Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The Draper’s Almshouses in Glasshouse Street are an attractive row of houses which are now privately owned. Built in 1820, their history goes back to the 17th Century.
In 1642 John Walter, Clerk to the Drapers' Company, became concerned that many of the poor "had lately perished by lying abroad in the cold for want of habitation, to the great dishonour of God." He offered to build almshouses in the parishes of St George the Martyr and St Mary Newington on land provided by the parishes who would also be responsible for the maintenance of the almshouses once built. Walter wished his gift to be anonymous until after his death and by the terms of his will, Walter bequeathed property in trust to maintain the almspeople.
The parish of St George the Martyr obtained an area of land on the edge of St George’s Fields from the City of London Corporation, situated roughly where Borough Road and Borough High Street intersect today. Two houses were built, each with four rooms, that accommodated 16 paupers, some selected by the parish and some by the Company of Drapers, who were to be of “good name and fame and of quiet life and honest conversation”. In 1653–54, a chapel and a room for the Trustees to use for the distribution of pensions were added.
The almshouses were rebuilt, set back a little way from their original position, to accommodate the building of the new Borough Road in the 1770s. In 1820, the City of London needed the land for more development and provided the site in Glasshouse Street (then Hill Street) and £1,250 for the cost of rebuilding the almshouses. The new almshouses comprised a row of five houses of two storeys, with an ornamental garden to the front, which is still maintained, and a row of fuel stores and wash-houses to the rear. The almshouses were sold in 1973 and the residents moved to Walters Close in Brandon Street.
The parish of St Mary Newington acquired some waste land from the Lord of the Manor between what is now Newington Butts and Walworth Road. Accommodation was built for 16 almspeople and, as in the case of the almshouses in St George the Martyr, some were selected by the parish and others by the Drapers Company. The almshouses appear to have been rebuilt in 1778 and then again in 1888, and in 1955 were described as blocks of three-storey houses (Survey of London Vol. 25).
The almshouses along with two shops opposite were the only buildings in the street to survive the bombing in World War II, and, as part of redevelopment plans, the almshouses were compulsorily purchased by Southwark Council in 1966 to widen the road. To commemorate the almshouses, one of the new blocks of flats within the scheme was named Draper House. The residents of the almshouses were moved to the newly built Walters Close in Brandon Street, Walworth which was enlarged in 1971 to accommodate the residents from the almshouses in Glasshill Street.
Walters Close comprises 29 one-bedroom and 4 two-bedroom flats and 7 studios, communal facilities, and a delightful garden. It's still owned by the Drapers Company and managed by Hanover Housing Association.