Gray's Almshouses

Gray's Almshouses is a terrace of almshouses in Taunton, Somerset, England, founded in 1635 by the wealthy cloth-merchant Robert Gray, whose monument survives in the Church of St Mary Magdalene. The building is one of the oldest surviving in Taunton and is one of the earliest brick buildings in the county. The Almshouses were designed to provide accommodation for six men and ten women and for a reader who was to act as chaplain and schoolmaster. It is a Grade I listed building as designated by English Heritage. Following renovation in the late twentieth century it now comprises sheltered accommodation of nine flats for the elderly.

Gray's Almshouses
Grays Almshouses, Taunton.jpg
Gray's Almshouses
Gray's Almshouses is located in Somerset
Gray's Almshouses
Location within Somerset
General information
Architectural styleJacobean
Town or cityTaunton
CountryEngland
Coordinates51°00′53″N 3°05′53″W / 51.01475°N 3.09801°W / 51.01475; -3.09801Coordinates: 51°00′53″N 3°05′53″W / 51.01475°N 3.09801°W / 51.01475; -3.09801
Construction started1635
Completed1696

HistoryEdit

Robert Gray was born in Taunton in 1570[1] and made his fortune in the City of London, where he became a Citizen and a member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. He owned a shop in Bread Street in the city, from which he traded in cloths purchased by him at provincial fairs which he then finished and dyed. His business was successful and in 1635 his great wealth enabled him to build almshouses in his town of birth,[2] on East Street, next to the house in which he had been born.[3] The initial building which Gray built in the parish of St Mary Magdalene in Taunton contained apartments for ten poor women, with a chapel, schoolroom, and a room for a reader, who acted as chaplain and schoolmaster. The reader was obliged to teach ten poor children from the parish to read and write. In addition Gray gave an endowment to his almshouses of freehold land valued at £2,000, the profits of which were to be paid to the poor, with each receiving eight shillings a month.[n 1][5] Although Gray had intended his Taunton almshouse to be managed by the Merchant Taylors' Company, hence their arms over one of the doorways, they refused to accept the trusteeship as they judged the distance from London was too great and his bequest allowed for no travel costs. Thus they passed the trusteeship on to selected townsmen of Taunton.[6] A further building to house six poor men was planned by Gray but was delayed by his death in 1638, and was completed by the trustees as directed in his will, but not until 1696, having been delayed by the Civil War and legal matters.[7] Gray also bequeathed generously in his will (proved in 1639) to the Merchant Taylors' Company, leaving them £1,500 in cash and a reversionary interest in a further £1,000, for the almswomen of the company. In 1884 this was producing annual income of £106 12s, credited to the company's almshouse account.[8] Further donations to Gray's Taunton almshouses were added in the eighteenth century by John Noble and John Coles which resulted in the allowance for the poor, by that time paid weekly, to be increased to three shillings per week. Whilst the brick construction of Gray's almshouses protected them during the Civil War, the adjoining wooden Pope's almshouses were burnt down by the Royalist troops during the Siege of Taunton.[7]

ArchitectureEdit

Gray's almshouses are the largest in Taunton, being 130 feet (40 m) in length, as stated in Joshua Toulmin's 1822 history of Taunton.[5] The building is of two-storeys, with matching mullioned windows on each level, with three entrances. Above two of the entrances are displayed sculpted coats of arms: those of the Merchant Taylors Company and those of Robert Gray,[9] namely Barry of six azure and argent, on a bend gules three annulets or,[10] being a differenced version of the arms of the prominent and ancient Anglo-Norman noble House of Grey, branches of which held many peerage and other titles in England, including Baron Grey de Wilton (1295), Baron Ferrers of Groby (1299), Baron Grey of Codnor (1299,1397), Baron Grey de Ruthyn (1324), Earl of Tankerville (1419, 1695), Earl of Huntingdon (1471), Marquess of Dorset (1475), Baron Grey of Powis (1482), Duke of Suffolk (1551), Baronet Grey of Chillingham (1619); Baron Grey of Werke (1623/4), Earl of Stamford (1628).

