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View of the Hanbury Arms and the Alms House by John Skinner Prout, from "The Castles and Abbeys of Monmouthshire" published 1838View of the Hanbury Arms and the Alms House from Coxe's "Tour in Monmouthshire" 1801, notice the wooden bidge just visible to the right.

The almshouse was founded at the end of the 16th Century by Elizabeth Morgan, the wife of William Morgan of Llantarnam. In her will she left provision for "rooms and lodgings for ten poor widows of good name and fame and of the age of threescore year or six-and-fifty at least." The conditions were stringent, and give us insight into life at that time.

Here are the ordinances and rules given by Elizabeth Morgan in her will, 1592:

"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 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."

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.

For more information see the article by Eija Kennerley in "Gwent Local History" No. 57, published Autumn 1984.
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