Tag Archives: Nottingham

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


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.

The Cotton Tempera Diary 1

Part one of Atsuhide Ito’s journal detailing his experiences of working on The Almshouse Tempera Project
23rd February, Nottingham
As Derek recommended me that I took 8.14 train from London Kings Cross to Nottingham on Monday 23rd February, instead of leaving on the day earlier. From Kings Cross, I read one chapter in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time which I had left unfinished some time ago. I read a section in which Heidegger described Descartes’ incorporation of the human body into the notion of space before Immanuel Kant, that meant before Merleau-Ponty. When arrived at Nottingham Station, Derek and Peter picked me up and Derek drove us to a car park near his studio. The car park was an open area with bare soil, perhaps some derelict buildings had been knocked down and temporarily the space was made into a car park. We walked along a busy street to reach Derek’s studio, which I had visited a few years ago.

The studio was in a red-brick building in a triangle island in the middle of the town. Derek unlocked and opened the main door and we climbed up a few flight of stairs to the top floor. We all huddled together in front of a gas heater and had a cup of coffee while waited for Deborah’s arrival. On the walls of Derek’s studio there were six tempera paintings of non-places in Nottingham. The illumination against the blue skies of early evenings in Derek’s paintings struck me when contrasted against the architectural structures of bicycle storage system, bus stops, and street lamps.

Derek gave us an initial introduction to tempera painting. Although I had used tempera to repair a portrait painting from the nineteenth century my experience of it was limited. Wendy, my student in Southampton had been working with tempera for more than a year now so that I was aware of the potential of tempera in the contemporary context. Deborah, Peter and I sat at a table and tried to use the colours Derek prepared by mixing with egg yolk and water. We needed to use small amount of paints and mix with small amount of egg yolk which Derek carefully took away the membrane out. We spend a significant amount of time playing with the medium, not knowing how it would behave or how we could control. At the end of our attempts, all three of us came up with a drastically different outcome. I enjoyed painting as I had not approached painting in such an innocent way for a long time. There was a sense of contingency on the medium which determined the outcome to a degree.

After our painting workshop Deborah had to leave so Derek drove Peter and me to The Primary, a studio complex which used to be a school. Derek took us to see Mik in his spacious studio. Mik then gave us a tour of the entire studio building. After that we went to dine in a Turkish restaurant.

24th February
In the morning Derek drove us to one of the almshouses in Nottingham. It was facing a busy road and it was under serious repair. Then we met with David Simmons who works for Nottingham Community Housing Associations in Nottingham and in sum he was entrusted to coordinate key parties and manage the almshouses in Nottingham. We only saw the facades of the almshouses. Then the question was “how do we get inside, how do we investigate and how do we search and establish an artistic research methods, how do we know what we do not know yet?”