Historic Almshouse in Bristol


The Temple Hospital, more commonly called Dr White’s Almshouse, was originally located in Temple Street. Founded in 1613 by the celebrated preacher, social reformer and benefactor, the Reverend Dr. Thomas White.

Dr. White's book introduction - click to enlarge

Dr. White’s book introduction – click to enlarge

Thomas White, was born in the Parish of Temple in 1550, the son of John White, a clothier. After graduating from Magdalen College, Oxford he settled in London and was promoted rapidly within the Church.

He held a number of benefices, for long periods of time. As well as being the rector of the Church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street, London, for almost fifty years, he was a prebendary of St. Paul’s, Treasurer of the Church of Salisbury from 1590, a Canon of Christ Church, Oxford from 1591 and a Canon of St. George’s, Windsor from 1593. It is said that he derived his wealth from these many preferments, and the extraordinary length of time that he held them, but it is also likely that he inherited part of his father’s estate.

By founding Temple Hospital he did not forget the place of his birth, although it is said that it was his wife, Elizabeth, who persuaded him to found a Hospital in Bristol.

He died on 1 March 1624, aged 74 years, and was buried in the chancel of St. Dunstan’s. Although he left instructions for a gravestone, a memorial was not provided until 1877 when the Trustees of Bristol Charities and the Governors of Sion College combined to provide it. He was married twice, and both of his wives predeceased him. He had no children and he was faced with the necessity of disposing of his wealth.

The almshouse was built to accommodate ten people. Dr White provided for the organisation of the hospital and he selected the first ten almspeople, called the “brothers and sister.” From his deed of gift we know the names of some of the first “Brethren and Sisters”. They included William Cox, John Durnel, Roger Neave, Henry Williams, John Witterlie, Richard Barratt, Thomas Whiteing, and two widows, Ellen Davies and Thomasin Westley. He placed at their head the eldest man, William Cox, who was named as the “Antient Brother”.

Dr. White's rent roll - 1616. Click to enlarge

Dr. White’s rent roll – 1616. Click to enlarge

Dr White governed the almshouse during his lifetime, to be succeeded by his brother and two of the “antientest Aldermen” of the City, the Town Clerk and by the Chamberlain.

In 1824 the almshouse was completely rebuilt, with a modern and simple Gothic front, designed by Edward Brickden, a student of the architectural school of Robert Smirke, who designed the British Museum.

At that time, some difficulties arose between the governors and the churchwardens of Temple Church. The statue of Neptune, now standing in the Millennium Centre, stood next to the almshouse and it proved to be in the way of the plans to rebuild. Eventually the governors found a new site for the statue on a piece of glebe (church) land. The governors paid £3 pounds per annum for the use of the land. Neptune remained there until 1872, when it was moved to the junction of Temple Street and Victoria Street.

Until 1882 the almshouse consisted of a parallelogram of small gabled buildings, with a narrow grass plot running up the centre. It was intended for ten “poor and impotent” people. In March 1882 the Governors decided to pull down the almshouses and rebuild. The opening ceremony of the new building took place on 21 December 1883. This building was demolished in 1968 and new almshouses were built at a site in Prewett Street, near St. Mary Redcliffe. These almshouses still provide accommodation for 18 residents, together with a warden.

Today the almshouse charity is managed by a body of trustees consisting of four trustees appointed by the City Council and a trustee nominated by the Bishop of Bristol.

On the direction of Dr White, an annual dinner was to be provided for the trustees, on St. Thomas’s Day, (the anniversary of the founder’s birth). He allowed forty shillings for the dinner that became known as the “Pease and Pork dinner”. It must have been one of the annual highlights, as the “Livery House” was decorated with rosemary and the pewter was polished. The trustees would tour the almshouse, to hear any complaints, and then sit down to a fine dinner. In times gone by the almshouse residents would dine well on the remains.

The St. Thomas’s day dinner continues to this day, attended by almshouse residents, trustees and the Lord Mayor.

In his will, dated 1623, Dr White also left a number of other charitable gifts, including £3,000 for the building of an ecclesiastical college and an almshouse within the City of London, called Sion College. His executors purchased the site of Elsyng’s Spital, near Cripplegate. Formerly the site of a nunnery, it was named after William Elsynge who purchased the site in 1329 to establish a hospital for the blind. The almshouse was to house twenty persons, of whom four were to come from Bristol. The London almshouse was closed in 1884 and the Sion College library closed in 1996.

The Doctor also left the sum of £100 a year for the repairs of the highways about Bristol; he especially specified ten miles on the Oxford Road, and the whole of the road to Bath, via Hanham and Bitton, and five miles in every road leading to a market town in either Somerset or Gloucestershire.

He left directions, in his will, for a number of interesting bequests including £40 to buy chains and manacles for the prisoners of Newgate prison, so that they could be taken to St. Dunstan’s to join in the worship, so that the “air might benefit their bodies, the preaching their souls and their sight and shame an example to the people.”

Dr White’s brother, George White, a merchant, also left his own legacy, which can still be viewed today. In 1631 he made a gift of one of the four brass pillars that now stand before the old Exchange building in Corn Street. The pillars were used by merchants, in lieu of tables, for making payments, writing letters etc. These were the famous “Bristol nails” that generated the expression, “to pay on the nail.” He also left money to provide loans to clothiers, materials to keep the “poor at work” and for the relief of prisoners in Newgate, the prison that used to stand between Narrow Wine Street and Castle Mill Street.

~ via BristolCharities.org.uk

© Dr White's Almshouse 2015. | Site by LM.