Almshouses trace their history back to monastic times where the terms bedehouse, hospital, maison dieu, almshouse and others described the provision of accommodation for those in need. The first recorded Almshouse was founded by King Athelstan in York in the 10th Century, and the oldest still in existence is thought to be the Hospital of St. Oswald in Worcester that dates from circa 990. By the middle of 1500s, there were about 800 mediaeval hospitals spread across the country but following the dissolution of the monasteries, only a handful remained, and these were re-founded on secular lines, and rebuilt in the new domestic collegiate style.
Of the 1,700 groups of almshouse charities today, over 30% occupy listed buildings and many have celebrated anniversaries of over 400 years. Another feature of this rich heritage is that many almshouses lie in the heart of towns and villages, ensuring that they remain closely integrated in the local community, with the added benefit of ensuring residents are close to shops and services.
Almshouses are typified by the traditional three sided square that provide a sense of safety and security without isolating residents from the outside world.
The National Association of Almshouses (The Almshouse Association)
In 1946, at a meeting held in the Chapter House of Southwark Cathedral, representatives of London's almshouses formed a committee to safeguard the interests of almshouse buildings and the welfare of residents especially in the light of extensive damage done to many almshouses during the war. In 1950, the committee extended its remit, and the National Association of Almshouses was born.