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The Barringer Almshouses Stevington

The Barringer Almshouses in 1961 [Z53/112/7]
The Barringer Almshouses in 1961 [Z53/112/7]


The Barringer Almshouses were listed by the former Department of Environment in July 1964 as Grade II, of special interest. They carry a date plaque of 1634 and were rebuilt by Bedfordarchitect James Tacy Wing in 1841. Like many of the older properties in the area, they are built of coursed limestone rubble. They comprise two storeys and attics and have old clay tile roofs.

The parish archive [P71/25 series] contains considerable information on the Barringer Charity. The earliest records seem to relate to land Barringer owned. In 1594 he was conveyed land by Thomas Wilkinson [P71/25/5] and in 1609 from Dive Hall and Thomas Barringer the younger conveyed land to Thomas Barringer the elder (presumably William's father) consisting of a cottage and land called Fishpond Close and forty two acres of meadow in Stevington [P71/25/6]

The first record regarding the charity itself is a Chancery decree of February 1641 [P71/25/1] in which George Daniel, Vicar of Stevington, his churchwarden William King and William Dennis, a yeoman brought an action against Thomas Barringer, Philip Owen and Matthew Billing, the executors and trustees of the will of William Barringer of Saint Faith's, London, stationer. He had made his will in 1632 and remembered his birth place by devising the residue of his estate to his executors and trustees for "the building and making of … almshouses for poor men". The plaintiffs alleged that Barringer (William's brother), Owen and Billing had "combined together to make the intention of so pious and charitable a work to come to none effect" and had appropriated William Barringer's personal estate of between £1,500 and £1,600 (a truly vast sum at that time) for themselves. However, it was conceded that Owen and Thomas Barringer had, meanwhile, erected the five almshouses which survive today, obviously, to judge by the date plaque, in 1634. Judgement went against the defendants and they were ordered to hand over £400 to the defendants. This was to be used to buy land to support the almshouses and the poor people in them.

In 1651 John Alston and Oliver Rands conveyed land to the trustees for £400[P71/25/2]. The trustees then were Thomas Barringer of Stevington, yeoman, Richard Barringer of Stevington, yeoman, William Dennis of Stevington, gentleman, John Barringer of Keysoe, gentleman (son of Thomas), John Mann of Turvey, gentleman and Bernard Hopkins of Stevington, yeoman. The land comprised twenty acres of pasture in the lower part of Neither Crowlands, Pavenham and five acres in Upper Crowlands, Pavenham.

By 1836 the trust seems to have needed to be put on a more legal footing and the Vicar of Stevington, John Wing, conveyed the 25 acres in Pavenham along with the almshouses to new trustees [P71/25/3-4]. These were: Francis, Marquis of Tavistock (later 7th Duke of Bedford); Francis Green of Bedford; William Bartholomew Higgins of Turvey; William Pratt of Stevington, gentleman; John Wing himself; William Pool of Stevington, gentleman and Isaac Keech of Stevington, yeoman. The charity had considerable trouble getting arrears of rent from the tenant of the Pavenham land, John Lavender, and had to bring a legal action against him to get them [P71/25/16-17]. He quit the land in 1837.

By 1841 the almshouses needed rebuilding and Bedfordarchitect James Tacy Wing drew up a very detailed specification [P71/25/19]. Wing specified: "The Contractors are to take down the present almshouses, leaving in the old foundations for rebuilding on, and to clean and sort the old materials, all that are sound and proper to be used in erecting the new houses". He also specified: "A double privy to be built by the carpenter and bricklayer at the back of the Houses, where shall be directed". The estimate for the work came to £185.

In the same year one of Barringer's descendants, another William, sent a letter to the trustees concerning members of his family getting vacant almshouse places when in need, which had been a stipulation of Barringer's will, provided no one from Stevington needed a house [P71/25/20]. He wrote: "It happens, unfortunately, that at the present Time there are two of my Family, Descendants of the Founder of this Charity, greatly in want of the Assistance which the Benevolence of the Testator has provided for them. The Truth of this Assertion will be evident when I have made out a full statement of the Case - a statement which will be abundantly and most willingly corroborated by the Revd. Mr. Newsome, the Clergyman of the Parish wherein they reside. My said two Relatives live in Hertfordshire at a place called Shenley Hill, they came there about 22 years ago from Weston Underwood, Bucks. Their names are John Barringer and Millicent, his Daughter, the former is in his 81st year, the latter about 60. from his advanced Age with its attendant infirmities he is, of course, quite incapable to labour for a livelihood and possessing no property upon which to subsist he is obliged to rely on the bounty of his family and of those Friends who knew him in his better days. But one of the most distressing features in this Case is that his Daughter, above named, is a most shocking Cripple, an affliction to which she has been subject for a very long period, but latterly so much increased as to render her unable even to move herself in bed without assistance. She has, consequently, never left her Room for a considerable time. It is with the utmost difficulty that she can get across it even with the aid of another Person and her Crutches, to get down Stairs would be utterly impossible. However, notwithstanding this lamentable affliction, she does not pass her days in Idleness but superintends a small school consisting of little Girls of the Village whom she sometimes instructs in her bed being frequently too unwell to rise. The trifling proceeds of this School are the only means of support which she and her aged Father have to depend upon except what they receive from Friends, a small amount and of a very precarious nature". The application was refused on the grounds that the house were being rebuilt.

