The Whitgift Almshouses were founded in 1596 by Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift, who gained Elizabeth I's permission to build a hospital and boys school in Croydon. They continue to be used as homes for the elderly with admission qualifications virtually unchanged and Elizabeth II has visited in 1983 and 1996. The buildings were completed in 1599, a 2-storey quadrangle surrounding a central garden, with a small chapel in the north-east corner. The garden layout has little changed since at least the 1880s, a lawn with flower borders and beds divided by a central path between 2 archways, surrounded by paving stones with benches set against the walls. A modern sundial is set into the central path.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/05/2006
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The Whitgift Almshouses were founded in 1596 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift (c.1530 - 1604) and continue to be used as homes for elderly with virtually unchanged qualifications for admission: to be of retirement age, resident in Croydon or Canterbury and communicant members of the C of E; Archbishop of Canterbury's retired servants are also eligible. It is also the headquarters of the Whitgift Foundation (which encompasses Whitgift School (q.v.), Trinity School and Old Palace School of John Whitgift and Whitgift House). As Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift often stayed in the Archbishop's Palace in Croydon and sought Queen Elizabeth I's permission to build a hospital and a boys school in the town; a plaque recording the foundation is on the exterior wall in George Street. His almshouses were founded 'for the maintenance of a warden, schoolmaster, and 28 men and women, or as many more under forty as the revenues would admit'. Building began on 17 January 1596 and was completed on 29 September 1599 at a cost of £2,716 11s 1d, the work carried out under the supervision of Revd Samuel Finch, vicar of Croydon Parish Church. During the digging of the foundations, workmen discovered the bones of a number of bodies that may have been there since 1264 when Henry III's troops had a skirmish here following a battle at Lewes.
The main buildings consisted of a two-storey quadrangle of red brick with stone dressings, high tiled roofs and 'quaint gables' (Walford) surrounding a central garden, with two archways of three storeys and in the north-east corner a small Chapel with bell. In 1599 residents had one room each with a walk-in cupboard and a fireplace for heat/cooking; 'to each poor brother and sister, whose respective ages must not be under sixty, the sum £5 per annum; besides wood, corn, and other provisions'. The warden had a salary of £11 per annum and the schoolmaster who was also chaplain had a salary of £20 per annum. Among his duties were to read prayers morning and evening in the chapel and 'to be proficient in Greek and Latin, and also a good versifier of these languages'. The number of women residents was not to exceed half of the men, excluding the warden and schoolmaster. Archbishop Whitgift reserved 2 chambers over the inner gatehouse and the chamber over the hall for his own use and entertained here many of his noble and ecclesiastical contemporaries.
The chapel was refurbished in 1991; its main window has an inscription recording that 'a man of Yorkshire gave this window in 1597'. Other rooms include the Common Room, originally used by John Whitgift when he dined here, with a large stone fireplace, probably original, with Sanctus Bell of 1753. The Audience Chamber contains 2 main documents of the Foundation, Elizabeth I's permission and John Whitgift's Deed of Covenant, and has a portrait of Whitgift. Extensions to the Almshouses were carried out in the 1830s and 1840s to provide rooms for new residents, and again in 1983 when it was refurbished as 16 self-contained flats. The George Street archway was rebuilt in 1993 following damage by a delivery van. The visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1983 is commemorated by a plaque on left-hand wall of North End archway - she called them 'an oasis of peace and tranquillity'. The Queen and Prince Phillip also visited in February 1996 on the occasion of the Quartercentenary. On the right hand wall of the North End archway a faded painting of a hand is still visible with pointing figure and the words 'He who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord', and there is an outline where the alms-box once was.
In the 1880s the central garden was described as 'laid down in turf with beds of flowers, and the rooms for the poor inmates surround it' (Walford). An etching of the same date shows cruciform paths across the quadrangle and a perimeter flagged path, with seating against the walls. At one time there was a well in the quadrangle prior to the coming of piped water. Today the garden layout is not substantially changed, with a lawn divided by one central path between the 2 archways, island rose beds and flower borders, and surrounded by paving stones with benches set against the walls. A sundial is set into the central path.
Glenys Shepherd, 'A Peep through the Gates', published by The Whitgift Foundation, 1996; B Cherry & N Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England, London 2: South' (1983 reprint 1999; Edward Walford 'Village London, The Story of Greater London Part 3: South East and South', first published 1883/4 and reprinted in 1983 by The Alderman Press; LB Croydon, 'Local List of Historic Parks & Gardens', December 2008