Sunday, March 16, 2014
Much Wenlock, Shropshire
Almshouses. There are little rows of them all over England, the result mostly of acts of local charity that have helped house the poor, the needy, and the old for hundreds of years. Their architecture ranges from the simple to the ornate and often has a touch of the Gothic about it, with pointed, ecclesiological arches over windows and doorways reminding one perhaps of the houses’ origins in Christian charity, and sometimes alluding to their antiquity – some almshouse charities go back hundreds of years, to the medieval period. Sometimes, these Gothic touches are probably just there to make the buildings stand out, to indicate that these little buildings are different from the run of the mill of houses built by local landlords or developers.
These almshouses in Much Wenlock probably date from around 1800 and their touch of Gothic is provided by the distinctive double-curved ogee arches above the windows and doors. Ogees first became fashionable in the 14th century, as part of the ornate kind of Gothic architecture that the Victorians called Decorated Gothic. But there’s nothing else Decorated Gothic about these houses. They’re rather plain brick buildings and the simple wooden doors and white-framed windows don’t make any concessions to the curved arches above them – the doors and windows are resolutely rectangular and the gaps between them and the arches are filled with plain white plastered panels. Oddly enough, the white panels catch the eye and make the arches more obvious. They’re like signs or reminders that tell us that these are almshouses, and they’re that little bit different, and proud of it too.