The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
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Enquiries relating copyright should be addressed to the Gwent Local History Council.
Gwent Local History No. 57, Autumn 1984
The Almshouse, Caerleon
by Eija Kennerley
In her will, dated 1st February 1592, Elizabeth Morgan "gave and bequeathed towards the stopping of the sea-water that came through the wall into the house of her son Edward Morgan, in the tenure of one Katherine Varthe, widow, situate by the bridge, and within the town of Caerleon, the sum of 30s., the which house she willed that her said son Edward Morgan should allow for and towards the rooms and lodgings for ten poor widows of good name and fame, and of the age of threescore year or six-and-fifty at the least. She also gave and bequeathed for and towards the relief of the foresaid widows, and such as should succeed in their places from time to time, towards their house, rooms and chambers, £10 in land for ever, that is to say 20s. a piece to every one, they living under the ordinances and rules to be laid down and annexed to her will, the lands being situate in such places and of that yearly value that was expressed in a schedule thereunto." (1)
Mrs. Morgan did indeed put quite a lot of limitations to the almshouse: the age limitation and that of "good name and fame" before everything. The latter to us now seems almost to defeat the purpose, as usually those most in need are not always the same who have a good name. She also gave a list of rules which were to be followed by the inmates of the almshouse. She appointed her son Edward and her son-in-law William Herbert of St. Julians, to choose the widows and also to "displace them if they did not come up to expectations." Her son was to "employ the land to the use aforesaid."
The Almshouse is mentioned in the Survey of Caerleon Manor in 1622:
"Le long y Back: - - - Edward Morgan of Lanternam,
and in the Survey of 1677:
"Le long the back: - - - Sir Edward Morgan, bart.
The Monmouthshire Charities Report 1819-1837 tells us that the lands mentioned in Elizabeth Morgan's Will were in the parishes of Lanbadock and Lanvrechva, and were vested in the late Sir Robert Allard Jones Kemeys, as devisee of George Kemeys, esq. In the early 19th century, the agent of George Kemeys, Mr. Prothero, "regularly paid the £10 per annum, in sums of 20s. each, to the poor widows of the town of Caerleon, appointed by the churchwardens, up to Christmas 1831." At this point trouble arose, as Lady Kemeys had "expressed her determination to resist" paying anything. The Charity Commissioners then considered it their duty to certify the case to His Majesty's Attorney General.
In their Report the Charity Commissioners described the state of the Almshouses just before 1837:
"There is a building, called the Almshouses, near the old bridge over the Usk, containing four sets of rooms, in which some of the poor widows receiving the stipend have, upon their petition, been usually allowed to reside rent-free. Three of these sets are now inhabited by three of the widows, the remaining one is occupied by another poor family; the freehold of the building, which appears by the will not to have belonged to the testatrix, is now vested in Capel Hanbury Leigh, esq., of Pontypool, who retains the possession of a cellar underneath it."
The house was finally sold in 1863 by Order of the Charity Commissioners, for the sum of £35.17s.9d., and in the year 1866 the annual payment of £10 from the lands mentioned, was redeemed by their owner for the sum of £337 Consols which was paid to the Commissioners. The dividends were remitted by then to the Vicar and Churchwardens of the Parish who were the trustees, and by whom the dole was administered to the ten poor widows.
In addition to the possible contents of the Alms Box allowed by Elizabeth Morgan to be put at the door of the Almshouse, there were sometimes amounts of money given in the Wills of Caerleon notables. William Thomas, in his Will of 1632: "the poor of Caerleon, this side of the bridge, £100, to be put in the Chamber of Bristol for their use " (2) Isaac Tomkins's Will 1682: "40 shillings to the poor of Caerleon" (3) and Mary Butler, 1797: "£10 to be discretionally distributed to the poor of the Town who most constantly attend the Divine Services of the said Church of Caerleon". (4)
There are two pictures which show a building that could have been the Almshouse. One is a watercolour by Thomas Cooke, c.1785. We see the back of the house, with two chimneys, built out of the wall. The other picture is an engraving of 1800 which also shows the back of the house but from further away. Both are in Newport Borough Museum.
1. Memoires of the Morgan Family, by Blacker Morgan,
and Monmouthshire Charities Report 1819-1837.
First. I will that there shall be such Widows as shall be given to serve God before all other Exercises and such as have lived in good name and fame and so doth continue: No swearers; no Cursers; no Recusants; no Drunkards; no Scolds; no Breakers of Hedges; or Annoyers of their Neighbours; but Good and Godly Conversation, to the better example of others. They shall be of the age threescore years, or of six and fifty at the least; before they shall be admitted to dwell in the said House. And if any of them shall fortune to marry, they shall depart the said House not to be admitted thereunto again.
Secondly. I will that they and every of them shall usually resort to the Parish Church of Caerleon, especially on the Sabbath Day, Wednesdays, and Fridays every week; at which days there is Service said in the same Church. And if they, or any of them shall be absent from the said Church at Service-time, not being hindered by Sickness; they so offending shall pay two-pence at every time, which shall be put in the Poor-Mens box in the said Parish Church.
Thirdly. They nor any of them shall not lodge, nor suffer to be lodged or harboured by day nor yet by night any manner of person, neither man nor woman nor child, within any of their lodgings, but only themselves. Without it be in some great extremity of Sickness, whereas of necessity some ancient Woman keeper may watch with any of them for a night or two upon great necessity. Or else not to lodge, harbour, keep or maintain, or suffer to be lodged, harboured, kept or maintained, neither by day nor yet by night any manner of person, although they be never so near of their blood or kindred. Unless it be a girl of their kindred to attend them under 13 years of age. But if any of them shall so do, she or they, shall presently avoide out of her or their lodgings within 20 days next after any of such offence committed; and never to be admitted to dwell in any of the said Lodgings again. My meaning is, not but that they may come the one into the other's Lodgings or their friends', to be merry together when they shall think meet; lovingly as honest neighbours use to do, at hours convenient, and so to depart in good order.
Fourthly. They shall be no keepers (in sense of companions) of Sick persons in other houses, which shall be sick of the Plague, or any infectious disease, for fear of bringing infection among themselves.
Fifthly. They shall not, whiles they have health and strength, live idly; nor suffer such girls as are with them of their kindred to live in idleness; but shall work and labour to their power and ability for their better maintenance and relief.
Sixthly. They shall have care that neither they nor their maids, do break hedges or inclosures, or do any damage or annoyance unto any.
Seventhly. They shall make no Ale to sell, nor sell any kind of Victual nor set up Ale Stake nor shop in their house.
Eighthly. It shall be lawful for them to set up an Alms-box at the door of their house, to receive the Charitable Devotion of such as shall be disposed to give aught for their Relief. But they shall not beg any Alms neither at their door of their House, nor in the Street, nor in any other place.
Ninthly and Lastly. If any of them be found to have
offended against any of these Articles or if any of the said Widows
do or shall know that any of them have offended the Articles aforesaid;
and do not show the same to such persons as shall have authority to
correct and amend it; they, so offending, shall be put out of the same
House and not to be admitted any more thereunto.