Drapers' Almshouses in Bruce Grove were built by the Drapers' Company after three East End almshouses were lost when their sites were purchased for the construction of the North London Railway. Accommodation was originally provided for 27 pensioned sailmakers and the rest for poor people from Bow, Bromley and Stepney, but they are now sheltered housing. The almshouses are on three sides of a large rectangle of grass fenced to the road, the layout informal with winding paths and flowering cherry trees, with a long mixed border on the fourth side. Behind the houses are tiny individual gardens and through a gateway is an allotment area.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/07/2005
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The Drapers' Almshouses originated from 3 sets of almshouses in the East End. In 1617 almshouses for 8 residents were erected at Stratford le Bow through the benefaction of Sir John Jolles, who was Master of the Drapers' Company. After his death in 1621 the Drapers' Company took over these almshouses. In 1681 John Pemel bequeathed £1200 to the Drapers and almshouses named after him were built for 8 widows in Stepney. In 1695 John Edmanson's almshouses were built adjacent to John Jolles' almshouses. In 1863 John Edmanson's almshouses were sold and new ones were built on part of the Jolles/Edmanson land. However in 1868 the land was compulsorily purchased for the North London Railway, although Drapers' Company vigorously opposed this, arguing that the interests of the poor should not be overridden by a profit-making company. Although the bill went through the railway was forced to buy the whole site, provide temporary accommodation for the displaced residents and pay all legal costs of the move to Bruce Grove.
On 12 June 1868 a site in Tottenham with a private house called Elmslea was purchased by the Drapers' Company, joined with Trustees of Thomas Corney, a former Master of the Drapers' Company, who had died in 1866 leaving a bequest of £36,000. The almshouses were named after Edmanson as his trust was the largest. Elmslea House, owned in 1866 by a Francis Edward Fox Esq., was then used as a school for fatherless Anglican girls, with the 1873 Directory of Drapers' Company listing Miss Mary Wallder as Lady Superintendent and 24 rising to 40 inmates aged between 7 and 18, who were taught here until Tottenham High School opened. Elmslea closed in 1930 and Tottenham Magistrates Court was built on the site. A large plane tree and a brick boundary wall remain from Elmslea, and a row of horse chestnuts appears to mark the almshouse boundary.
The new almshouses were completed by 1869 and residents installed. The buildings are 2-storey yellow brick, with stone dressings and slate roofs, and in the centre is a neo-Gothic chapel. The architect was Herbert Williams, who designed the new Drapers' Hall in the City. Accommodation was for 27 pensioned sailmakers and the rest for poor people from Bow, Bromley and Stepney. In 1879 a strip of land '1 rod 23 perches' was purchased to protect property from 'certain building operations'. The OS map of 1864 indicates a line of trees along the Bruce Grove side with the name Elmslea; later photographs record the felling of elms elsewhere in the road, which suggests that these may have been ancient elms. Plans of 1912 appear to show the remains of quite an elaborate garden of Elmslea house complete with a large lake, now the site of the probation office, although there is no evidence that the almshouses garden was anything more than functional.
In 1939 the almshouses were described as follows: 'each has accommodation for a married couple and contains a living room, wash-house, WC and fuel store on the ground floor and a good sized bedroom above. Each has its own garden enclosed with wooden fencing and each pair has a wooden porch in front. Within the last few years stonework repaired, brickwork pointed, fencing and gates renewed, scullery floors reconditioned and electric lighting installed.' A plan for vacant land to be used for shops in Lordship Lane was prevented by prescription of highway widening line by the borough council. In 1938 a lease was granted and three small blocks of flats were built. In 1935 the nurses home had also been built elsewhere on the site. In 1972 the Drapers Company was refused planning permission to demolish the almshouses, following a public enquiry, and the buildings were listed. As a result between 1978-81 they were modernised internally so that they are no longer separate houses but provide 61 flats as sheltered housing. They are now run by Hanover, which was established in 1963 as a specialist provider of retirement housing and related services.
The main almshouse buildings are ranged on three sides of a large rectangle of grass fenced to the road, the layout is informal with winding paths, and planted with flowering cherry trees. There is a long mixed border on the fourth side and flowerbeds by the front doors, with straight paths between doors and gates. Behind the almshouses are tiny individual gardens and through a gateway is an allotment area, mostly grass but with three small vegetable beds and a large pear tree, an apparently dead oak tree planted from an acorn after the loss of the old oak in the storms of 1987, and fine Irish yew, likely to be from the Victorian garden of Elmslea house. The allotment until relatively recently was used by neighbouring houses as allotment plots from their back gardens but a Leylandii hedge has since blocked access; part of this area is fenced off as garden for the adjoining nurses home, which has grass and fruit trees. Pleached limes are shown in photographs from 1938 and remain, and various shrubs are clipped into shapes. Today the front boundary has traditional-style but modern metal fencing at the front with three double entrance gates; wooden fence elsewhere. Each almshouse has a porch with an integral wooden seat, and there are six wooden benches in the garden.
Clive Berridge, Almshouses of London, 1987; A H Johnson, 'The History of the Worshipful Company of Drapers of London' (nd); Victoria County History, 1976; Drapers' Archives; F Fisk, 'History of the Ancient Parish of Tottenham', 1923; Drapers Company, 'History of the Company's properties and trusts', vol ii, 1939. Bruce Grove Archives.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Jenny Turner, 2005