St. Catherines Almshouses

extract from Rev. W.H. Jones`s History of Bradford on Avon:
It is probable, also, that there was a chapel dedicated to St. Catharine, and that it formed part of what is now called the Old Women's Almshouse, situated at the southern extremity of the town, at what used to be called Clay acre, now Clay farm. That there was a chapel at this spot we can have no doubt. Aubrey, in fact, 200 years ago, says expressly, " A little beyond the bridge is a chapel and almshouse of ancient date." When the Charity Commissioners visited our town, about 25 years ago, they elicited from some old people a little information respecting it, and in their report they state their belief that there was truth in the tradition that then prevailed (as it still does to the present day) that the chapel-bell was removed to Winsley Church. Now the hospital at the foot of the bridge is called, in old deeds, the Hospital of St. Margaret,(1) and its memorial is preserved in the street which is still called St. Margaret street, and in Morgan's Hill, which, as late as 1724, was called St. Margaret's Hill. From the same deeds, confirmed by later documents, we find that the street leading from about where is now the entrance to the railroad station to the Old Women's Almshouse was called St. Catharine street,(2) probably from the dedication of the chapel in question. In Andrews and Dury's Map of Wiltshire (1770), we find a spot marked as " The Chapel," though from the way in which those words are printed, it is difficult to point out with exactness the precise spot indicated. It may be mentioned, as confirmatory of this opinion, that there is still the remnant of the observance of a holiday on St. Catharine's day. Within a few years only, cakes called cattern-cakes were made in considerable numbers and sent by the bakers to their customers. Many of the old people reckon their ages by the festival of this Saint. A very short time ago an old bed-ridden woman said to the writer of this paper in true Wiltshire, and, we may add, very fair Anglo-Saxon-(and really they are often convertible terms),-" I'll be vower-score come Kattern-tide, and I beant yeable now to doff or don myself," which in modern English meant, "I shall be fourscore next St. Catherine's-tide, and I am not able now to undress (do-off) or dress (do-on) myself."

(1) By a deed dated 37
Henry VI., Philip Stone convoys to Nicholas Hall one acre of arable land, lying "in fine ville de Bradeford juxta gracgiam Due Abbatiss. de Shaston ex parte oriental!," and which is furthered described as being between two pieces of land belonging to the said Nicholas Hall, one o£ which " abuttat super le Longhegge," and the other,
super viara quee ducit versus hospitale Ste Margarete." In the will of Henry Long, Esq., of Wraxhall, 1490, he bequeaths,-" paupervbus Domus Sancte Margarete de Bradford, vis viijd."

(2) The following extract is from an account of lands, &c., belonging to the manor (c. 1720).-" Katharine Street. John Harvey holdeth by copy dated 5th May, 1715, granted him by Hon. Ann Lady Powlett during the lives ° John Harvey and others, and during the widowhood of Ann relict of Robert Harvey, one Cottage, Barn, and Reek Barton: the Highway east and Culverclose west." This sufficiently indicates the correctness of the oth statement above, as to where St. Catharine street lay.