There are nine chimney stacks, each with two chimneys set diagonally. The building is of red brick, the brickwork being the same on the newer and older sections, which are separated by a straight joint. The almshouses are among the oldest surviving brick buildings in Somerset,[11] and it is unlikely there are any older, according to the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society.[12] The roof is made of clay tiles.[7][11] Brian Bailey describes the buildings as conforming to an "austere Jacobean style", with the pair of coats of arms over the doors being the "only departure here from unadorned severity of style."[13]

Inscribed tabletEdit

A contemporary stone tablet is affixed to the facade inscribed as follows:[14]

RC Laus Deo[15] This charitable worke is founded by Robert Graye of the Cittie of London, Esquier, borne in this towne in the howse adioyninge heereunto who in his lyfe tyme doth erect ytt for tenn poore aged syngle women and for ther competent livelihood and daylie prayers in the same hath provided sufficient maintenaunce for the same 1635

Current usageEdit

 
The rear of the almshouses, photographed in 2005

On 4 June 1952 the building was designated grade I listed by English Heritage,[9] categorising it as a building "of exceptional interest".[16] The Taunton Heritage Trust took control of Gray's Almshouses in the 1960s and in 1989 they conducted a complete refurbishment of the property with the help of grants from the Tenant Services Authority and English Heritage. At present the building comprises nine flats providing sheltered housing for pensioners, with a laundry room and a communal room. In 2004 a competition was held for students of interior design at Somerset College of Arts and Technology to suggest improvements to the décor and lighting to help brighten the flats and as a result various changes were made to the interiors.[7]

Further readingEdit

  • Sleigh-Johnson, Nigel Victor, The Merchant Taylors' Company of London 1580-1645 with special reference to government and politics, London, June 1989 (A dissertation submitted to the University of London in candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy) pp. 402–3, biography of Robert Gray [2]
  • Toulmin, Joshua, History of the Town of Taunton, in the County of Somerset, Taunton, 1791, pp. 33–5 [3]

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ According to The National Archives' currency converter, £2,000 in 1630 would be the equivalent of £178,320 in 2005, while that amount in 1640 would be the equivalent of £171,600 in 2005.[4]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Barrett, C. R. B. (1894). Somersetshire: highways, byways, and waterways. London: Bliss, Sands & Foster. p. 296.
  2. ^ Sheppard, Francis (1998). London: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-19-822922-3.
  3. ^ Nightingale, Rev. J. (1813). The Beauties of England and Wales: Or Delineations, Topographical, Historical and Descriptive of Each County. XIII. London: Printed for J. Harris; Longman and Co. (and 10 others). p. 541.
  4. ^ "Currency converter". The National Archives. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b Toulmin, Joshua (1822). The history of Taunton, in the county of Somerset. London: John Poole. pp. 213–8.
  6. ^ Toulmin
  7. ^ a b c d "History". Taunton Heritage Trust. Archived from the original on 15 October 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2013.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. ^ Report on the Charities of the Merchant Taylors' Company', in City of London Livery Companies Commission Report; Volume 4 (London, 1884), pp. 363-394 [1]
  9. ^ a b Historic England. "Gray's Alsmhouses (1232341)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  10. ^ See image on his monument in the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton
  11. ^ a b Pevsner, Nikolaus (1958). The buildings of England: South and West Somerset. London: Penguin Books. pp. 63, 317. ISBN 9780300096446.
  12. ^ Somerset Archaeology and Natural History: The Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Volumes 135-136. The Society. 1991. p. 131.
  13. ^ Bailey, Brian (1988). Almshouses. Hale. p. 115. ISBN 978-0709032922.
  14. ^ see image
  15. ^ "Latin: "praise to God"
  16. ^ "Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings" (PDF). Department for Culture, Media and Sport. March 2010. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-12-04. Retrieved 16 June 2013.