West Coker’s Almshouses are to be found in East Street, next to the junction with Ryefields Close
The almshouses are nearly three hundred years old and were built following a generous bequest from local man William Ruddock. They are now run as a charitable trust which is administered by trustees, all of whom live in, or have connections with West Coker. Whilst over the years the almshouses themselves have been modified and updated, the trustees ensure that the original principles of the bequest stipulated by William Ruddock are adhered to as much as possible.
“A Good Firm Stone House.”: the origin of the Almshouses.
William Ruddock, who died in 1718, belonged to a local landowning and philanthropic family in West Coker. His sisters Deborah and Barbara, who predeceased him, each left charitable bequests (for the purchase of land for use of the poor, and for the education and clothing of village girls), but there is no evidence that these bequests were carried out. Before William himself died, he left in his Will provision for his charitable purposes, together with very precise instructions for his trustees. They were to “erect, or cause to be erected, and built, a good firm stone house, with six lower rooms and six chambers, to be covered with tile, in West Coker” and further “that the said house shall be built with all speed, and five poor people, men or women, shall be chosen by my said trustees, and placed in the said house.” Once installed, the “poor people” were to be paid a weekly sum “of Two shillings, for a maintenance, which charity I intend shall be continued to ever.”
Who was to inhabit the sixth dwelling is unclear, but the instructions appear to have been carried out with due dispatch, within the year.
In 1823, the Charity Commissioners’ Report criticised the running of the charity, noting that ‘various’ of the inmates were not from West Coker (despite the clear wording of the Bequest). It was further put on record that the charity “does not appear to have been carefully and prudently managed.”
20thC. From 1926, the payments to inmates are recorded as being between 4s and 9s weekly; the charity seems to be administered by the Vicar. These payments cease in 1948, presumably with the advent of the Welfare State.
In 1930 Mathew Nathan, owner of the Manor House, and subsequently author of The Annals of West Coker, was appointed as Trustee; a new Scheme for administering the charity was drawn up, and from this point there is clear documentation about the running of the Almshouses as 4 dwellings.
The following things become apparent:
- A stringent selection process for inmates
- A considerable list of “reasons for removal”, including Receipt of Poor Law Relief, Insobriety, Insubordination, Mental Illness etc.
- A clear reiteration of rules for inmates, including no absence for more than 24 hours without permission from the Trustees
Mathew Nathan died in 1939, and in his Will left an Endowment for the charity, payable quarterly.
The “four” dwellings were at some time (earlier than living memory?) converted into three.
Further research is ongoing into all aspects of the history of the Almshouses.