do-off) or dress (do-on) myself."
These almshouses are now occupied exclusively by poor women. This was by no means the case originally. Many entries may be seen in the Burial Register which prove that poor men also shared originally in their benefits.(1) Moreover there are now but three recipients of this charity. [There are now four.] Originally without doubt, there must have been more;-indeed as lately as 1786, as appears from a return made to the House of Commons in that year, there would seem to have been four alms-women.
When the Charity Commissioners visited Bradford, in 1834, they enquired into the truth of some traditions that then prevailed, (as they do to the present day) not only as to the much larger number who formerly received relief from this source, but as to there being a chapel, and a chaplain attached to it, who received £10 as a yearly stipend. They state, as the result of their enquiries, that though they could obtain no satisfactory oral or documentary evidence in proof of the truth of such traditions, yet that there was every reason to believe "that a bell had been taken from what is described as the ohapel, and carried to Winsley Church, where it is supposed yet to remain." They also give it as their opinion that some loads of stone were taken from the Alms-house premises, about the year 1794, for the purpose of mending the roads, such a statement having been expressly made to them by one George Price, who drove the team on the occasion."
Though there might be an absence of clear evidence on the subject, there is every probability that there is more truth the traditions of the old people of Bradford than the Church Commissioners seemed willing to allow. The fact of there being at the time of the Reformation two Chantry priests attached to the parish church, each with a stipend of £10 yearly, may give some little explanation of part of the tradition though a mistake may have been made as to the precise ' chaplain,' who received it. Moreover that there was a chapel is quite clear. Aubrey who wrote more than two hundred years ago expressly mentions it. It is spoken of also in the Terrier, which contains an account of the property of the Almshouse at the beginning of the last century. In a map moreover of Wiltshire, published in 1773 by Messrs. Andrews and Dory, a spot is distinctly marked as, - " The Chapel."
The only document relating to the original property of the Alms-house is an ancient parchment writing or terrier, which was produced, by the then Steward of the Lord of the Manor, before the Charity Commissioners, in 1834. They give in their report a complete copy of this document. It is entitled, - "An account taken the 2nd day of June, 1702, of all the lands belonging to the old Alms-house, situate in the Parish of Bradford, in the county of Wilts." The land belonging to the Alms-house is described as twelve acres and a half, lying dispersedly in different parts of the Parish. The rent arising therefrom, together with an annual payment of 38s. due from the Lord of the Manor, constituted the income of the Charity. The Charity Commissioners were further informed that there was in existence a lease, by which, about the year 1760, Mr. Powlett Wright, as Lord of the Manor of Bradford, demised the lands above described for the benefit of the Alms-house. The lands were also said to be let at rack-rent, producing either £8, or (as was thought more probable) £12 a year
With reference to the buildings the Charity Commissioners

"The almshouses occupy a triangle, standing between two roads and the canal from Bradford to Bath. They consist of three tenements,of one floor each, and are all under one roof; they are low in the walls, and altogether in bad condition. Each of the three almswomen occupies one tenement."

The road, in fact which was made at the time of the formation of the Kennet and Avon Canal at a considerable hi'gher level than the former one, reaches on the east side of the buildings, above the level of the original window-sills. This necessarily makes all the tenements extremely damp. It is to be regretted that as the Kennet and Avon Canal Company, in making their approaches, so seriously impaired the Alms-houses as places of residence, the more so, as a wall is built within a few yards of their entrances, they were not required by the erection of other cottages to secure to the poor alms-women the comforts they had previously enjoyed.
With regard to the portion of Alms-house property occupied by the Kennet and Avon Canal Company, to which we have just made a passing reference, the Commissioners say :-

" The Canal Company by a clause in their Act of Parliament (34 Ge*. III.) were together with the parties interested, authorized to sell and fix the rent of the land acquired by the Act. In this case an annual rent was fixed for so much of the almshouse property as was required, and a deed was prepared stating the nature of the agreements between the Canal Company and the Charity. This deed, Mr. Clutterbuck, then Steward of the Lord of the Manor, never executed. It sets forth, that in consideration of the annual rent of £11, the alms-house conveyed to the Canal Company land (therein described) to the extent of nearly three acres. This agreement is executed by the Commissioners under the Act, and the rent has ever since been regularly paid."

