Almshouses & NCHA

As ‘Clerk to the Trustee’, David Simmons has overall responsibility for the management of the almshouses controlled by Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA). In this blogpost David outlines the evolution of almshouses from their Anglo-Saxon origins and the process through which a number have been incorporated into NCHA, while retaining their charitable status.

Miss M. E. Hardstaff Homes, Gedling, Nottingham

Miss M. E. Hardstaff Homes, Gedling, Nottingham

First, the basics – what are almshouses? Put simply, almshouses are the oldest form of social housing. They have been in existence over 1000 years. The first recorded Almshouse was founded by King Athelstan in York in the 10th century AD. The oldest charity still in existence is thought to be the Hospital of St. Oswald in Worcester, founded circa 990. The earliest English almshouses were closely linked with the Church, although not always founded by it. The word ‘almshouse’ was in early times interchangeable with ‘hospital,’ in the sense of hospitality for the poor, elderly, rather than for the treatment of the sick. The homes were supported by gifts of money, ‘alms,’ collected by the Church to maintain them.

The building of almshouses continued through the Tudor and Stuart periods to Georgian and Victorian times when more homes were provided in urban rather than rural areas. Many almshouses were built with money left in the wills of wealthy, philanthropic merchants and industrialists, and were a more humane alternative to the poorhouse and latterly the workhouse. These almshouses vary enormously in architectural style, from the unremarkable, utilitarian to the flamboyant, ornate and picturesque. Few new almshouses are being built in the present day, due mainly to the creation of the Welfare State after the Second World War, the increase in home ownership and the State’s provision of housing for elderly people.

Almshouses are owned by independent charities, run by voluntary trustees to provide independent living for people in need, mostly elderly. There are around 30,000 almshouses in the UK run by about 1,800 charities. Some of the almshouse charities exist to house very specific groups of people, for example retired miners, fishermen or retired members of the armed forces. Mary Elizabeth Hardstaff used her father’s fortune made from coal mining to build homes in Giltbrook, Nottingham and Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, to house widows and orphaned children of miners. The Pennhome almshouses in Sherwood, Nottingham were built in 1878 to house “poor women with a preference for widows or spinsters whose fathers were merchants, tradesmen or professional men and who are 50 years of age or more.”

The city of Nottingham has a rich tradition of almhouses. Writing in his book ‘Almshouses’ in 1988, architectural historian Brian Bailey wrote,

“Nottingham…is actually among the leading towns of England in its promotion of charitable foundations, but it is a city which has undergone a great deal of redevelopment since the Industrial Revolution, and few of the older foundations remain in anything like their original form.”

Bailey goes on to provide a league table of the top 20 charitable cities outside London, which Nottingham tops with 29 existing almshouse foundations, beating larger cities like Birmingham and Bristol.

Norris Homes, Nottingham

Norris Homes, Nottingham

NCHA has been involved with almshouses for over 25 years. What usually happens is we are approached by a charity’s trustees who may be struggling to manage and maintain their almshouses, which is often made more difficult as many almshouses are listed buildings or situated in conservation areas. The solution is often for the Charity to ask the Association to take over trusteeship in order to put in place the necessary management and maintenance. This process involves discussions, sometimes lengthy, with the Charity Commission, and consultation with the Almshouse Association and the residents of the almshouses. At the end of the process, NCHA as a corporate body replaces the individual trustees. Importantly, the Charity continues to exist in its own right and the original legacy is preserved. The Charity Commission, through the legal principle of “cy près,” (from the Norman French, “close to”) ensures that as far as possible the homes continue to follow the founder’s original intentions. A governing instrument, called a ‘Scheme,’ which mirrors the original Trust Deed, is drawn up by the Commission as a formal statement of the Charity’s purpose and responsibilities

NCHA’s involvement with almshouses started with the Norris Homes, close to the Association’s Head Office in Sherwood Rise, in 1989. The Homes are a fine example of celebrated Nottingham architect Watson Fothergill’s gothic style of architecture. Mary Smith Norris built the eight one bedroom houses in 1893 as a memorial to her brother John Smith. The residents were to be drawn from the higher or middle walks of life, to be “widows of professional gentlemen or ladies of superior education or refinement.” By 1989 the homes had fallen into serious disrepair, and NCHA undertook the refurbishment of the homes with the help of Housing Corporation funding. As a Grade 2 listed building, the renovations had to be carried out to a very exacting standard. Hundreds of hand cut bricks and roof tiles, a weather vane, sundial and even a terracotta dragon were produced to ensure a sympathetic rehabilitation of the almshouses.

