Brief History of the Almshouses
The main almshouse occupies an area where formerly stood the Old Hospital originally used as a pest house and afterwards for prisoners of war. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was let out for private dwellings. In 1858 the building was taken down to make way for new almshouses.
The almshouses were built to accommodate twenty people, 10 men and 10 women, 5 of whom were stipulated to be nurses who would care not only for the other residents but also the wider community in Rochester. This was the start of the Watts Nursing service which lasted over 90 years but ceased in 1950 following the introduction of the National Health Service in 1947.
The new building has a boardroom for meetings plus a common room and a dining room in the central section for the residents and visitors.
Facing the building, the accommodation for the women was to the left and the men’s on the right. Each resident had a sitting room, a bedroom and a scullery.
Qualification for entry required that applicants be residing in the City of Rochester, be over 55 years of age and in poor circumstances.
Residents were required to sign that they would keep to the rules and regulations; behave themselves, not to quarrel or create a disturbance, and attend a place of worship at least once on Sundays, be in by 10pm, not go out until the porter had opened the gates in the morning, not allowed to sublet their rooms, keep their rooms clean and not have pets. Over the years some of these restrictions were relaxed!
With the start of the Second World War it was decided that the almshouse was located in a vulnerable position and in 1939 the residents and staff moved to a large house known as Eylesden in Sutton Valence. Back at the Maidstone Road site the ARP shelters in the grounds were available to the public. Two gun emplacements were installed and the concrete bases are still evident in the grounds.
A Mr J Phippen in 1861 described the new building as being rather gaudy but years later writers referred to the almshouses as being “of pleasant outline and one which blends well with the surrounding houses”. The Charity returned to the site after the war.