A few months ago Running Past covered the two Boone’s Chapels on Lee High Road, both chapels had almshouses attached to them and in a recent post last week we looked at the almshouses themselves. Behind the Grade I listed Boone’s Chapel, set back from Lee High Road, are the best known some of the best known almshouses in South East London, Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses.
Like much of the area around Old Road, the land currently used by the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses on Brandram Road, has its roots in the piecemeal sell off of the land that was once belonged to Lee Place in 1824. Several of the plots were bought by the Worshipful Company of the Merchant Taylors’ for almshouses.
The Company was one of the livery companies of the City of London; as the name implies it was first an association of tailors, but this connection had virtually ended by the close of the 17th century and it had become a philanthropic and social association.
The almshouses built in 1826 were the third generation of almshouses – the first had been built next door to Merchant Taylors’ Hall in Threadneedle Street, and dated from the mid 14th century. The second edition was close to Tower Hill on land occupied by the railway into Fenchurch Street and DLR into Tower Hill.
The 34 almshouses, two behind each door, are Grade II listed and described by Cherry and Pevsner (1) as:
Large, on three sides of an open quadrangle, stock brick, sparsely classical, with a central feature emphasised by a pediment and cupola.
The almshouses have a walled garden with a lawn sloping down to a small dip which once contained the original course of Mid Kid Brook which was dammed around the border with Brandram Road to form a boating lake – latterly known as the Mirror of Lee. It is surrounded by mature trees and shrubs which make photography difficult. The impressive gatehouse (pictured below) was added in the 1850s.
Having looked at the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses, we return to the Boone’s almshouses, as was noted in the previous post, the second version of them was replaced in 1963 in Belmont Park and known as Christopher Boone’s Almshouses. The area around there had been devastated by a pair of V-1 flying bombs, and the land to the north and east was covered with a large concentration of prefab bungalows. A slightly larger area was cleared for what became the Mercator Estate, which included an old people’s home. The almshouses site saw demolition of Victorian houses, which had suffered some damage in the Blitz. They are pictured in the bottom right hand corner of the aerial photograph from 1939 (just above the Patterson Edwards factory).
The number of almshouses increased from the 12 on Lee High Road to 29 one-bedroom houses and bungalows along with two staff units, originally for a matron and a gardener. The selection criteria for residents were less onerous than those of Trinity Hospital in Greenwich, requiring applicants to have lived for at least five years in the Borough of Lewisham or Greenwich; preference was given though to applicants from the former parish of Lee.
The high walled development had an attractive gatehouse and, from the outside at least, looked a pleasant development. However, unlike the other variants of the Merchant Taylors’ managed almshouses in Lee, their life was a relatively short one – the relatively steeply sloping site proved to be a struggle for an ageing population with increasing mobility issues and letting the almshouses became problematic.
Plans were submitted in 2010 for the demolition of the 1963 site to be replaced by a much denser development – the 29 homes have become 62, with 32 being returned to The Merchant Taylors’ Boone’s Charity (the two charities merged in 2010). The remainder were sold to cross subsidise the re-provision of ‘state-of-the-art, fully-accessible and fully-adaptable almshouses;’ since 2010 there has been little grant funding for social housing and sales were, at the time, the only way to make this type of development ‘work’ financially.
To qualify for a home there the allocations criteria you would need to be …
• a peaceful, considerate person committted to getting on well with your neighbours
• in need of high quality housing in Lewisham
• aged at least 57
• capable of independent living; and
• can’t afford to buy
So what of the 1826 version? The residents were relocated to the new Blessington Road site with the Grade II listed buildings struggling to cope with those with reduced mobility who may require wheelchairs or motorised buggies. They currently stand empty and from the Brandram Road side look rather dilapidated; they are occupied by property guardians – with a notice on the listed entrance. Planning permission was granted in 2010 to build 5 houses, either side of the the southern most block, immediately behind Boone’s Chapel. In 2015 further permission was granted to reduce the number of almshouses – largely by knocking the ‘pairs’ behind each front door together. Both of these Planning Permissions will have lapsed at the time of writing in spring 2020, with no new permissions having been sought. The intention though presumably remains the refurbishment and sale of the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses on a long leasehold basis – part of the cross subsidisation of the ‘state of the art’ version.
- Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) The Buildings of England – London 2: South p426
- The 1939 aerial photograph is via the fantastic Britain from Above, its use is allowed in non-commercial blogs such as Running Past, it remains their copyright
- The photograph of the 1963 scheme is via Google Streetview