St Anne’s Almhouses – A bit of Background

Since we’ll be at the almshouses for a few days it might be useful to have some background information.

As you’ll surely know, the almshouses were founded by Lady Anne Clifford when she was living at Appleby Castle back in the 17th century. The buildings were erected around 1651 and were presumable named “St Anne’s” as a slightly clumsy piece of image-management.

An arched doorway from Boroughgate gives access to a cobbled courtyard with a central fountain (currently non-functional, alas). There is a small chapel in one corner and the living units each consist of a single bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. They all have a bright red door front door and a small flower border under their courtyard window. The effect is delightful and the almshouse courtyard is a perfect oasis of peace, colour and sunshine.

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The “orders” for the establishment are laid out on a board in the chapel. They are rather strict! The almshouses were to provide for the accommodation of 12 widows under the care of a “mother”:

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The grassed area to the rear of the almshouses where we will be working was originally intended to provide each inhabitant with a small vegetable garden, though the attraction of this arrangement seems to have died out quite some time ago. The surviving apple trees (one for each widow) indicate how the plots may have been laid out.

A weekly service is still held in the chapel which features a portrait that is believed to be Lady Anne herself (having apparently been incorrectly labelled as her mother, Margaret, at some point during the 19th Century)

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Lady Anne arranged for the almshouses to be funded by income from Holme Farm on the outskirts of Appleby. Widows originally lived rent free but by 2011, income from the farm was in decline and a weekly rent of £10 was introduced. Tenants also have to pay their own Council Tax and are responsible for their own furnishing and decorating.

Tenants have not always been easy to find and it appears that some consideration may one day be given to the accommodation of men. It was thought, however, that this “would not be popular in all quarters” (CW Herald, 10th June 2011)

Photos courtesy of Paul Steele on http://www.baldhiker.com/

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