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Fascinating documents at Bishop's Stortford Museum give insight into early days of Kings Cottages in South Street

In the latest in our series of articles on items at Bishop's Stortford Museum, Colin Burrowes looks at documents from the early days of Kings Cottages...

Kings Cottages in South Street, Bishop's Stortford, currently comprise five blocks of what were effectively almshouses for the poor. They were built early in the 20th century between 1906 and 1914. Each block consists of four cottages of which two were double dwellings with the other two for single occupation.

The first two built in 1906 were paid for by Sir Walter Gilbey in memory of his wife; the third block was built in 1907 and was a gift from Admiral F. Vander Meulen, the son of the Reverend Vander Meulen who for many years was the Rector of Thorley. The next block opened in 1911 and was in the name of the admiral's brother Colonel Vander Meulen, while the fifth block built in 1914 was funded by Mrs Georgina Menet, the admiral's sister and widow of the first vicar of All Saints Church, Hockerill.

Although effectively almshouses, they were described as cottages "for the aged and deserving poor" and are still managed by a trust originally set up by Sir Walter, who specified that a member of his family should always be one of the trustees.

When initially opened, each single dwelling was to be let to a female at a rent of 6d (2.5p) a week, while the doubles were let to a man and wife at 9d (3.75p) a week. Sir Walter sent out formal invitations for an opening ceremony on September 27, 1906 and two poems were specially written for the occasion.

A pamphlet was also produced setting out the regulations and ethos relating to the cottages. An advert appeared in the local press on October 13, 1906 seeking tenants for occupation of the first two blocks. They had to complete an application form within the week, be over 60 years of age and have been residents of Bishop's Stortford for at least 20 years. Only the successful tenants were allowed to reside in the cottage. As the cottages were furnished, no additional furniture was allowed and successful tenants were required to provide bed linen, crockery and cooking utensils.

Kings Cottages in South Street, Bishop's Stortford, were built between 1906 and 1914 "for the aged and deserving poor". Picture: Vikki Lince
Kings Cottages in South Street, Bishop's Stortford, were built between 1906 and 1914 "for the aged and deserving poor". Picture: Vikki Lince

At a meeting of the trustees on October 20, 1906, the first successful applicants for the eight dwellings available were agreed. In the double cottages, Mr and Mrs William Brown, Mr and Mrs Philip Payne, Mr and Mrs Philip Curtis and Mr and Mrs John Thorne were successful. In the single cottages, Caroline Moulding, Mary Allen, Ann Tucker and Anna Saunders became tenants.

It is interesting to note that of the above successful applicants, the tenancy agreements show William Brown, Philip Curtis and Caroline Moulding were illiterate since they signed their tenancy agreements with an "X".

Among the museum's documents, we note that at an inspection in October 1907 by Arthur Boardman, only a year after opening, his report indicated that the cooking stoves were not performing correctly. Most of the tenants were having great difficulty cooking their food and had resorted to cooking on open fires.

Kings Cottages are still going, however, so their early teething problems were obviously resolved.

Colin Burrowes is a retired accountant. He has been volunteering at the museum since 2011 and has been a trustee since 2015.

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