The early history of Richard Watts is uncertain, but it is generally believed that he was born at West Peckham in 1529. The date has been brought into question recently. There are two reasons for this. Firstly a recently discovered will, referring to Richard Watts living on Boley Hill was made at a date when Watts would have still been a child. Secondly if 1529 is accepted he would have been very young to have been appointed Deputy Victualler to the Navy in 1552 and granted a Coat of Arms in 1553. An earlier birth date would also make his very aged appearance in the bust more credible.
In 1560 Watts became Paymaster to the Rochester Bridge Wardens. In 1560 he was appointed Surveyor of Works at Upnor Castle and Surveyor of Ordnance two years later.
In 1563 and 1571 he represented the City of Rochester in the second and third Parliaments of Queen Elizabeth 1. Watts entertained Queen Elizabeth at his home, Satis House on Boley Hill, Rochester in 1573.
Richard Watts died at home on 10th September in 1579 and was buried in Rochester Cathedral, where his memorial can be seen in the South Transept. He left a widow, Marian, but no children.
From his will began the charity known today as ‘Richard Watts and the City of Rochester Almshouse Charities’. The will made provision for the upkeep of an almshouse, now known as the Poor Travellers House, to house the poor and needy of Rochester and provide overnight accommodation for six poor travellers.
Since Richard Watts’ death there has been a considerable expansion in the charity. From 1615, until the new Poor Laws of the 19th Century, sixteen children, ten boys and six girls, were taken into the care of the house where they were provided with work and an education ‘according to their capacities’. Many were apprenticed to masters within the city. Watts’ apprenticeship scheme continued until the middle of the 20th Century.
The charity’s early interest in education has been maintained under the Richard Watts and Sir John Hayward Educational Trust. This provides grants to Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School and the Rochester Grammar School in addition to other educational projects which are brought to the attention of the trustees.
In 1858 new almshouses were built in Maidstone Road, Rochester to house ten men and ten women, five of whom were to be nurses. The nurses provided a nursing service for the almshouses as well as for the poor of Rochester. The Nursing Service was extended in 1858 when the charity provided £4,000 for building St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, New Road, Rochester with an annual donation of £1,000 towards its upkeep. This was increased to £1,500 in 1886. The advent of the National Health Service removed the need for privately operated nursing services; however the charity continues to contribute to local projects such as a Quiet Room at the Medway Maritime Hospital.
In 1977 eleven bungalows were added to the Maidstone Road site and in 1994 a block of flats named Donald Troup House was openend. The almshouse accommodation was further extended by the addition of St. Catherine’s Hospital and Sir John Hayward’s Charities, taken under Watts umbrella in 1960 and 1975, respectively, and the acquisition of Reeves House in Watts Avenue.
The Charities are self-funding with income from substantial stock market and property investments (the majority of the latter have been owned since the original 1579 gift). Under the terms of the 1977 Scheme the first call on incoming revenue is the cost of maintaining and insuring all our property with the balance to be used for the administration and charitable activities of the charity.