Drainage works, replacement windows and replastering

In the early part of 2024, The Frances Geering Almshouses Charity was awarded a £50,000 loan from The Almshouse Association to support various planned works to resolve damp problems in the charity’s two almshouses, covering drainage works, replacement front windows and replastering and painting with lime based materials.

photo taken circa 1904

The Frances Geering Almshouses in Harwell, Oxfordshire are a Grade II* listed building, built in the 1740s. The building is U-shaped and single storey, with a fine example of brickwork on its front façade. 

It originally housed ‘6 poor widows’ who each had one room with a well and brick privy (now a shed) in the garden.

In the 1960s and the 1990s alterations were carried out, reducing the number of residents to two, so that each had a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.

With no damp proof course, and restrictions on what the Historic Building Officers would allow in a listed building, perennial damp problems were becoming unacceptable for residents in the 21st century. 

The trustees advised that if they cannot find residents, the charity will have no income and the building will deteriorate.

The Quinquennial Review in 2022 showed that some of the remedial work carried out over the years had been undertaken using inappropriate materials which were exacerbating the major problem of dampness in the almshouses.  The residents have to keep their clothes in plastic bags; the walls and curtain linings develop damp patches, which become black and mouldy, which cannot be good for their health.

The original endowments of the Charity have been gradually sold off over the 300 years to maintain the upkeep of the building, and no endowments remain.  Their annual income is about £20,000 with just two residents.  In recent years they have had a surplus of about £5,000 per annum, which has been invested.

With a healthy financial balance, the trustees decided it was time to carry out a major renovation to reduce the damp problems. 

The plan included:

  • the removal of the external cement rendering to the whole of the south wall and low level cement rendering to the east wall of the almshouse
  • stripping out the gypsum plaster on the internal walls in the bedroom, sitting room, kitchen and hallway
  • insulating the walls and replastering all with lime plaster. This work will allow the building to breathe.

The Quinquennial Review also recommended that a CCTV survey of the drains should be carried out and this revealed that the foul drains that were constructed in pitch fibre were showing signs of collapse and fluid retention.  New pipework for the foul drains and the storm drains needed to installed and a new soakaway dug, both of which will ensure that water is correctly taken away from the building.  New gutters and drainpipes were also needed.

The trustees have now also had agreement to remove the rotting wooden frames of the sash windows and replace them with double glazed units. The new plastering will be done during the summer months, to help the building to dry out, and the new windows will be fitted at the same time.

The trustees are using local building companies with a good reputation who are known to them.

Whilst the drainage work was being carried out the contractors liaised closely with both residents to ensure that they were aware of when the changeover from the old to the new system would take place. 

When the internal works commence it will be necessary to provide alternative accommodation elsewhere in the village for approximately two months.

Having obtained Listed Building Consent, the trustees set up a small sub-committee to supervise the work, reporting at regular intervals back to the trustees. 

They obtained quotes for the 3 areas of work, totalling approx. £120,000.  With savings to cover half of this amount, they have been applying for grants. The Almshouse Association granted the Charity a loan of £50,000 to be repaid over 10 years to support the works.

We would like to thanks all the trustees and contractors for their hard work and determination to ensure these beautiful almshouses have been preserved and can continue to provide safe and warm homes to people in need for many more generations to come.

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.