Better houses for brothers in alms

Michael Davenport, Jim Smith and Steve Smith at the Bell's Almnshouses in Kingerby
Michael Davenport, Jim Smith and Steve Smith at the Bell's Almnshouses in Kingerby

Its occupants were once called ‘inmates’ and although they do not own their homes, they are not tenants, but residents.

They don’t pay rent either, but rather a “maintenance contribution” set at a lower level than recommended by a visiting allowance officer.

Such are the characteristics of living in the Bell’s Almshouses in Kingerby, whose rules when they were built in 1675 included having no visitors after 10pm, or on a Sunday, as the Alms Person had to attend church. Neither were they allowed to be away from the house without permission for more than 24 hours and if they were guilty of any misconduct or “intemperance” they would be dismissed “from the benefits of the Charity.”

Things are better these days, with the Bell’s Almhouses also being modern homes with double glazing, and conservatories now planned to improve fuel efficiency.

The almshouses were built to provide homes for retired farmworkers and gamekeepers. Current residents include well-known farmworker Steve Smith and his brother Jim.

Six homes were built by Thomas Bell - a vicar’s son from Kingerby and Claxby, who made a fortune as an apothecary (supplier of medicine) during the Great Plague of 1665. Thomas Bell also left four tenements by St Paul’s Cathedral, London, to help fund the almshouses, but when they needed repairing in the 1870s, the tenements were sold.

“The London Stock Exchange is now on the site. I once wrote, fruitlessly, to the chair of the exchange, asking if the 1675 ground rent of £22 a year could be reinstated at current rates,” recalled Charles Kenyon, chairman of the trustees for the Bell’s Almhouses.

“When rebuilt 20 years ago, its six bedsits were remodelled into three units and with their gardens, geese and occasional goats, could be a set from the TV show Lark Rise to Candleford,” Charles continued.

Now, with the help of grants from the Almshouse Association and fundraising, an £88,000 building loan has finally paid off those improvements made 20 years ago, which included getting the buildings de-listed to allow for modern exterior fittings.

Fellow trustee Michael Davenport of Cote Hill Farm says the planned conservatories, to be designed by an architect, will provide extra storage space.

for the residents. “They will also help with heating,” he said.