In 1842 the almshouses were insured with Sun Fire Office for £300 [P71/25/22]. In 1851 William Barringer's again wrote with an application for an almshouse, this time for Elizabeth Pope, née Barringer [P71/25/24]. She had been deserted by her husband, who had failed in business, and had children aged six and four. Elizabeth herself was crippled with rheumatism. Her application was refused as there were enough poor and deserving of Stevington to fill the homes. In 1863 Stevington British Schoolwas being planned. A letter from the Charity Commission to the trustees expressly forbids use of Barringer Charity money for educational purposes [P71/25/30].

In 1866 architect John Usher reported on the condition of the almshouses [P71/25/37]. After only twenty years or so he found: "The Timbers of the Roof of the Main Buildingare very much decayed, and the Tiles are so porous that the wet is rapidly destroying the woodwork. The Houses are badly situated as it respects aspect, the rooms in which the poor old inmates spend most of their time, and the bed-rooms also, are due north, and consequently admit of no cheering influence from the Sun's warmth and brightness; and the external door opens direct into the sitting room - a room 16 feet square and too large to be sufficiently warned and made comfortable by one or two old people. The Drainage is insufficient, consequently the walls absorb and carry up much moisture. I would, therefore, recommend that the Roof be entirely stripped, the Tiles carefully assorted, new timber (as much as needful) provided, to make the Roof thoroughly sound and to be covered with tiles of the best quality". Clearly the rebuilding of the 1840s had been something of a botched job.

The privy specified by James Tacy Wing was replaced by new earth closets in 1894 [P71/25/46]. In 1917 the houses were insured against war risks from aircraft to the tune of £300 [P71/25/50], the same sum for which they had been insured against fire in 1842.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Stevington was assessed in 1926 and the valuer visiting the almshouses,   [DV1/C120/32-36] noted that they were occupied as follows, from east to west: K. Clarke; W. Lacey; J. Hart; Ann Cox; and S. Cowley. The tenants were paid two shillings per week and the house was rent free. Each of the dwellings comprised a living room and scullery downstairs with a bedroom above. A barn and earth closet (presumably the 1894 vintage) stood outside each and water came from a well.

By the late 1950s repairs and alterations were necessary. A letter from the National Association of Almshouses in 1957 [P71/25/52] observed: "We note that the almshouses have no bathrooms or modern sanitation and are wondering whether you and your co-Trustees have considered the possibility of improving the buildings to modern standards while the present statutory grants remain available. They may amount to 75% or more of the approved cost of improvements and cannot be expected to continue indefinitely". The trustees replied: "We feel that the first essential is for a water-closet to each almshouse, but at present there is no mains sewer in Park Road".

Architect Penelope Adamson visited in January 1958 and estimated that repairs would cost £862 and improvements £4,050. She noted: "I visited these almshouses at your request and inspected them with a view to their improvement. They take the form of an attractive row of five almshouses two storeys in height, built of stone with attractive stone dormers on the first floor lighting the bedrooms. They were built in 1634 and have the moulded stone mullions and reveals of that period. Originally these almshouses consisted of one room up and one room down and at a later date lean-tos were added at the rear, forming coal-holes. The roofs of the main buildings are covered with tiles which have been patched up at various times with machine-made tiles and will not last more than ten years without complete stripping and renewal". She went on to describe other problems and noted, in passing, that the cottages were floored with brick and showed signs of untreated rising damp. Due to lack of mains sewerage an independent septic tank was necessary. The Trustees hoped to raise £1,400 towards the works from the Pilgrim Trust. Unfortunately the income from the land in Pavenham was, by now, only just over £83 per annum. Bedford Rural District Council refused to send an application for funding to central government for an exchequer grant and would only offer a 50% improvement grant. In the event this was not enough and so only essential repairs, and no improvements, were carried out.

The Charity Commission sanctioned the expenditure of no more than £1,650 for further repairs and improvements in 1966 [P71/25/54] and the trustees mortgaged the almshouses to raise a further £950 [P71/25/55] as well as selling land at either end of the terrace. In 1978 the trustees agreed to set aside an annual sum of £450 for investment to cover future works [P71/25/56]. In 1987 a golf course was proposed on the trustees' land at Pavenham, providing extra income [P71/25/57]. Further roof repairs were carried out in 1987-1988 [P71/25/58].

The Barringer Charity continues to run the almshouses. The latest record currently held by Bedfordshire and LutonArchives and Records Service is an annual statement of account of the charity dated 1992 [P71/25/61].

The Barringer Almshouses December 2009
The Barringer Almshouses December 2009