Almshouses were established from the 10th century in Britain, to provide a place of residence for poor, old and distressed folk. The first recorded almshouse was founded in York by King Athelstan and the oldest still in existence is the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester dating to about 1132.
Almshouses tend to be characterised by their charitable status and by the aim of supporting the continued independence of their residents.
There is an important delineation between almshouses and other forms of sheltered housing in that almshouse residents have no security of tenure, being solely dependent upon the goodwill of the administering trustees
In Dunstable, the original Ashton Almshouses were built around 1715 and were situated at the corner of West Street and Ashton Street. Frances Ashton, in her will, bequeathed money for the maintenance of the property and the support of the ladies living there. The buildings were restored in 1848 –49 and continued to be in active use until 1939 –45 when they fell into disrepair. The income of the Charity was too small to cope with the maintenance of the property which was eventually demolished and the site sold to a property development company. The proceeds of the sale were used to erect the present Frances Ashton House in Bullpond Lane which was opened in October 1969.
The accommodation consists of six one-bedroomed unfurnished flats, suitable for a single lady. There is a lounge and small bedroom, separate bathroom and fitted kitchen, and a communal garden.
Applications are invited from single, ladies over the age of 40, who are able to live independently.
TRUSTEES As at March 2020
Rev'd Rachel Phillips
REPRESENTATIVE TRUSTEES (4 year term of Office)
Cllr Mr Peter Hollick Cllr Mr Alan Corkhill
CO-OPTATIVE TRUSTEES (5 year term of office)
Mrs Cynthia Gresham Chairman
Mrs Liz Bentley Mr Alan Salter
Clerk: Mrs Julie Tipler 01582 660008
Normal Office Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9.00 a.m. – 2.00 p.m.
Frances Ashton family tree
Frances Ashton 1648 – 1727 married William Ashton 1656 – 1715. William was a London distiller.
Frances Ashton coat of arms
Frances Ashton’s memorial displays her coat of arms in a lozenge. Her husband’s Ashton star is on the left hand side and her parents’ Chew’s Catherine wheel and griffins are on the right.
This is one of the earliest drawings of Frances Ashton’s almshouses. The six residents were given blue gowns to wear. They had an allowance for ‘kindlings’ and tea.
This is one of the few photographs of the almshouses. After 200 years of service, they became more and more difficult to maintain. There was a substantial restoration in 1848 but by the 1930s they were very dilapidated. They were finally pulled down in the 1960s and replaced by the Ashton Square shops.
The plaque says
These six Alms houses were Erected
And Endowed at the Charge of
Mrs. FRANCES ASHTON
Of London, Widow
For the relief & maintenance of Six poor
Widows of ye town of Dunstable for ever
Anno Domi 1715
A painting similar to this was commissioned for St. Mary le Bow church in London. When he saw it, the rector of that church refused to have it. Frances Ashton and Jane cart bought it for the Priory Church, where it hung on the east wall for over 100 years. It is said that Sir James Thornhill re-painted the face of Judas in the likeness of the rector of St. Mary le Bow.
Frances Ashton bought a clock mechanism for installation in the Chew’s Charity School. It chimed the hours but, initially, had no hands.
Ashton Elementary Schools 1933
By the 1860s the Frances Ashton Trust fund had far more money than was needed to run the almshouses. Her Trustees remembered that she had been involved in founding the Chew’s Charity School and so decided to found another school, in her name. Two Elementary Schools were erected in one building, one of boys and one for girls. They opened in January 1865. The two schools merged into The Ashton Church of England Junior Mixed School in January 1936.
Ashton St. Peter’s Lower School
In the early 1970s this became Ashton St. Peter’s Lower School. By the start of the 21st century, the building was no longer fit for purpose and a new school was built on the Ashton Middle School playing field. This opened in 2006.
Dunstable Grammar School
By the 1880s there was another huge surplus in the Frances Ashton Trust fund. The decision was made to invest the surplus and much of the capital in founding a Boys’ Grammar School in Dunstable. This opened in 1888 and provided such a good education that it eventually lead to the closing of Chew’s Charity School in 1905. In the 1970s the building became Ashton Middle School, retaining the Grammar School’s playing fields. A new school Manshead Upper School, was built on the northern edge of the town, on Dunstable Road Caddington.
The Dunstable Grammar School badge is based on Frances Ashton’s coat of arms
Frances Ashton House & 13 plaque
The new almshouses were officially opened on 30th October 1969. At noon each tenant was presented with a key to her new centrally heated home by Alderman Ronald Wyles, the Mayor of Dunstable. A short service of dedication was conducted by the Revd. John Hare, the Bishop of Bedford.
Frances Ashton died on 21st December 1727, aged 79. She outlived her husband and seven of her eight children. Her surviving daughter, Elizabeth married John Raynor. Frances so loathed her son-in-law that she cut her daughter out of her will. If Elizabeth had married someone that her mother approved of, there would be no Ashton Schools in Dunstable.
The Association of Dunstable Charities
76 High Street North
If you have any queries or wish to make an application for a grant, please contact us:
+44 1582 660008