There have been almshouses in England for almost a thousand years. Today there are some 1700 separate charities in existence which continue to play a crucial role in providing accommodation for people of retirement age throughout the United Kingdom. The Prince of Wales is Patron of the National Association of Almshouses.
The Sevenoaks Almshouses came into existence in the early fifteenth century. They were established by William Sevenoke, who served as Mayor of London in 1418. Sevenoke is believed to have been a foundling, discovered in the town of Sevenoaks in the late 1300s. He grew up in the care of William Rumshed of Romshed Manor, near Underriver, and became a successful merchant who played a significant part in the affairs of the City of London which he represented as an MP.
We are the oldest charity in Sevenoaks having been in existence for almost 600 years and we are proud to continue serving the community today.
Mike Bolton, Chair of Trustees
On his death in 1432, Sevenoke left money to establish a grammar school and almshouses for 20 men and woman ‘in greatest want’. The original almshouses were replaced in 1732 by the present building now known as Sevenoaks Place, which was based upon designs by the Earl of Burlington. It is considered of historic importance and is Grade II* listed.
Account books detailing the management and maintenance of the Sevenoaks almshouses exist from the late sixteenth century, and provide a fascinating insight into daily life within the institution, giving details of payments to doctors, cleaners, seamstresses and others who contributed to the wellbeing of the residents. Firewood was provided and nurses lived in to care for the sick. Although these were town buildings, occasional references to farming reveal the close connection with Kentish rural life around Sevenoaks.
Paid Goody Smith 2s 6d week and allowed her 2s 6d more in hopping time.
Wardens’ Account Book, 1722
During the nineteenth century, census returns indicate that the almshouses were overcrowded, with some residents sharing their room with younger members of their families. Very occasionally a resident was reprimanded for disorderly behaviour.
It is ordered that Elizabeth Wallis who hath often been forwarned from keeping hennes and chickin in the Almeshowses and yett keeps them to the great hindrance of the rest of the Almespeople shall be from henceforth suspended from the receipt of any further pay.
Wardens’ Account Book, 1670
Over the centuries considerable changes have been made, including reducing the number of residents to 16 so that accommodation could be increased. An extensive refurbishment programme took place during the 1990s, when the Burlington Room was built, and further modernisation has taken place since 2007, including the installation of new bathrooms and kitchens.
The cottages in the Weald were given to the charity in 1832 by Multon Lambarde, a local landowner and JP, whose ancestor William Lambarde had brought the Sevenoaks almshouses to the attention of the general public in his work A Perambulation of Kent in 1576. The cottages adjoined Lambarde’s property at Panthurst Farm, and he intended them as accommodation for out-pensioners prior to their moving to fill a vacancy arising in the Sevenoaks almshouses. Lambarde Cottages flank the old village school house (privately owned), and like Sevenoaks Place, have been refurbished in recent years.