The Hellard Almshouses
and other Stevenage Charities
Edited by Margaret Ashby
Hardback, xviii + 267 pages
Stephen Hellard, Rector of Stevenage, died in 1506, leaving in his will a legacy to the town of "All Christian Soul House, which house I have built for the habitation of three poor folk without any rent therefore to be paid so long as the said house does or shall endure". Since then, for 500 years, successive trustees of the Hellard Almshouses have continued the work of their founder.
By the mid-18th century the trustees were also managing the affairs of a number of other small local charities. Churchwarden Rowland Berkeley's book (1855) contains long lists of people entitled to receive help in money or other kind. It also includes records of the timber-framed former workhouse at 2, Letchmore Road. This, too, became the responsibility of the Almshouse trustees. In 1909 the Stevenage Consolidated Charities Trust was formed, combining the Hellard Almshouse Trust and eight other small charities.
Some 3 miles south of Stevenage, the village of Shephall had an independent existence until, following the New Towns Act of 1946, it was included within the designated area for development. Consequently, Shephall's charities were added to those of Stevenage and are also administered under the Stevenage Consolidated Charities Trust.
The records of the Hellard Almshouses and other Stevenage charities provide a previously untapped source for research into the lives of people in the Stevenage district and further afield: they include names and occupations of trustees, the poor and others, together with financial records and details of land holdings. The latter are particularly important in Stevenage, where development has obliterated so much of the ancient landscape and connections with the past. For example, the documents of the 16th and 17th centuries have enabled us to identify the period when the name of the Domesday manor of Woollenwick changed to Symonds Green, the name by which it is known today.
1. The Mediaeval Foundation: All Christian Soul House
2. Almshouse Lands, 1554-c 1725
3. Rowland Berkeley's Book
4. The Nineteenth Century
5. Various Charities
6. A Messuage Called Scott's
7. Stevenage Consolidated Charities, 1909-1942
8. Shephall United Charities