In the year 1834, P. Methuen Esq. (soon afterwards created Lord Methuen) then Lord of the Manor, is stated to have agreed to grant a lease of the garden opposite to them, and hitherto forming part of their property, to a Gas Company, at the yearly rent of £10. This lease, however, the Charity Commissioners tell us, was never executed. They say,- writing at the time of the negotiation,-

"The Company purposes, instead of paying the rent of £10, to erect houses of a superior order for the alms-women on that part of the premises let to them, which is not occupied by their own buildings. This proposal it is intended to accept, as the site of the present alms-houses, from its nearness to the canal, will let well for stables, and the arrangement will Prove very beneficial to the Charity."

Like many other good intentions, this one was never carried into effect. The annual rent of £10 has been paid by the Gas Company. [The first three of these house has since been entirely rebuilt out of funds left for the purpose by the late Mr. John Bubb ; the fourth house has been built by the Trustees ; the architect was Mr. C. S. Adye.]
In comparing the present possessions of the Alms house with those recorded as belonging to it in 1702, it appears th a large proportion of the land has since then been lost. A pamphlet recently published, on " The Charities of Bradford-on-Avon," an attempt has been made, and not, it is hoped unsuccessfully, to identify the various portions of land which belonged to the Alms-house at the commencement of the last century, but which have since that time passed into other hands.
The present income of this Charity is rather more than £45 per annum. Till recently, in consequence of reduction of rent for premises held under the Alms-house, the income was about £10 more.
In 1786, according to a return furnished pursuant to Act of Parliament (26 GEORGE III. c. 51) by the then Churchwardens, Messrs. Thomas Bush and Richard Taylor, the property is said to have been vested in the Lord of the Manor, and to consist of a net sum of £16 Is. 4d., issuing from rent of land. This return confirms the truth of an opinion expressed by the Charity Commissioners, in 1834, with regard to the comparatively recent loss of land once belonging to the Alms-house.
For some years past there have been but three poor women in the Alms-house. Their allowance is four shillings weekly. [There are now four, each, receive four shillings weekly, and five cwt. of coal at Christmas.]
With regard to the management of the Alms-house the Commissioners state, as the result of information given them in 1834,-

" The nomination of the Almshouse has invariably been made by the Steward of the Lord of the Manor, (who is at present Paul Methuen of Corsham House,) in behalf of the Lord. The Lord oonslders that no limitation is imposed on his choice of the Almswomen; but in practise has always been confined to women ofthe parish not receiving parish
relief. In all other respects it is entirely in the discretion of the Lord of the Manor, or his Steward."

There seems to be some reason to question the correctness of this last statement. For many years past, at all events since 1821, when Mr. Clutterbuck died, there appear to have been no legal Trustees of the property belonging to the Charity. In a deed dated 1789, to which allusion has bee already made, Mr. Clutterbuck is described as ' the sole surviving Trustee appointed for the management of the esta belonging to the Almshouse.' We have failed to discover ar subsequent appointment of Trustees by competent authority. (The present Trustees are the Lord of the Manor, Mr. C. E. Hobhouse, M.P., the Vicar and Churchwardens of Bradford, Mr. C. S. Adye, and a representative of the Vestry. The property remains much as described; but there is also a sum £636 :15 : 9 in New Consols. The almswomen are appointed by Mr. Hobhouse. They must be parishioners of Bradford (Trinity or Christ Church), not under 60 years of age, and must not for 12 months previously have been in receipt of paroch relief. There are no denominational restrictions.)

(2) The following extract is from an account of lands, &c., belonging to the manor (c. 1720).-" Katharine Street. John Harvey holdeth by copy dated 5th May, 1715, granted him by Hon. Ann Lady Powlett during the lives of John Harvey and others, and during the widowhood of Ann relict of Robert Harvey, one Cottage, Barn, and Reek Barton: the Highway east and Culverclose west." This sufficiently indicates the correctness of the statement above, as to where St. Catharine street lay.

1838 Map of Bradford showing the Almshouses (no. 70)