The English Almshouse and the Mixed Economy of Welfare: Medieval to Modern

Nigel Goose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, which is closely based on his 2009 BALH Annual Lecture, delivered at Local History Day in June, Professor Nigel Goose gives a broad-ranging and comprehensive overview of the development of almshouses, their significance in the context of charity and assistance to the poor, and their adaptation to the changing circumstances of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He begins with a discussion of their medieval origins, highlighting the rationale for the establishment and their relationship to a confusing array of other charitable institutions. Regional divergence is indicated, as almshouses were considerably more popular in some parts of the country than others. Consideration of the sixteenth century is in the context of emerging strategies towards poor relief and public assistance, a feature which the title of the paper—‘the mixed economy of welfare’—draws to our attention. This period is also notable for the attention given by historians, albeit with differing conclusions, to the general theme of the rise of philanthropy. Discussion of trends in the seventeenth century includes a wealth of statistical evidence which researchers have drawn from probate records, and indicates a blurring of the distinction between public and private assistance. For the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the trend was towards larger-scale giving, with private charity becoming a major—though remarkably unrecognised—force in overall welfare provision. The article discusses the circumstances of almshouses in the twentieth century, with the challenges that were posed by the advent of the Welfare State. Throughout, the article, which is eminently readable and accessible, gives statistical information and many local examples to illustrate the general patterns under consideration. The references signpost readers to key texts and sources, and the article is highly recommended to anyone wanting to investigate any aspect of charity, as well as of course almshouses, in their own area
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-19
Number of pages17
JournalLocal Historian
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


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