There was one small almshouse in Kenilworth, known as the ‘Widow’s Charity Houses’. It was founded in 1644 for poor widows by George Denton of Warwick, though later it was taken over by the local churchwardens. Some income also came from a donation made by the Earl of Clarendon in the 19th century. The almshouse originally consisted of three cottages but was rebuilt for four people in the 1830s and this is the building that still stands in the High Street (near the post office). The cost of the rebuild was £110, which came from the local vicar and the parish. The three widows were provided with lodgings whilst the building work was going on. The original almshouse had a garden and orchard, and today there is a long shared back-garden.
Who lived in the almshouse
From the censuses we can find out who was living there in the 19th century: in 1851 three pauper widows (one of whom had two unmarried daughters in their 40s living with her). In 1871 there were four widows living there; two had been charwomen and one – a former laundress – had two granddaughters attending the local school living with her. Almost all the Kenilworth almswomen had been born in Warwickshire (apart from Eleanor – see below – who came from Ireland) and about half had actually been born in Kenilworth.
Some interesting occupations
In 1881 there was a laundress and the widows of a butcher, a comb-maker* and a ‘scripture reader’. I was rather intrigued by this latter and went back through the censuses to check it out: Eleanor Walton was born in Ireland; her husband was a Kenilworth man and the couple lived locally; he must have been in the army because he was described as a Chelsea Hospital pensioner (they provide pensions for men who live all around the country, not just at the Chelsea Hospital), and then later on as a ‘scripture reader’ (presumably what we might call a lay reader).
Eleanor worked as a nurse after her husband died, and before she went into the almshouse. By 1891 the almshouse contained a former dressmaker plus the widows of a labourer, a farm-worker and a farm bailiff. In 1901 two of the three widows living there were ‘in receipt of parish relief’ and the other ‘living on [her] own means’.
* Comb making in Kenilworth – tell us more please
Bertie Greatheed mentions in his 1807 diary that he forgot to take some visitors to visit the comb factory at Kenilworth. Can anyone tell us about this unusual local industry? (Warwickshire County Record Office CR 1707/117).