David Simmons

Discussion Day – Report

Report on the Almshouse Tempera Project’s Discussion Day held at the University of Nottingham, Wednesday 24th June. The aim of the day was to bring all the project participants together to discuss how their work and thinking was progressing and to focus attention on to the forthcoming exhibition and project publication.

The morning session, Looking Backwards, Looking Forward commenced with a presentation, by Derek Hampson, detailing what had been achieved to date, including the many talks and workshops delivered by the project. He then focused on the forthcoming exhibition, outlining his suggestion for the exhibition’s title, Inscription, and the reasons behind it. Following this each of the project participants gave a short presentation on how their work for the project was progressing.

The afternoon session, Translations, was organised around a talk by photographer Andy Lock, on photographic representations of architecture. Andy’s talk included a number of his own images of architectural structures, particularly council houses. Of particular interest to the project was his work using the Albumen Print, an early photographic process which, as its name suggests, utilises egg white. Following Andy’s presentation there was a wide-ranging discussion.

The day concluded with a discussion around what participants might contribute to the exhibition and project’s publication. A practical end to what had proved to be a day of thought-provoking interactions. Many thanks to all who participated.

Discussion Day

The Almshouse Tempera Project is now half way to completion. You are invited to join us, to help us map out the project’s future direction during a day of informal presentations and discussions.

Wednesday, June 24th, 11am to 4pm
University of Nottingham
Trent Building
Room LG11 (lower ground, room 11)

The day will be split into two sessions.
Session 1, Looking Backwards, Looking Forward (11am – 1pm)
Session 1 will be led by the project co-ordinator Derek Hampson, who will outline what has been achieved to date before focussing on the forthcoming exhibition at Nottingham Trent University’s Atrium Gallery. The proposed title of the exhibition and the thinking behind it will be outlined. Project participants will then make a short presentation on how their contribution to the project is developing. There will then be a general discussion on how the exhibition’s theme might be supported and expanded by this practical and theoretical work.

Session 2, Translations (2 – 4pm)
The second session will focus on exploring the concept of ‘medium’, testing the proposition that working with a medium involves a process of translation, from one medium into another. The session will begin with a presentation by photographer Andy Lock who will discuss his photographic recording of architectural structures in terms of a translation from a built structure into a photographic image. Following this there will be a general discussion.

Tea and coffee will be provided, there is also an on-site café.

Getting there
Bus – take a 34 Orange Line bus from the centre of Nottingham to the University, get off at East Drive then walk to the Trent Building, the large building with the clock tower.
Car – you can park in the main visitor car park, from where it is about a 10 minute walk
Lift – if you need a lift please get in touch via the Contact Us! link.

map of the university      34 bus route map

Also use the Contact Us! link if any questions.

Hope to see you there!

Deborah Harty on making work for the Almshouse Tempera Project

I entered into the Almshouse Tempera Project with an open mind. To be honest neither the study of architecture or the use of painting have formed part of my practice in the past few years, so ultimately this is what made inclusion in the project seem like such a good opportunity: to rethink some of my ideas and refresh my approach to my practice. Although I didn’t have an idea of how I may progress I suspected that I would be interested in the internal environment and its affect, rather than the architecture per se. As Atsu has also intimated, I was thrown by not being able to go inside the houses and experience the internal environment. My work generally focuses on capturing phenomenological experience through the marks created on the surface when drawing; a trace of the experience as it appears to consciousness. I adopt the position of Velmans’ ‘reflexive monism’, which identifies that;

The “contents of consciousness” encompass all that we are conscious of, aware of, or experience. These include not only experiences that we commonly associate with ourselves, such as thoughts, feelings, images, dreams, body experiences and so on, but also the experienced three-dimensional world (the phenomenal world) beyond the body surface (Velmans, M. 1996, Defining Consciousness).