This is the oldest of the Charitable Institutions connected with Bradford-on-Avon. No exact account can be given, it is believed, either of its foundation or its endowment. According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus' (vol. i. p- 276) the Rectory of Bradford was chargeable with £3 6s. 8d. per annum for the support of " twelve poor persons at Bradford, there Praing for the Founder of the Monastery " at Shaftesbury. This sum would be equal to at least ten titnes as much in present day- It is not unlikely that proceeds of the Manor of Bradford, which, as being the property of the dissolved Monastery at Shaftesbury, then lapsed to the Crown, some provision was made for the maintenance of a few of those poor persons who had before, from a similar source, derived their support.
These almshouses are now occupied exclusively by poor women. This was by no means the case originally. Many entries may be seen in the Burial Register which prove that poor men also shared originally in their benefits.(1) Moreover there are now but three recipients of this charity. [There are now four.] Originally without doubt, there must have been more;-indeed as lately as 1786, as appears from a return made to the House of Commons in that year, there would seem to have been four alms-women.
When the Charity Commissioners visited Bradford, in 1834, they enquired into the truth of some traditions that then prevailed, (as they do to the present day) not only as to the much larger number who formerly received relief from this source, but as to there being a chapel, and a chaplain attached to it, who received £10 as a yearly stipend. They state, as the result of their enquiries, that though they could obtain no satisfactory oral or documentary evidence in proof of the truth of such traditions, yet that there was every reason to believe "that a bell had been taken from what is described as the ohapel, and carried to Winsley Church, where it is supposed yet to remain." They also give it as their opinion that some loads of stone were taken from the Alms-house premises, about the year 1794, for the purpose of mending the roads, once a statement having been expressly made to them by one George Price, who drove the team on the occasion."
Though there might be an absence of ckar evidence on th subject, there is every probability that there is more truth the traditions of the old people of Bradford than the Commissioners seemed willing to allow. The fact of there being at the time of the Reformation two Chantry priests attached to the parish church, each with a stipend of £10 yearly, may give some little explanation of part of the tradition though a mistake may have been made as to the precise ' chaplain,' who received it. Moreover that there was a chapel is quite clear. Aubrey who wrote more than two hundred years ago expressly mentions it. It is spoken of also in the Terrier, which contains an account of the property of the Almshouse at the beginning of the last century. In a map moreover of Wiltshire, published in 1773 by Messrs. Andrews and Dory, a spot is distinctly marked as, - " The Chapel."
The only document relating to the original property of the Alms-house is an ancient parchment writing or terrier, which was produced, by the then Steward of the Lord of the Manor, before the Charity Commissioners, in 1834. They give in their report a complete copy of this document. It is entitled, - "An account taken the 2nd day of June, 1702, of all the lands belonging to the old Alms-house, situate in the Parish of Bradford, in the county of Wilts." The land belonging to the Alms-house is described as twelve acres and a half, lying dispersedly in different parts of the Parish. The rent arising therefrom, together with an annual payment of 38s. due from the Lord of the Manor, constituted the income of the Charity. The Charity Commissioners were further informed that there was in existence a lease, by which, about the year 1760, Mr. Powlett Wright, as Lord of the Manor of Bradford, demised the lands above described for the benefit of the Alms-house. The lands were also said to be let at rack-rent, producing either £8, or (as was thought more probable) £12 a year
With reference to the buildings the Charity Commissioners
The almshouses occupy a triangle, standing between two roads and the canal from Bradford to Bath. They consist of three tenements, of one floor each, and are all under one roof; they are low in the walls, and
altogether in bad condition. Each of the three almswomen occupies one
The road, in fact which was made at the time of the formation of the Kennet and Avon Canal at a considerable h'gher level than the former one, reaches on the east side of the buildings, above the level of the original window-sills. This necessarily makes all the tenements extremely damp. It is to be regretted that as the Kennet and Avon Canal Company, in making their approaches, so seriously impaired the Alms-houses as places of residence, the more so, as a wall is built within a few yards of their entrances, they were not required by the erection of other cottages to secure to the poor alms-women the comforts they had previously enjoyed.
With regard to the portion of Alms-house property occupied by the Kennet and Avon Canal Company, to which we have just made a passing reference, the Commissioners say :-
" The Canal Company by a clause in their Act of Parliament (34 Ge*. III.) were together with the parties interested, authorized to sell and fix the rent of the land acquired by the Act. In this case an annual rent was fixed for so much of the almshouse property as was required, and a deed was prepared stating the nature of the agreements between the Canal Company and the Charity. This deed, Mr. Clutterbuck, then Steward of the Lord of the Manor, never executed. It sets forth, that in consideration of the annual rent of £11, the alms-house conveyed to the Canal Company land (therein described) to the extent of nearly three acres. This agreement is executed by the Commissioners under the Act, and the rent has never since been regularly paid."
In the year 1834, P. Methuen Esq. (soon afterwards created Lord Methuen) then Lord of the Manor, is stated to have agreed to grant a lease of the garden opposite to them, and hitherto forming part of their property, to a Gas Company, at the yearly rent of £10. This lease, however, the Charity Commissioners tell us, was never executed. They say,- writing at the time of the negotiation,-
"The Company purposes, instead of paying the rent of £10, to erect houses of a superior order for the alms-women on that part of the premises let to them, which is not occupied by their own buildings. This proposal it is intended to accept, as the site of the present alms-houses, from its nearness to the canal, will let well for stables, and the arrangement will Ptove very beneficial to the Charity."
Like many other good intentions, this one was never carried into effect. The annual rent of £10 has been paid by the Gas Company. [The first three of these house has since been entirely rebuilt out of funds left for the purpose by the late Mr. John Bubb ; the fourth house has been built by the Trustees ; the architect was Mr. C. S. Adye.]
In comparing the present possessions of the Alms house with those recorded as belonging to it in 1702, it appears th a large proportion of the land has since then been lost A pamphlet recently published, on " The Charities of Bradford-on-Avon," an attempt has been made, and not, it is hoped unsuccessfully, to identify the various portions of land which belonged to the Alms-house at the commencement of the last century, but which have since that time passed into other hands.
The present income of this Charity is rather more than £45 per annum. Till recently, in consequence of reduction of rent for premises held under the Alms-house, the income was about £10 more.
In 1786, according to a return furnished pursuant to Act of Parliament (26 GEORGE III. c. 51) by the then Churchwardens, Messrs. Thomas Bush and Richard Taylor, the property is said to have been vested in the Lord of the Manor, and to consist of a net sum of £16 1s. 4d., issuing from rent of land. This return confirms the truth of an opinion expressed by the Charity Commissioners, in 1834, with regard to the comparatively recent loss of land once belonging to the Alms-house.
For some years past there have been but three poor women in the Alms-house. Their allowance is four shillings weekly. [There are now four, each, receive four shillings weekly, and five cwt. of coal at Christmas.]
With regard to the management of the Alms-house the Commissioners state, as the result of information given them in 1834,-
" The nomination of the Almshouse has invariably been made by the Steward of the Lord of the Manor, (who is at present Paul Methuen of Corsham House,) in behalf of the Lord. The Lord oonsiders that no limitation is imposed on his choice of the Almswomen; but in practise has always been confined to women of the parish not receiving relief. In all other respects it is entirely in the discretion of the Lord of the Manor, or his Steward." There seems to be some reason to question the correctness of this last statement. For many years past, at all events since 1821, when Mr. Clutterbuck died, there appear to have been no legal Trustees of the property belonging to the Charity. In a deed dated 1789, to which allusion has bee already made, Mr. Clutterbuck is described as ' the sole surviving Trustee appointed for the management of the estate belonging to the Almshouse.' We have failed to discover ar subsequent appointment of Trustees by competent authority. [The present Trustees are the Lord of the Manor, Mr. C. 1 Hobhouse, M.P., the Vicar and Churchwardens of Bradfor Mr. C. S. Adye, and a representative of the Vestry. The property remains much as described; but there is also a sum £636 :15 : 9 in New Consols. The almswomen are appoint by Mr. Hobhouse. They must be parishioners of Bradfod (Trinity or Christ Church), not under 60 years of age, and must not for 12 months previously have been in receipt of paroch relief. There are no denominational restrictions.

