Noel Caron, wealthy landowner, philanthropist and Dutch Ambassador to Elizabeth I, built seven almshouses on Kingston/Wandsworth Road in 1622 for seven poor but honest women of Lambeth parish. No garden records have been found, but a watercolour exists of the almshouses before they were demolished as unsuitable in 1853. In 1854 seven new Caron almshouses were built in nearby Fentiman Road, with a communal front garden and seven separate back gardens (as shown by maps until 1932): a 1950 map shows the seven separate back gardens as a single unit. Trustee ‘minutes’ reveal that Vauxhall Park gardeners maintained the almshouse gardens. Site visits suggest that holm oak, cherry and sycamore were early garden trees. Today’s care body is Family Mosaic.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/05/2011
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Caron's Almshouses, front garden, west end of almshouses, May 2009. Photo Annette James
Click photo to enlarge.
In 1622, on the west side of Kingston/Wandsworth Road were almshouses of ‘seven detached rooms for as many poor women of the Parish of Lambeth ... founded by Baron Noel de Caron in ... the 32nd year of his embassy’. Caron, Flemish envoy [1590-1624] to the Courts of Queen Elizabeth I and James I, was ‘one of South Lambeth’s main landowners [who] built himself a fine new mansion surrounded by gardens and parkland studded with trees’: in 1624, he died, ‘still in his post’.
Noel Caron, ‘well-loved as a philanthropist and founder of an almshouse’, willed that all his property, land and money should be invested for the care of those who lived in the almshouses; but as an unmarried alien with no progeny, he needed Acts of Parliament and the Court of Chancery, to establish ‘in perpetuity’ the provisions of his 1623 ‘will’, and to clarify that whoever lived in the ‘greate’/Carroone house or owned the land on which it stood, should be responsible for the welfare of the ‘inmates’, paying each a £4 p.a. pension and appointing new replacements as necessary.
Although no mention of gardens at the Wandsworth Road almshouses has been found, we know Caron was a keen gardener, ‘thanking God he had found such a fertile place for his [much-loved] garden, where everything grew in abundance’. Also, the Dutch-influenced royal gardeners, John Tradescant, Elder and Younger, occupied [c.1629-1678] property owned by Caron ‘whom Tradescant must have known’.
Sir Clifton Blicke, estate owner, repaired the almshouses in 1838, when Nine Elms railway station opened at Vauxhall, and the ‘Claylands’ were being drained for roads and housing: Fentiman Road was soon laid out on an east-west line just south of ‘Carroone House’.
When, in 1853, the Wandsworth Road almshouses became ‘uncomfortable and unsuitable for aged persons’, they were demolished. The land was sold to nearby Price’s Patent Candle Company for £1,500; and a year later, that same amount ‘was appropriated for the erection of new premises, adjacent to today’s Vauxhall Park’.
An 1854 two-storey, Tudor-style terrace of almshouses was built at 1-7 Fentiman Road, fronted in rich red brick with stone dressings; within the central gable, a tablet recorded the benefactions of founder Caron and donor Forest, together with their coats of arms [one above and one below the tablet]; and a stone ‘hood’ covered the entrance. These almshouses each had ‘a good sitting room, scullery and large bed-room over, and [until 1932] a small garden at the back’. Since 1950, one communal back garden has been shared.
Resulting from the sale of Caron’s estate for speculative housing, and local objection [supported by Octavia Hill], an 1888 Special Act of Parliament created Vauxhall Park (q.v.), as ‘a place of freedom, recreation and enjoyment’. The estate ‘conveyance was made to the [Lambeth] Vestry in May 1889’, whose trustees took over responsibility for the almshouses, until an 1893 scheme of the Charity Commissioners placed the almshouse buildings, gardens and residents within the United Charities of Lambeth. Archived committee Minutes, and those of succeeding trustees, reveal the following selected almshouse conditions: Elderly virtuous women, having lived five consecutive years in the parish, could be appointed by the chairman and approved by committee. Those failing to keep a clean house free of ‘rubbish’ could be evicted. New chimney pots and stoves were provided, and some repainting occurred in 1893, and a strip of ground at the back was paved with flagstones and slate set in gravel. In the front forecourt, gates and stone-topped piers were repaired, and above the hooded door, tablets were re-dressed. Railings were provided along the front path, splitting at the front door, to prevent paths being worn along the forked-over turf, and flags, embedded in gravel, were made level.
In 1894, each resident received a 3s sanitary pail; by 1907, flushing toilets were installed, and persistent drainage problems and damp [especially at no.7] ensued. By 1923, candles and lamps gave way to electricity. From 1894, contracts at £3 pa were awarded to Vauxhall Park gardeners for external repair and upkeep of house and gardens. Special costs were paid in addition to those contracts, such as £1 5s in 1923, to put lawns and hedges in good condition after termination of a lazy gardener’s contract; £1 10s in 1926 was to undertake special work on gardens and paths; while in 1927, 12s paid for clearing the back gardens, and £1 8s 6d purchased a small lawnmower.
Over almost four centuries since 1622, when [in his concern for poor but honest women of the parish] Noel Caron created and endowed almshouses in Vauxhall’s Kingston Road, and in spite of changing care bodies as new money was required, his concern and care continues today at the Fentiman Road almshouses, under Family Mosaic Housing, whose choice of today’s women occupants is according to ‘whomever Lambeth Borough Council deems in housing need’.
Thomas Allen, 'The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth and the Archiepiscopal Palace in the County of Surrey' (London: J Nichols & Son, 183); Clive Berridge, 'Almshouses of London', (Ashford: 1987); Ross Davies, 'Vauxhall, a Little History', (London: 2009); M P G Draper, ‘Vauxhall Park’ in Lambeth Open Spaces, An Historical Account, (LB Lambeth, 1979); James Elmes, 'A Topographical Dictionary of London and its Environs', (1831); Jennifer Potter, 'Strange Blooms', (London: Nine Elms Press 2006); Peter Reed (compiler), ‘A Brief History of Vauxhall Park: History Part II’ in The Friends of Vauxhall Park (2000); H Renier, ‘Lambeth Past - Lambeth, Vauxhall, Waterloo’ in Historical Publications, (2006); F H W Sheppard (ed), 'Survey of London, Vol 26, Part II, Southern area' (LCC, 1956); Peter Whitfield, 'London, a Life in Maps', (London: The British Library, 2006). Journals: Lambeth Endowed Charities’ Records , Minet Archives IV/108; IV/140-165; IV/170; Property Register Title:TGL116438, filed 22 Jan 1996 (Land Registry, Telford. 11.08.2010); The United Charities of Lambeth, 1893 Minet Archives P/4/165-66
LPGT Volunteer Research by Marilyn Carter and Annette James, May 2011