The Almshouses in Bayham Street, Camden Town
St Martin’s in the Fields, the parish church near Trafalgar Square, owned various almshouses which gave shelter to ‘poor, old women’. Rents from other properties supported their daily needs. There are records of this charity stretching back to 1681. However, by the beginning of the eighteenth century the houses in Crown Street, near Hoxton Square, had ‘so fallen much in decay’ that it was necessary for the parish to rebuild them.1 Soon after 1800, St Martin’s had bought a new burial ground far out in the country, in Pratt Street, Camden Town, and resolved to build new almshouses there. An Act of Parliament gave permission for the Church to remove the alms-women from Crown Street to new almshouses at the corner of Bayham Street and Pratt Street, and sell off the old land.
The new site was 280 feet in length and 45 feet in depth. There they built nine houses, designated by the letters A - I. The central house, E, contained four rooms on the ground floor and two upstairs. There was also a large room which was reserved as a committee room. Each of the other houses had eight rooms, so the new buildings provided no less than seventy rooms. The whole expense of erecting and completing the new almshouses was £4,069, fifteen shillings and five pence and the trustees were able to sell the Crown Street property for £4,102, 10 shillings.
The Bayham Street houses are still standing, behind a row of bleached lime trees. The central entrance has a triangular pediment and four almshouses on each side. There was not quite enough room for four full houses on each side, so the fourth one from the left is narrower and has lost its blind windows.
In 1887-82 the accounts show that 70 old pence - fourteen shillings were paid to the almswomen, so the houses were still housing only women. The Church also paid out £1, 453 to other pensioners, showing what a lot of the charity work was still in the hands of the church and explains why Charles Booth’s Survey on Poverty was later to take so much evidence from church people.3