John Sayer Almshouses Grant Case Study

John Sayer Almshouses is a small charity, consisting of four units in a grade 2 listed building on the High Street of Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The almshouses were built in 1684 as six units and in 1965 were adapted to make four slightly larger units.

Unfortunately, the building materials used in the 1960s were not sympathetic to the needs of an old building. Gypsum plaster on the inside, cement pointing on the outside and some leaky gutters have led to some very damp walls.

The photo on the right shows a big damp patch on an external wall. This wall also contained cracks due to the weight of traffic coming down the road. The resident in this unit would find damp on the inside of her wall and in summer 2022 when we had the very hot weather for a number of weeks she told the Charity that it looked like “the wall is crying” as there was so much damp.

A dehumidifier helped, but something significant needed to be done. The Charity’s newly appointed surveyor recommended repointing the walls and fixing the gutters as a priority. The estimate for this work was £29,000. Unfortunately, the reserves of this small charity had been depleted a few years previously when they encountered a problem in the roof. They also experienced a significant reduction in income when two of the units were unoccupied.

The Charity applied to several organisations for support, but report that it was The Almshouse Association grant of £25,000 that allowed them to start with the repointing of the side and back wall and, along with other funds, they were also able to renew the guttering.

The repointing work was carried out over the summer of 2023 by Mathias Restoration, specialists in historic brickwork. The cement was painstakingly chipped out by hand and then lime mortar was applied. Where the original lime mortar was sound, this remained in place.

The almshouse is situated on a busy corner in the middle of the High Street and they found that people would often stop and ask what was happening. This prompted the Charity to put up a poster explaining the process (and asking for donations).

The project also spurred the Charity to set up a website, Instagram and Facebook accounts and look at their engagement with the town. A reporter wrote an article in the local magazine about the almshouses.

For the first time in the Charity’s memory, they held two open days over the summer and received 400 visitors! Residents were pleased to open their homes and talk to members of the public about living in the almshouses. The public were delighted to see inside the building that they pass every day. The open days raised almost £2,000 in donations and significantly raised the Charity’s profile in the town.

The remainder of the grant, funds from the open days and a generous individual donation enabled the Charity to complete the gutter project.

“There is less to see of a ‘before and after’ with the gutters, as with renovations to listed buildings much of the idea is that you don’t see a difference! We do have a splendid new hopper on display at one end so people can tell that something has happened!

We will probably need to wait until next year to really see the impact of this project, but the building already feels dryer and the dehumidifier which is running in our one vacant unit is collecting less water. The wall with the big damp patch and cracks from the first picture looks much better.”

Charity Trustee

“If you are facing the prospect of multiple building projects, totalling a significant sum, break them down into smaller individual projects and look for the funding for each. You are more likely to get several smaller amounts than one large amount. Also, if you start the process and complete some of the smaller projects, it demonstrates your ability to raise funds and could give other sources of funding more confidence in your capacity to get things done.”

The photos above and below have been shared by the Charity to show before and after each step of their project and to demonstrate how the grant has been well spent. We would like to congratulate all the trustees and contractors for their hard work and determination to get the job done. We can see the difference it has made to the building and know that it will also make a difference to the living conditions of the resident.

We would also like to thank the people who so kindly donate to The Almshouse Association or leave gifts in their Wills. Without their generosity, we would not be in a position to help support almshouse charities with their renovations and new builds.

The Almshouse Association awards loans and grants to our member charities every year. In 2023, £804,624 was approved in new loans and grants approved totalled £78,590. Charities pay no interest on the loans, just a small administration fee. As they make repayments on the loans over a ten year period, the Association can continue to offer loans to charities year after year, meaning that your donations continue to support almshouses and their residents in perpetuity.

If you are interested in making a donation to The Almshouse Association or leaving a gift in your Will, please do visit our Support Us pages here.

John Sayer Almshouses

John Sayer was a loyal adherent to Charles II during his exile and became his chief cook after the Restoration.  He lived in Berkhamsted Place. Sayer’s acquaintances included the diarist Samuel Pepys who recorded the following passage in September 1661:

“I went with Captain Morrice into the King’s Privy Kitchen to Mr Sayers, the master Cook, and there had a good slice of beef or two to our breakfast; and from thence he took us into the wine cellar where, by my troth, we were very merry, and I drank so much wine that I was not fit for business”.

In his will dated July 1681, Sayer bequeathed £1000 in trust “for the building of an almshouse and the purchasing of lands for the relief of the poor in Berkhamsted St Peter”. He did not live long enough to finalise the details; his wife Mary dealt with implementing his wishes. The building cost £269, the balance being invested. She outlived John by 30 years. John Sayer’s black and white marble tomb is located in the Lady Chapel of St Peter’s church 
(extract from the website of John Sayer almshouses)

Repointing Project

Before – spring 2023
After – September 2023

Guttering Project

Before – June 2023
After – November 2023