The Pemberton Almshouses

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Pemberton Almshouses' page

G P McSweeney

By Pat Howe

The will of Roger Pemberton written in 1624 set out in meticulous detail how the Almshouses were to be set up and administered. He had purchased land in Bowgate (now the top end of St Peter’s Street) on which were to be erected an almshouse of "sixe sufficient roomes, of bricke or stones for sixe poore old widdowes…… with sixe convenient garden plottes" within a wall of brick and stones. (1)

Although he stated that "the same [was] to continew and bee an almeshouse for ever" I doubt he had contemplated that the building would still be standing in 2010 and indeed being lived in by people in a similar position to that which he had stipulated.

In order to maintain the property and provide for the widows, Pemberton requested that lands and tenements, or yearly annuities, were to be purchased by his executors, the income from which was to be distributed among the widows, specifically one fifth towards their clothing, and the other four fifths allocated quarterly towards their "meat, bread, drink and firewood". He had the forethought to provide for maintenance of the building by stating that, if a widow died, her room should not be let for three months and the quarter’s income saved and spent on any necessary repairs.

Strict orders were laid down that the widows should "live peaceably and quietly" together, and if any were "contentious and unquiet" then Roger Pemberton’s sons or their heirs should withhold six months’ payment. If the widows did not mend their ways, they were to be removed and replaced by others. They were required to attend St Peter’s Church to hear divine service and sermons every Sunday. In the same sentence he adds that they were to be restrained from "breaking of hedges and committing of other misdemeanours" by loss of their allowances or replacement by other occupants.

A codicil to the will, dated 7th November 1627, immediately before Roger’s death, bequeathed to the six widows the sum of five pounds per year for ever. Our research has shown that the sum of £30 a year was still being paid by Mr Dimmock, lord of the manor of Shelton, Bedfordshire, in 1908.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Pemberton Almshouses' page
Roger’s father had migrated from Pemberton in Lancashire. Roger was born in 1555 and educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. He married Elizabeth Moore in the church of St Anne and St Agnes, London in 1579. They had three sons and three daughters, who were baptised in St Peter’s Church, St Albans between 1583 and 1592. The family is delightfully portrayed in a memorial in St Peter’s Church.
(photo: Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies)

Roger’s eldest son, John, was a grocer, gaining the Freedom of the City of London in 1608. His second son, Robert, is described in the Grocers Company Warden’s accounts as Haberdasher of London and living in the parish of St Mary-le-Bow. The descendants of his family migrated to the West Indies in the early eighteenth century. Raphe, Roger’s third son, appears to have lived in St Albans. His five children were baptised in St Peter’s and he was twice mayor in 1627 and 1637. Raphe’s famous son, Francis, became Lord Chief Justice and was knighted in 1675. It was he who purchased Trumpington Hall in Cambridge, and his descendants still live there today.

Roger’s standing in the community is evident from his appointment as High Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1618. The status of the Pemberton family has been maintained to this day, with Antony Pemberton of Trumpington Hall, a descendant of Roger, holding the title of High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire in 2001.

The almshouses were built very soon after Roger’s death and the first widows were in residence by August 1629. Roger had requested in his will that his three sons take responsibility for the building and administration of the almshouses. In the absence of John and Robert in London, it was Raphe, an Executor of the will, with his mother, who brought his father’s wishes to fruition. By the time the Charity Commission came into being in the early nineteenth century, the almshouses were being administered by the churchwardens of St Peter’s Church. The widows still received £5.per year from Roger’s property in Bedfordshire.

An article in a local newspaper in 1897 describes the Jubilee Commemoration scheme for the restoration of the buildings. An interview with one of the inhabitants describes the "commodious rooms" and the residents sitting at their doorways looking "extremely happy and contented". The almshouses were repaired and enlarged in 1905 by Arthur Willoughby Pemberton, a descendant of Roger Pemberton who also restored the plaque in the St Peter’s Church.

By 1942 the almshouses were in a poor state of repair and a new scheme for their regulation was drawn up. The properties were vested in the Official Trustee of Charity Lands and were to be administered by a board of eight trustees. In 1943 the City Council resolved to purchase the almshouses and the Charity Commission ordered that "the Trustees may sell the said lands and hereditaments for not less than £4,100." The sale of the Almshouses by the Charity Commission to the "Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of St Albans" took place on 28 June 1944.

The almshouses now form part of the retirement housing stock managed by the District Council, but in many ways still adhere to the principles laid down by Roger Pemberton. The age limit has been reduced to fifty-five and in order to comply with the Sex Discrimination Act men are now admitted. In 1960 extensions were added at the rear of the building to provide a kitchen and bathroom for each resident. This greatly improved the accommodation without altering the appearance of the original seventeenth century building from the street.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Pemberton Almshouses' page

"And the same to continew and be an almshouse for ever, the sixe convenient garden plottes…."

A well-tended garden today, with the kitchen extension on the right.



(1)  The National Archives Prob 11/152

A fuller version of this paper is available in booklet form from the St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society.   Price £4.00

This page was added by Pat Howe on 30/06/2010.
Comments about this page

My family, descendants of Roger Williams, Founder of Rhode Island and the son of Alice Pemberton, daughter, I believe, of James Pemberton, leaves me speechless reading this history. Is there someone there to receive me on a trip to see these places?

By Phyllis Anne Williams
On 30/05/2013

Reply to Phyllis Williams - either myself or one of my tour guide colleagues of St Albans Tour Guides Association would be happy to assist.

By Bernard Elwen
On 01/06/2013

Reply to Phyllis Williams- As a descendant of Roger Williams also, I just wanted to say that his mother Alice Pemberton is in fact the daughter of Robert Pemberton and Katharine Stokes, making her a sister of Roger Pemberton- the subject of this article.

By Kenneth B
On 24/12/2013

Hi Roger Pemberton Esquire 

is my 12th Great Grandfather on my father's side and have traced this line to St Albans




By Nicola Jane Pemberton
On 05/05/2016

What a beautiful legacy!  

By Laurel Robson
On 09/11/2017

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.