Croydon Almshouse Charities has a long and eventful history. Our story goes back to 1447 when our original founder, Elias Davy, a Citizen and Mercer of the City of London, bought a piece of land in what was then the centre of Croydon.
Elis David Almshouses is Croydons oldest existing charity, founded by Elias Davy, Citizen of London and member of the Mercers Company, in 1447. His name became changed over the years due to mis-transcription at a time when many could not read or write.
Elias Davy was a wealthy trader in luxury fabrics. Married twice, he had a son who died in infancy, and a daughter who married John Derby, Citizen of London and member of the Drapers' Company. She gave him two grandsons. Elias lived in the City of London near to the church of St. Michael Bassishaw; he held the Manor of Acton for a period, and traded extensively including in Bruges, Belgium.
He died on 4 December 1455 and was buried in Croydon Parish Church, now Croydon Minster. In accordance with his wishes, this date is remembered by the Elis David Almshouses Residents and Directors with a service in the church on his Years Mynde – the medieval anniversary of death; the Mynde Day Service.
In 1443 Elias Davy purchased a piece of land called “Delles” near to Croydon Minster. It was marshy with the river Wandle running through it. He drained it and built his almshouses there for eight people of either sex, together with four cottages, orchards and gardens. He endowed the almshouses with land and property and gave instructions to increase the holdings over the years.
The Ordinances of his almshouses, which are long and detailed, were signed on 27 April 1447 – a date which is now celebrated as our Founders' Day. The almshouses were founded in perpetuity and intended to be a community of prayer and care. The Vicar and Churchwardens were to be Trustees and the Master and Wardens of the Mercers’ Company Overseers.
The location of the original almshouses building is now known as Ramsey Court and is located in Church Street by the Minster. It is thought that parts of the original north wing may still remain, although with Victorian exterior. The building was enlarged for 12 people in 1875, and a new wing with almost matching appearance added in 1887. It was much loved by Croydonians, who, until the mid-nineteenth century, called it "The great Almshouse."
With the growth and development of Croydon the almshouses buildings required extending, which was impossible on the original site. So they were given to Croydon Council in return for a site on Duppas Hill Terrace, where a new building was erected in 1974 to house eighty residents. It was opened in March 1975 by HRH Princess Alexandra who returned in October 2010 after major refurbishment. A plaque was unveiled on the original building by the Master of the Mercers’ Company Mr Simon Wathen on 27 April 2014.
Today the Vicar of Croydon and the Churchwardens of Croydon Minster, together with a member of the Mercers’ Company, are on the Board of Directors. In 1979 the Elis David Almshouses joined the Almshouse Association. Ramsay Court is now Grade 2 Listed.
Mary Tate was born around 1776, into a wealthy family. The Tates were members of the landed gentry, owning a number of estates and properties: Burleigh Hall in Loughborough, Leicestershire; Langdown near Dibden in Hampshire; a large house on Mitcham’s Cricket Green in Surrey, and Grosvenor Place, London. Mary never married, so on the death of her father George Tate in 1822, she became the sole heir and remained so until her death.
We do not have details of where Mary lived during her lifetime, but it appears that she resided in all of her estates at times, moving around between them. Following the death of her father, Mary allowed the large property in Mitcham to be used for a while as a home for the mentally ill. She then made the decision in the 1820s to have the house demolished and to build almshouses on the site. The almshouses were to provide accommodation for 12 women, and Mary also gave an endowment to facilitate the upkeep of the building.
Mary died in 1849 aged 73 at Burleigh Hall. During her life she was a generous benefactor, endowing not only the almshouses but also giving to schools and churches in other locations. Her last resting place is Mitcham Parish Church, where her Father also lies buried.
The almshouses, which opened to residents in 1829, were built in the Tudor Gothic Style by John Buckler. Consisting of a single storey, they had seven doors arranged around a communal front garden; some of the doors were shared by the residents. The middle gable of the building includes the Tate coat of arms, which is associated with the family motto "Thincke and Thancke".
The almshouses were administered by Mary Tate and a group of Trustees, including the Vicar of Mitcham, and during her lifetime Mary selected the almswomen. According to the original Deed, the almshouses were to: "provide a residence and weekly allowance for 12 poor widows or unmarried women of the Church of England... of the age of 50 years or upwards." Mary specified a preference for "old servants or decayed tradeswomen."
Residents were given a Rule Book containing 17 rules, and were expected to behave in a civil, orderly and religious fashion. The rules included a requirement to attend church more than once a week with their prayer books. The gates of the Almshouses were locked at 11pm (10pm during the winter), and any resident returning after these times would face punishment. Strangers were not allowed in residents’ homes, and they were not permitted to keep dogs. Rules were enforced by a Matron who read them out to residents once a month, reported to the Trustees and kept a note of any infringements, for which payment of their allowance could be withheld. Almswomen were given an allowance of 3 Shillings per week; the Trust Document also mentions payment of £10 per year to the Clerk, 5 Shillings per week to the Matron and 5 Shillings per week to the Nurse.
Since those early days the building has hardly changed, apart from the removal of the gate and wall at the front of the communal garden. It has been renovated and modernised several times, and now accommodates 7 residents rather than 12, so front doors are no longer shared. Management of the Almshouses passed to the Family Welfare Association in 1987, which received grants from the Housing Association and Merton Council. In 1997 the management then passed to Anchor Housing Association, and, after a brief interim period under United St Saviour’s Charity in 2013 it passed to Croydon Almshouse Charities.
Research into the history of the Elis David Almshouses has been carried out with great thoroughness and enthusiasm by Sue Turnbull, a local historian and former resident of the almshouses. More recently Sue has teamed up with Karen Ip, a Director of the Charity, to research other projects including Mary Tate's Almshouses, and to give talks and organise local history exhibitions.
Sue has published a book on the Elis David Almshouses, which is available from the Clerk to the Directors for a charge of £5 plus postage and packaging. To order a copy please contact us.
We also have a History Room at the Elis David Almshouses where you can see displays on aspects of the history.