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The Duchess Of Somerset's Hospital

The Duchess Of Somerset's Hospital Date Photo Taken 2008
Uploaded 21/03/2012 09:58:20
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Map Latitude 51.41067707626506 : Longitude -1.5704548358917236
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Sarah, Duchess of Somerset, was alive between the years of1631-1692. Born in the aftermath of the Civil War, she became aware of the poverty of the lower classes, the neglect of the elderly and the lack of education of the young; she the began to endeavour to help those in trouble, and this air of selflessness followed her through her life. Many years before she died, she made her will and, in it, provisions for many recipients of her charity. Amongst these was an allocation of money for the creation of a set of almshouses. These were to be built on an area of two acres that she had bought for that exact use.

She intended the site to have built upon it a brick building which would enclose a quadrangle and have 30 houses each with a ground-floor room and a room above it. The residents, as she set out in her will, were to be 30 widows: 15 of which were to be those of clergymen - 10 from Wiltshire, Somerset, or Berkshire and 5 from London or Westminster, and the other fifteen were to be those of laymen - 10 from manors (including Froxfield) which she owned and 5 from elsewhere in Wiltshire, Somerset, or Berkshire. A chapel was to be built in the court. The widows, who would qualify for residence if their inheritance was worth less than £20 a year, were to be given pensions and a cloth gown each year(worth 26 shillings and eight pence, or less) and the chaplain was either to be paid or to be presented as rector of Huish. The Curate was to have a salary of £10 per annum for reading prayers daily with the widows, and preach to them every Sunday, and also visit the sick. When the income of the Hospital rose to £100 or more a year, then the Chaplain was to receive £30 every six months.

This increased income was due, entirely, to the planning of the Duchess, over the rents for the properties which she had left to provide for the maintenance and repair of the Hospital - she had, in essence, directed that the leases should be let for no longer than twenty-one years, so that rents could be increased, and the provision for the widows altered and when- and if- it needed to be. This forethought provided the money needed to build the second half of the Hospital- accommodation for an extra 20 widows, when the rents amounted to more than £400 per annum. The Duchess also asserted that each widow would have two rooms - one on the ground floor, one on the floor above it- for their own personal use. Additionally, she allowed the provision of £200 for the buying of tables, bedsteads, and other furniture to be placed into the houses, and for seats for the Chapel.

The Hospital remained much the same until the 1920s, when Lord Long became a trustee. In this position, he pressed for several alterations and changes to be made to the Hospital. These included: allowing the unmarried daughters of clergymen to live in the houses, the conversion of two houses into lavatory blocks, and an attempt to have bathrooms installed in each house. This last stage, however, would not be implemented until several years after his death, when a bathroom, hand basin, and a W.C. were installed in every house. In 1974, each house was finally converted to a comfortable place to live, when central heating was installed.

On the gatehouse can be found a tablet with the inscription: 'The Somerset Hospital for Twenty Clergy and Thirty Lay Widows, Founded and Endowed by the late most Noble Sarah, Dowager Duchess of Somerset, A.D. MDCXCIV (1694)'.

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