(1) The following extracts from tbe Register prove the truth of this statement. It will be observed that the first is of a very early date, no long time after the Reformation :-
1687 Septemb. John Brencke, of the almshouse, buried the 3 day. October.
George Blecke, of the almshouse, buried tho 12 day.
1613 Novemb. John Hurle, of the almshouse, Porter, buried the 26 day.
1693 December Robert Gear, of the almshouse, buried the 10 day.

extract from :A Stroll through Bradford-on-Avon by W.H. Jones 1882
13. From the old men's Almshouses we come appropriately enough [picture of the Chapel on the Town Bridge, Bradford on Avon] to those for old women. These are situated close by the canal. They are of Pre-Reformation date, a small payment from the Lord of the manor, due from time immemorial forming part of the endowment. There is still to be seen a small relic of the Chapel of St. Catherine, to whom the "hospital "-using this term in its original sense-was dedicated. Even till a recent period Catherine-tide, or as the old folks call it Kattern-tide, was duly remembered, and many a one in Bradford reckoned their ages from it. Thus an old woman once said to me, “I be vower-score come Kattern-tide." Till quite lately the really old-fashioned among us used to send presents of small cakes, called "Kattern-cakes," to their friends, in memory of this festival.
The Almshouse, in which, until three years ago, there were but three women maintained, came to be in a sadly ruinous state. A legacy bequeathed for the purpose by the late Mr. Bubb enabled the trustees to build three entirely new houses some twelve years ago. Increase in the income of the charity, and a better system of management, permitted of the erection of a fourth Almshouse some three years ago, and the addition of another poor almswoman to the recipients of the benefits of the charity.