I’m in the midst of writing an assignment so just a very quick one that I’m hoping to follow up when I’ve more time. Yesterday on Twitter (yes I know, I’m supposed to be writing an assignment), I noticed that Historic England were doing a survey of post-war housing for the elderly and it reminded me that a while back I’d seen a plaque outside a row of bungalows on Stowe Road so I popped out for a breather and another look.
Thanks to Aaron on Facebook, who did a bit of research, I now know the basic history of these homes. In 1654, William Lunn left two almshouses for six poor widows in his will. The date of 1667 given on the plaque is when Edward Lunn (presumably his son) conveyed them to a trust. By 1762, there were six two roomed cottages on the site and as the plaque tells us, these were replaced with six new bungalows in 1959. As the plaque doesn’t tell us, because it too dates to 1959, more were added in the 1980s.
Although I’d like to see a photograph of the cottages as they were, what interests me more than the bricks and mortar here are the people. I want to know about William Lunn and the reason for his charity. I want to know about the women who lived there three hundred and fifty years ago and those who have called the almshouses home since. Lunn’s Homes may not have the ye olde appeal of some of Lichfield’s other almshouses, such as St John’s and Dr Milley’s, but they’ve a story worth telling and, according to Historic England, architecture worth recording.
Now I do have more time, I called into Lichfield Record Office to take a look at the accounts book they hold for Lunn’s Charity. It covers the period 1851 to 1883 and begins with a description of the trust as follows:
William Lunn of the City of Lichfield by indenture dated the 26th June 1667 gave to Trustees certain messuages and two acres of land within the city, for six poor, ancient and impotent widows of the City of Lichfield.
As well as recording payments made for various services (coal from Mr Brawn, and later Mr Summerfield, Mr Gorton for repairs and perhaps most intriguingly, a payment of 10 shilling on 27th March 1874 to Mr Duvall for ‘removing a nuisance’), it tells us that the women were each paid an annual sum of 5 shilling each and that they were allowed half a ton of coal five times a year.
Who were these women though? All I have at the moment is a list of names from that thirty year period to work through. The book starts with a list of those allocated rooms as at 11th October 1851: Sarah Thacker admitted in 1837; Jane Smith in 1843; Catherine Trigg 1845; Mary Bullock (undated); Hannah Cresswell (undated) and notes that one former resident, Elizabeth Walker is dead. Her place is given to Helen Hartwell aged 79. And this is how it continues every year – a list of women and a note of those who have died (or left, for reasons unspecified), and those who take up residence in their place. Sometimes the husband’s name is included, sometimes the name of the street the women were leaving for the almshouse. For example, in 1879, Widow Sarah Harris of Stowe Street/George Lane was appointed inmate in the place of Widow Belfield who quit aged 61 years.
There is a memorial to William Lunn Gent. in St Chad’s church describing his gift of two houses in Stowe Street and two acres of land in Longfurlow for the benefit of six poor widows for ever. So, Lunn is buried at St Chad’s and I imagine that many of the poor widows who benefited from his gift are buried there too. Are their graves marked I wonder? Thinking about it, there was no mention of costs for burials and headstones, in the accounts, so presumably this would have been the responsibility of any relatives. Assuming there were some.
Somebody posted an Italian proverb on Twitter earlier that I hadn’t heard before, ‘After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box‘ and of course, people talk of ‘Death -the great leveller’, although reading about Victorian and Edwardian pauper burials (1), I’m really not convinced. What I am sure of though is that achieving equality when you’re dead is a bit late – a more level playing field beforehand was, and still is, needed.
(1) In March 1904, at the fortnightly meeting of the Lichfield Board of Guardians, the Workhouse Master was asked whether any steps were taken to mark the graves of paupers in St Michael’s Churchyard, and whether Burial Board regulations were in force in Lichfield i.e. numbers placed on the graves and a register kept. The Master replied there was no burial board in Lichfield and was criticised for not carrying out the same regulations for ‘decency’s sake’. One to follow up I think.
‘Lichfield: Charities for the poor’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990), pp. 185-194 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/pp185-194 [accessed 20 April 2015].
Coley, N. Lichfield Book of Days, The History Press