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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Drawing of Almshouses in Rochford, 1787.
The Almshouse at Sherborne, Dorset
The Almshouse at Woburn, Bedfordshire
West Hackney Almshouses in Stoke Newington, London. (December 2005)

Almshouses are charitable housing provided to enable people (typically elderly people who can no longer work to earn enough to pay rent) to live in a particular community. They are often targeted at the poor of a locality, at those from certain forms of previous employment, or their widows, and are generally maintained by a charity or the trustees of a bequest.

Almshouses — so named — are European Christian institutions. Alms are, in the Christian tradition, monies or services donated to support the poor and indigent. Almshouses were established from the 10th century in Britain, to provide a place of residence for poor, old and distressed folk. The first recorded Almshouse was founded in York by King Athelstan, and the oldest still in existence is the Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester, dating to circa 1132.

In the Middle Ages the majority of European hospitals functioned as almshouses. See the history of hospitals.

Almshouses have been created throughout the period since the 10th century, up to the present day. There is no strict delineation between Almshouses and other forms of sheltered housing, although Almshouses will tend to be characterised by their charitable status and by the aim of supporting the continued independence of their residents.

In physical form, and owing in part to the antiquity of their formation, Almshouses are often ancient buildings comprising multiple small terraced houses or apartments, and providing accommodation for small numbers of residents; some 2,600 Almshouses continue to be operated in the United Kingdom providing 30,000 dwellings for 36,000 people. In the Netherlands a number of hofjes are still functioning as accommodation for elder people (mostly women). The economics of Almshouses takes the form of the provision of subsidised accommodation, often integrated with social care resources such as wardens. The basis for modern civil almshouses and workhouses came into being in 1597 when the English poor laws were enacted. These institutions underwent various population, program, and name changes, but by 1900 85% of the population in these institutions were aged (Day 2009).


See also


  • Day, P. (2009). A new history of social welfare(6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
  • Hopewell, Peter. Saint Cross: England's Oldest Almshouse, Chichester : Phillimore, 1995.
  • Illustrated History of Long Term Care

Further reading

  • Caffrey, Helen. Almshouses in the West Riding of Yorkshire 1600-1900. Kings Lynn: Heritage, 2006. ISBN 1-905223-21-8
  • Rothman, David J. (Ed.). "The Almshouse Experience", in series Poverty U.S.A.: The Historical Record, 1971. ISBN 0405030924

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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