|Lady Jane Mico's Almshouses||Tower Hamlets|
Lady Jane Mico's Almshouses were built here in 1691 by the Mercers' Company, following a bequest of 1670 by Lady Jane Mico, wife of Mercer and Alderman Sir Samuel Mercer. Her endowment was to house 10 poor widows of London of 50 years and older. The almshouses were later rebuilt by the Company in 1856 when other improvements were made to the facilities. In 1965 the Mercers' began plans to rebuild new almshouses nearby under an agreement with the GLC, who took over responsibility for the original cottages. The new almshouses opened in 1976 and since 1980 the residents here have ceased to be recipients of Lady Mico's Charity. The cottages have a communal garden along the frontage, bounded by C19th railings to the roadway with mature lime trees; at the rear are small private gardens.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/06/2012
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Lady Jane Mico's Almshouses, June 2009. Photo: S Williams
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Lady Jane Mico's Almshouses were built in 1691 by the Mercers' Company, who owned much of the land in the area. Lady Jane was the wife of Sir Samuel Mico, an Alderman and Mercer who had died in 1666 leaving most of his estate to her. Mico was a member of the Levant and East India Companies, importing spices and silks. In 1670 Lady Jane bequeathed £1,500 to the Mercers' Company for the purpose of building almshouses to house 10 poor widows of London of 50 years and over, which the Mercers' took to mean widows of Freemen of the City of London. The almshouses were not built immediately since this sum was insufficient for the purpose and the capital was placed with the Mercers' Company to accrue interest. Eventually after 20 years it had increased to £2,900 and in 1690 the Mercers' Company then proceeded to erect the row of 10 cottages on a site chosen near St Dunstan's Churchyard (q.v.). The land was owned by St Paul's School, Colet Estate, which the Mercers' Company also managed, and remained in this ownership until the 1870s when it was eventually purchased by the Mercers' Company for the sum of £1120, after protracted negotiations with the Charity Commissioners. When the almshouses were completed in 1691, built at a cost of £700, the balance of the Lady Mico's bequest remained at interest with the Company and produced £88 per year, £80 of which was paid to the residents of the almshouses. However, the small balance was insufficient for carrying out any repairs to the buildings, and as a consequence this was subsidised by the Company, who by the early 1850s were paying £300 a year.
In 1854 the Company decided to rebuild the almshouses and the current buildings are those erected in 1856 to designs by George Smith, surveyor to the Mercers' Company. By 1902 the Mercers had opened the almshouses to all single women. The almshouses suffered bomb damage during WWII in March 1941 when 3 of the houses were destroyed and others damaged; when Nos. 7-10 were rebuilt in 1951 a communal bathroom was added in the back yard for the use of all 10 houses. In 1965 the Company had plans to further improve the cottages but, unable to do so due to GLC plans for increasing public open space provision in the neighbourhood, the decision was taken to build new almshouses in Stepney.
The GLC offered the Company a site at the junction of Aylward Street and West Arbour Street, where it was building new housing. Agreement was reached that the new almshouses would be designed and built by the GLC on behalf of the Mercers' Company, and that when they were completed the old almshouses would be conveyed to the GLC in part exchange. The GLC eventually honoured this agreement and took responsibility for the old almshouses. Since 1970 they have been used for private housing.
In front of the terrace is a pleasant strip of communal garden bounded at the front and sides by a low brick wall that is partly railed and partly wooden fencing. Five mature lime trees and a more recent lime tree are in the communal garden together with roses and shrubs, and a concrete path runs from the entrance gate, which steps up from the street with two brick pillars topped with stone coping, with an overthrow with central lamp. On the front centre of the terrace is a stone carved female bust above a cartouche with the words 'The gift of Dame / Jane Mico Relict of / Sir Sam Mico Mercer dec / Built Ano 1691' and underneath: 'REBVILT / BY THE WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF MERCERS / AD 1856'. A plaque on the flank wall repeats this information. The bust of a female figure has been used for centuries as a property mark by the Mercers Company, the origin of the figure not known for certain but has been attributed as the Virgin Mary, patron saint of the Company, and also as 'Queen Agnes', a legendary figure but said to have been the sister of Thomas A Becket. The stone mason here may have been Jasper Latham, the Company's Mason at that time.
A Mercers' Company map of 1615 shows the area as an open field below the parsonage and churchyard. The Rocque map of 1746 shows the almshouses fronted by a row of trees and 3 square garden plots at the rear each with a tree in the middle. Extracts from Minutes of the Mercers' Company of 1680/81 note that 'widows shall have a little back yard or garden plot to themselves . . And shall fence in the residue of the ground or garden plots with a brick wall or pale outwards and pales for separating inwards'. In June 1691 it was 'agreed that the front yard shall be 16ft wide a backyard 12ft wide - the house with walls, 16ft and garden 36.5' and then, on 3 September: 'Front & partition walls of garden shall be of brick & half below the water table & 9ins above, to be 1.5 ft within ground & 4ft above ground. . . Warden Raymond desired to cause 24 lime trees to be set before & behind the almshouses as such distance as he shall think fit'. On 11 November 1691 the Committee 'agreed with Thomas Crispe, gardner to dig and [. . . ?] the garden & level the backyard with current westwardly, and set vines and trees there for £5'. An C19th watercolour shows the boundary wall with coping, the entrance gate at the side and 12 mature trees in the garden. The OS of 1870 still shows a row of trees in front with a boundary wall surrounding the site. By 1960 the boundary wall was topped with a wire mesh fence.
Clive Berridge, 'The Almshouses of London' (Southampton, 1987) p8, p23; Ian Doolittle, 'The Mercers Company 1579-1959' (W S Maney & Son, 1994); Jean Imray, 'The Mercers Company and East London, the first 200 years', East London Papers, vol 6, no.2 pp96-104; Rev Daniel Lysons, 'Environs of London' (1795), vol 3, pt 2, p472; James Stevens Curl, 'Stepney Rediscovered' in Country Life, vol CLI 3907, May 4 1972, pp1078-80; 'The Secret Garden', The Mercers Company Annual Review, 2007, pp18-20. See 'Lady Jane Mico and her Almshouse Trust' via Mercers Company website www.mercers.co.uk; Public Monuments and Sculpture Association website.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Patricia Birch, 2008