Fringe Box



Almshouse Trustee Appeals For Missing Historic Archives

Published on: 28 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 28 Feb, 2012

 by David Rose

A call goes out to anyone who may know the whereabouts of a box, believed to contain some historic archive material, and a book from Guildford’s Stoke Hospital, a sheltered housing scheme.

One of its trustees is George Dean who has researched the fascinating history of the almshouse that dates back more than 200 years.

Stoke Hospital in Stoke Road, Guildford, from a postcard postally used in 1912. The message on the reverse reads: ‘Dr L, got to 63 just after 9.30. Love from R.’ Just the same message as someone would today write as a text or tweet! Picture from David Rose collection.

A few years ago, when looking through its surviving minute books, he learned that as recently as 1987, a small safe was found when an outhouse at Stoke Hospital was being altered to make a laundry.

The safe contained some papers and books dating back to the 1800s. They included receipts for the years 1842-1879, an accounts book from 1807-1842, and the matron’s book.

George says: “I also discovered that a box had been deposited at Lloyds Bank in 1928, but despite numerous enquiries, this box has not come to light.

“It is not at the bank, though there are no records of it having been withdrawn.

“The main item of interest that is also missing is what is referred to as the ‘Church Book’.

“I believe that some members of the Swayne family may have it. Members of this Guildford family were involved as trustees of Stoke Hospital until Ian G Swayne retired in 1997. Unfortunately, I have been unable to trace him or his relations.”

What also exists is a booklet dating back to 1916 titled Stoke Hospital And Its Founders. It gives a good deal of information about the history of the building and its inhabitants. However, George believes that if the missing items could be found, so much more about its history could be learned.

In June 2008, George self published his own booklet about the history of the building – The History of Stoke or Parson’s Hospital. He says that it was not widely pubicised, but copies are available to anyone who would like one. See below for more details.

Pages from ‘Haydon’s accout book’ of 1868.

Here are a few details of Stoke Hospital taken from George’s informative publication.

Stoke Hospital is a distinctive building with a cupola on the top which houses a bell and also a clock. Its plain Georgian design is relieved on the Stoke Road facade by a classical pediment and Gothic touches in the shape of the windows. It is perhaps the poor relation of Abbot’s Hospital!

In 1790, two wealthy Guildford bachelors, Henry and William Parson, decided to build a ‘hospital’ for the benefit of six ‘poor widows’ over 60 years of age who had lived in the ancient parish of St John’s Stoke-next-Guildford for at least five years.

It was not a ‘hospital’ in the modern sense of the word but what is now known as an almshouse.

William and Henry had made their money as linen drapers in the town in the short period of 16 years.

To have accumulated sufficient a sum in this short period has always given rise to speculation as to how they achieved it, and a story is told that their mother found a cache of money in a cellar!

In 1792, William purchased a corner of a field known as ‘Barnfield’ on Stoke Lane (now Road) with Love Lane (now Onslow Road) to one side.

The building was completed by 1796; the cupola and bell was essential to raise an alarm if necessary, as it was at the time quite isolated and amid rural surroundings. Responsibility for the hospital was placed in the hands of four trustees, but, until his death in April 1799, William no doubt exercised some control.

The inhabitants’ accommodation was large by 18th-century standards; they had two rooms, a living room on the ground floor and a bedroom above.

Each widow (or sister as they were termed by William) was paid 4 shillings (20p) a week for upkeep with one widow being appointed as matron.

She had to keep various records and was obliged to read prayers every Wednesday and Friday afternoon. For these duties she was paid an extra shilling a week.

Invoice for gowns supplied to the residents in 1852.

The widows also received ‘one broad cloth gown, of the value of 40 shillings (£2)’ every two years, but, ‘if any of the six poor widows should die’, or leave the almshouse before the two years were up, then the gown was to be passed to the next widow so appointed.

There were 24 rules that the widows had to adhere to. Palmer, in his book of 1916, records that there are further manuscript ones in the now missing ‘Church Book’, but what they say is currently unknown. Breaking the rules generally entailed a fine of one week’s wages in the first instance, two on the second occasion, and ‘expelled the hospital for ever’, on the third.

