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History of St. John's Cottages

Sandwich (one of the Cinque Ports) had three lots of ancient almshouses, or hospitals as they were called (not for the sick, but for travellers and paupers; there was also the Mauldry, for the sick).

Of those three, the oldest was and still is St. Bart's, founded in 1190 just outside the town and well worth visiting. The newest is St. Thomas's, founded in New Street in 1392 but rebuilt in Moat Sole in stone-faced Victorian Gothic style (1864). Both still house pensioners.

St. John's Hospital was founded by 1287, in which year one Thomas de Shelvinge of Sandwich gave the foundation 2s 10d (14p) a year to pay for straw for the poor to sleep on. Life at St. John's is described fully in the Customal of Sandwich, written in 1301 and printed in Boys' History of Sandwich, 1792.

Boys also printed old inventories, lists of other donations, and extracts from the Register of St. John's.

The original timber building stood where our may tree now grows, next to the HSBC Bank (formerly the Mermaid Inn).

1851 drawing

By 1805 the old building had became so dilapidated that it was replaced (at a total cost of one hundred pounds, taken from the Bridge Tolls) by the present row of brick and tile cottages described by Bagshaw (1847) as "six neat tenements, each containing 2 rooms and a kitchen". Revenues provided each inmate with a weekly allowance of 6s 10d (31p).

When we came to live in Sandwich, in 1960, these almshouses (by then called St. John's Cottages) were still occupied by old ladies; but the Trustees of the Sandwich United Charities could no longer afford the cost of upkeep of the buildings, so when the last pensioner was re-housed the cottages were put up for sale. There was no electricity, gas or indoor lavatories. That was in 1969.

The old Sandwich Borough Council condemned them as being unfit for habitation, and resolved to make a compulsory purchase order so as to demolish the cottages and redevelop the site with a block of modern flats.

We were undeterred, and our offer to purchase was accepted by the Trustees.

We persuaded the Government in London that these cottages ought to be a "listed building". By boldly starting work on improvements, we showed that each cottage could indeed be made fit, and we had the garden laid out much as you now see it.

A planning dispute with the local authority rumbled on for some 13 years, but we won the day, and now everyone is happy with the result.

Our efforts were praised in the late Alec Clifton-Taylor's series on BBC television, "Another Six English Towns".

All of central Sandwich is now a designated Conservation Area containing hundreds of Listed Buildings.

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Contact Address:

Robert and Claudia Maxtone-Graham

6 Moat Sole

Sandwich

Kent CT13 9AU

Tel: 01304 613270

International: +44 1304 613270

Mobile: 07590 271 933

Email: Click Here

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