This 1990 Archive photograph is part of the Joan Schwitzer Bequest. These ancient almshouses still stand in the heart of Highgate Village on a road in use for centuries and cheek by jowl with Highgate School.
The history of both is woven into the fabric of the Village. The building is mainly long and squat – a utilitarian design for housing the elderly in the eighteenth century. How many of us wish we lived on the ground floor in old age!
Initial buildings 1658
Highgate School was founded in 1565 by Sir Roger Cholmeley for the free education of boys and to provide relief (ie. funding) for the poor living in the hamlet of Highgate. So the example of charitable provision was set and taken up in the seventeenth century by Sir John Wollaston, a City merchant and Parliamentarian who briefly held the manor of Hornsey. He was Lord Mayor of London in 1643 during the English Civil Wars. Wollaston built six almshouses in Southwood Lane for the use of six men and women of, ‘honest life and conversation … in the said parish of Hornsey’. In his 1658 will he bequeathed the almshouses to the Governors of Cholmeley School to administer. They ruled that no married couples could live in them and residents must attend Cholmeley School Chapel.
Over time Wollaston’s almshouses fell into disrepair and were rebuilt in 1722 for twelve poor widows by Sir Edward Pauncefort of Lauderdale House, a Cholmeley School governor. A two-
storey house was added as a charity school for 26 girls, also maintained by the Governors. Hannah Boise, Samuel Foster, Robert Bootle and John Edwards were other eighteenth century benefactors who bequeathed money to the Governors for the benefit of the occupants of the Pauncefort almshouses. In 1833 a Church of England National School for boys and girls was added at the far end of the building. This moved to a new site in North Road in 1852 as St Michael’s School. The Archive holds a 1950 photograph showing the National School building still in situ beyond the almshouses, shortly before its demolition.
Today a sheltered housing scheme, the Wollaston and Pauncefort Almshouse Charity, owns the building, operated by a company. Provision, for residents over 60 years of age, consists of six one-bedroom flats – much more spacious than the Pauncefort accommodation and described as, ‘located behind Highgate School and … a few minutes’ walk away from Highgate High Street where one can find an array of quirky independent shops and cafes adding to the area’s character’. How times change!