It is noted in the 1807 account book, that on November 25, 1809, and on December 2, 1809, Mrs Stanford was stopped a week’s pay for ‘getton drunk’.

In the matron’s book there is an entry that would appear to have been written by one of the trustees. It reads: ‘1809 Decr the 15th Elizabeth Stanford having been convicted of the Crime of Drunkeness the third time she was expelled the Hospital for ever, according to the 13th Statute of the Founder of the Hospital.’

During the whole of the 19th century the income and expenditure of Stoke Hospital hardly varied, being run on no more than £120 a year.

During the 1870s Stoke Hospital came under the jurisdiction of the Charity Commissioners, but little changed regarding the rules and regulations.  These were changed considerably by a new Charity Commissioners’ scheme in 1908.

The conditions under which the sisters (now known as residents) lived during the first half of the 20th century were little different to that of the previous 100 years.

A cheque relating to Stoke Hospital dated 1843.

Electricity was installed in 1930. But even by the late 1940s, the residents only had between them two flush toilets and one communal wash house at one end of the garden, with a copper to heat the water.

A Health Committee report in 1949 showed there were no ‘standard amenities’ as defined by the Housing Acts. It highlighted a number of deficiencies; noting that cooking, washing and clearing up, all took place in the living room, even though the residents had no sinks or running water.

In July 1951, it was reported that the work on installing the WCs and the sinks, cold water and drainage, etc, had been completed, and, together with the architects fees, cost approximately £676.

In 1953, the building was Grade II listed, and in 1964 local architect David Nye was asked to draw up plans for the modernisation of the hospital, rather than just refurbish what was already there.

It was decided to be more radical and to convert the existing accommodation into eight self-contained one-bedroom flats each with a bathroom and separate kitchen.  Today there are 13 flats, plus the warden’s bungalow.

In 1991, the word ‘women’ was substituted for ‘widow’ and the requirement for residents to be members of the Church of England was relaxed with the words ‘with a preference for members of the Church of England’, being used instead.

A further amendment made in 1998 widened the qualification still further to women aged over 55 and resident in the borough of Guildford for not less than two years; and, more recently again amended to ‘persons (i.e. to include males) with a connection to the county of Surrey.’

While great interest is taken in the health and wellbeing of the residents today, nursing care is not provided and residents must be able to care for themselves.

The current trustees appoint a sub-committee to vet the applications of prospective residents. The ability to fill the vacancies has varied from time to time, hence the need to widen the ‘catchment area’ of the hospital.

Most of the time there are no empty flats, but occasionally this has not been so.

Anyone who is interested in finding out more about Stoke Hospital, possibly with a view to someone having one of the flats, is asked to contact the clerk to the trustees, Judy Oliver, on 01483 533201, or George Dean at

Also, contact George if you would like a copy of his book, or if you can supply any information about the missing historic ‘Church Book’ and box.

One Response to “Almshouse Trustee Appeals For Missing Historic Archives”

  1. Di Stiff says:

    This is a great mystery! However, Surrey History Centre in Woking (SHC) is the county archive and holds all the extant records of Stoke Hospital (Ref.8373). As a trustee and chairman of the Hopsital George Dean deposited with us all the archive material that he had amassed after writing his history in 2008 and I had the privilege of collecting it and having a tour of the splendid building. In Mr Dean’s history (SHC ref: 8373/8/5), he mentions the ‘lost box’ and the enquiries he had made to find it. The ‘lost box’ did not infact contain the receipts for 1842-1879, the accounts book for 1807-1842 and the matron’s book, as all of these formed part of the archive deposited at SHC. It is only the ‘Church book’ and possibly some other items which were in the ‘lost box’. There were some minutes of the charity dated 1906-1951, which had been deposited with the Guildford Municipal Charity records in Aug 2000 which we have added to the Stoke Hospital collection but we don’t think these came from the ‘lost box’. The illustration of the page from the bank book is now held in the archive as ref: 8373/4/7.

    The records of the hospital and indeed all our other 6 million holdings can be searched online at

    Best wishes

    Di Stiff, Collections Development Archivist, Surrey History Centre

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