I read History at Durham University, graduating in 1970. After a career in social work and health and social care management, I obtained the MA in Religious and Social History 1500 – 1700 (with distinction) in 2007 from the University of Warwick, followed by Doctor of Philosophy in 2014.
My research interests focus on the provision of housing for the poor in early modern England, in particular the nature and variety of post-Reformation almshouses. Much of our current understanding of almshouses is heavily influenced by the surviving buildings and archives of wealthier establishments, but these are not necessarily typical of the genre. Many early modern almshouses were fairly modest establishments, often no more than a simple row of cottages.
John and Ann Smith’s almshouses at Longport, Canterbury
I am interested in the contribution made by early modern almshouses within the developing welfare systems of the time, and the reasons for the enduring popularity of this particular form of charity. Almshouses have a long history, but it is my contention that early modern almshouses were not just a continuation of their medieval predecessors, but took on a distinct identity in this period through a conscious remodelling of an ancient form of provision to meet new needs and aspirations.
Fifteenth century lodging range, St Cross Hospital, Winchester
The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw not only the survival of many medieval institutions but a remarkable surge in new foundations, influenced as much by public debate about the problem of poverty and the contemporary welfare agenda as by a desire for personal memorialisation. Post-Reformation almshouses are often considered to have been places of privilege for the respectable deserving poor, outside the structure of parish poor relief to which ordinary people were subjected, and making little contribution to the genuinely poor and needy. But private charity and public poor relief were inextricably enmeshed, and many almshouses had an integral role within the developing welfare systems of their local communities, in the period before workhouses became the preferred solution for the poor.
Almshouse doors, New Cobham College, Kent
My recent book, Almshouses in Early Modern England, addresses a neglected element of English welfare history, and explores the nature and extent of almshouse provision within the context of overall approaches to the poor. Drawing on archival evidence from contrasting parts of the country, the book analyses why almshouses were founded and the reasons for the continuing popularity of this particular form of charity. It examines who were the occupants of almshouses, what benefits they received and how residents were expected to live their lives. The book reveals considerable diversity of provision, and a surprising variation in the socio-economic status of almspeople and their experience of almshouse life, with many similarities to that of parish paupers.
In 2020/1 I led a group of volunteers researching the history of the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick, uncovering the stories of some of the people associated with it over the centuries. This almshouse was founded in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth's favourite courtier Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, for a Master and twelve Brethren, and was once a wealthy institution. It still exists today as an almshouse for retired soldiers, located in Warwick's medieval guild buildings, and celebrates its 450th anniversary in 2021. A book from this project, Masters and Brethren: the 450 year history of the Lord Leycester Hospital told through the stories of its people by Angela Nicholls, Marianne Pitts and Georgia Wilkes (Jigsaw Publishing, Exeter, 2021) is being produced for the anniversary.
Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick
Almshouses in Early Modern England: Charitable housing in the mixed economy of welfare 1550 – 1725 (Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2017).
‘ “A convenient habitation fit for Christians to dwell in”: Parish housing for the poor in seventeenth-century rural Warwickshire’, Warwickshire History, XVI (4), Winter 2015/6, pp. 156-169. (Winner of the Warwickshire Local History Society fiftieth anniversary essay prize).
‘ “A comfortable lodging and one shilling and fourpence a day”: the material benefits of an almshouse place’, in Nigel Goose, Helen Caffrey and Anne Langley (eds), The British Almshouse: New Perspectives on Philanthropy ca 1400-1914, (FACHRS Publications, Milton Keynes, 2016), pp. 284-297. (This chapter was previously published in Family and Community History, 15 (2), October 2012, pp. 81-94).
- ‘Charity and Welfare in Seventeenth-Century Village Politics: the parish of Leamington Hastings, Warwickshire”; workshop, Parish Powers and Cultures of Participation in Northern Europe on the eve of Modernity, Linnaeus University, Vaxjo, Sweden, 29 September 2017.
- ‘Hearth and Home: Living in an almshouse in early modern England’; conference, At Close Quarters: Experiencing the Domestic, 1400 – 1600, University of York, 3 March 2017.
- ‘Competitive philanthropy: parish charity in early modern Warwickshire', Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, 16 May 2015.
- ‘A seventeenth-century welfare republic: the parish of Leamington Hastings and its almshouse’, Warwickshire Local History Society, 21 October 2014.
- ‘“The papists always cast in our teeth the great and famous hospitals of their nobility and clergy”: The motivations and intentions of founders of post-Reformation almshouses’, Reform and Reformation Colloquium, Queen Mary University, London, 22 May 2012
- ‘Stipends and benefits received by the poor in early modern English almshouses’, Almshouses in Europe Conference, International Institute of Social History, Haarlem, The Netherlands, 7 September 2011
- ‘A place of one’s own? Charitable housing in seventeenth-century England’, Voluntary Action History Society workshop, Charity Begins at Home: Approaches to the History of Domestic Space and Voluntary Action, University of Warwick, 27 March 2010
The Holte Almshouses, Aston, Birmingham. Wood engraved print (1858) by an unknown artist.