Breathing new life into Hackney’s historic almshouses

Thu 19 Sep 2019

With quaint layouts, often in the form of small terraced houses set around courtyards, and consistent patterns of doorways and windows, the architecture of almshouses is instantly recognisable and cherished by local communities.

A charitable housing initiative that has provided affordable homes to small groups of residents in the UK for centuries, almshouses are often closely linked to a neighbourhood’s history. Some 2,600 almshouses continue to be operated across the country, however many of these historic properties have fallen into disrepair and, faced with a lack of funding, charities are often unable to make the necessary repairs whilst retaining the original purpose of the building.

As a result, some almshouses are being repurposed into private residential properties, with past examples including the Goldsmiths’ Almshouses in Acton, the London Master Bakers Almshouses in Leyton, and recently, our full refurbishment of the Bishop Wood’s Almshouses in Hackney.

When we first began work on the project, the almshouses on Lower Clapton Road were in a state of severe disrepair. Having last been updated some 40 years prior, tiles were falling off the rooves and the brickwork of these historic homes was noticeably weathered.

This beautiful collection of Grade II listed buildings’ original late 1600s design features the oldest intact roof structure in the area, dating back to the 1700s. To help preserve this, our team worked closely with Historic England to maximise the potential for using the loft space, whilst ensuring that the original structure was maintained. We carefully removed the rafters in half of the loft areas to be used for habitable space, retaining them in the other half to preserve elements of the property’s history.

Traditional crafting skills were used to work harmoniously with the building’s original design, with brickwork repointed using soft mortar in accordance with the techniques used when the homes were first constructed. Typical in many historic properties, soft mortar moves with the building, allowing it to ‘breathe’.

We restored the chimney stacks that had been removed in previous works, collaborating with a heritage consultant who located pictures of the former chimneys for our team to recreate. In a nod to the original theme of the property and design of other almshouses in the area, the courtyard garden was also reinvigorated into to a paved area with soft landscaping, having previously been altered in the 1960s.

Our work saw this dilapidated property sensitively restored into a development of bright, modern one and two-bedroom homes with additional bedrooms or living space within the loft areas, filled with natural light from conservation rooflights.

The fresh layout included the addition of a bathroom, kitchen and staircase to each property, whilst the former chapel space of the almshouses, referred to as ‘Britain’s smallest chapel’, now features a mezzanine level with a first-floor reception room, overlooked by a stunning 19th century tracery window.

The regeneration of this special historic site, which had faced an uncertain future, saw the property removed from Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk Register’. We’re proud to have played our part in ensuring this much-loved site can remain in one of London’s ancient villages for many more years to come.

To view the Bishop Wood’s Almshouses gallery, click the link below, and do contact us if you have a project you would like to discuss with us.

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Tasou Associates, 4 Amwell St, London EC1R 1UQ t. 0207 713 7070 e.