From this respect, my drawings are not generally figurative, as they incorporate marks and traces of both the psychological and physiological experience.

When we visited the Almshouses in February, the initial sense of panic over not being able to enter the Almshouses gave way to fascination in the potential spaces glimpsed through the partially open doors, and disappearing staircases: spaces of transition and threshold. Returning from the visits to consider where I may begin, I started to think about the liminal space that I often feel I occupy during the activity of drawing: an inbetween space, a threshold between differing states of consciousness fluctuating between conscious awareness of self and absorption in the process to a sense of loss of self. The awareness of this connection prompted me to follow the idea of thresholds within the Almshouse Tempera Project, in a sense it gave me a way in.

The doors or staircases of the Almshouses related to the sense of threshold: not only entering a differing physical space but also a psychological one, in the sense of the change of circumstances often occurring within the residents’ life as they move to the Almshouses. With this in mind, I began to draw. I started literally, which is often my default when I am unsure what to do: working not from observation but allowing the work to appear on the page in front of me. This is one thing that is challenging with the tempera as it has a less immediate, slow deliberation than drawing with charcoal; at least it appears so at present.

I began to draw doors, partially open. These are imagined spaces and I am more interested in creating the sense of thresholds and liminal spaces than I am in replicating particular architectural motifs. I anticipate that I will move away from this way of working, however, it is one space before I step over the threshold to the next.

Deborah Harty

Talk Report – Painting and the Post-Medium Condition

Short report on Derek Hampson and Peter Suchin’s talk on ‘Painting and the Post-Medium Condition’ hosted by Mik’s Front Room at Primary artists studios, Nottingham, May 20th, 2015. The talk focused on the concepts of ‘medium’ and ‘medium specificity’ as defined by Rosalind Krauss and Clement Greenberg. Derek Hampson outlined Greenberg’s concept of ‘medium specificity’ before talking about the concept of the ‘post-medium condition’ and Rosalind Krauss’s rejection of it. Peter Suchin expanded on this, referring to Walter Benjamin’s writings on photography as an expanded medium because of its implicit textual component. Peter also discussed Marcel Duchamp’s creation of new mediums in works such ‘The Large Glass’. There was a good audience for the talk, which was followed by a detailed discussion.

Project Talk Notice – Painting and the Post-Medium Condition

Project Talk
Peter Suchin and Derek Hampson
Wednesday 20 May, 19:00 – 21:00

Location: Primary, 33 Seely Road Nottingham NG7 1NU
Hosted by Mik’s Front Room
In the last of a series of dialogues from a range of speakers, held at locations across Nottingham, artist and Art Monthly writer Peter Suchin will discuss, with artist and Almshouse Tempera Project organiser Derek Hampson, their practices as painters in relation to their use of tempera paint for this project, as well as offering some thoughts on Rosalind Krauss’ notion of ‘the Post-Medium Condition’, as outlined in her Perpetual Inventory, MIT Press, 2010.

Report on Project Talks May 5th and 6th

Two talks by Almshouse Tempera Project participants on successive days, both well attended, opening up debates around the themes discussed – thanks to all participants; speakers and audiences.

On Tuesday May 5th Atsuhide Ito and Aimie Purser discussed the subject of ‘Art, ALterity and Attunement’ at Nottingham Trent University’s Department of Fine Art. Aimie Purser explored the concept of attunement, discussing its relationship to ideas of empathy and intersubjectivity embedded in concepts of the ‘other’. Atsuhide’s discussion centred on his approach to making tempera artworks for the Almshouse Tempera Project, in which his attunement to the work’s subjects is part of the process of creating the work.

Wednesday May 6th Jonathan Hale and Deborah Harty centred their discussions on; ‘The Role of Drawing’ at the University of Nottingham’s School of Architecture. Jonathan Hale presented a detailed paper drawn from his research into the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writings on the role of embodiment in the creation of understanding, whether through language or through drawing. Deborah Harty’s presentation drew on her extensive research into the idea of drawing as phenomenology, including work with visually impaired respondents. She then went on to discuss the artwork she is making for The Almshouse Tempera Project, which is focussing on ideas of the liminal expressed through the entrances to the almshouses.

Derek Hampson