Willingham Combined Charity has been in existence since 1505 and was initially called a Pauper Charity.
Henry Greaves (Willingham Parochial Charities)
The first charity was set up by will in 1505 by Henry Greaves who left an annual rent of 6/8d to help defray taxes levied on the poorest inhabitants. The House was later called the Town House and was situated in Church Street where the almshouses now stand.
Nine cottages were later built (where the new allotments are now) for letting to poor women.
In the 1860’s the 15 acres allotted at inclosure yielded £48 per year and this was distributed in fuel.
In 1965 Henry Greaves’ land was sold and the 1870s cottages were demolished in 1962 and 1972. The almshouses were still in use in 1982. They were sold later and are now in private hands. The land at the rear of the almshouses is still owned by the charity and in use as allotments.
In 1615 the second charity was formed by the rector Dr. William Smith, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge who by deed gave 8 acres at Westmeadow from which the income was £6 per year. This was to maintain the almshouses and nine cottages.
In the 1830s each almswoman received 3/6d per week. After inclosure the land was let as allotments to the poor bringing in £30 in 1876. The land is still in use as allotments.
In 1693 Robert Osborne gave a rent charge of 3/4d for the poor. Not much is known about this charity which was lost by 1938.
The fourth charity was set up by Samuel Saywell by will in 1709. He left half of the rent of Queenholme Droveway to the poor of Willingham. In 1876 the income was £5.
After the amalgamation of the charities (as Willingham Parochial Charities) in 1876, Queenholme Droveway and the Rev Smith’s land were sold and his cottages and the Town House were demolished. Two new almshouses were built on the site of the Town House and new cottages built at the back.
In the 1890s and 1900s the almswomen were paid 5 shillings per week and further sums usually of 5 shillings were given to other deserving cases and coal occasionally distributed. The money and coal never exceeded £30 and £10 respectively in any one year.
In 1874 the list of trustees was as follows:
- Ingle Few Thoday – merchant
- Josiah Smith – farmer
- Edward Few – merchant
- Robert Sage Ellis – surgeon
- Barford Pyke – farmer
- James Ingle – merchant
- Robert Osborn – farmer
- John Frohock – farmer
- Edward Gleaves – farmer
All familiar names in the village today.
The criteria for the almswomen in 1874 was as follows:
Poor women of good character who have resided in the village for three years and who from age, ill-health, accident or infirmity shall be unable to maintain themselves by their own exertions.
If any almswoman be guilty of insobriety, insubordination, breach of rules, or immoral or unbecoming conduct, the trustees may remove that woman.
In 1952 Hilda Smith left 11 acres, stock and money, and land at Houghton to build the Josiah Smith Homes in memory of her father. These are six bungalows on Over Road built in 1967. The Josiah Smith Homes and Willingham Parochial Charities remained separate but from 1964 were administered by the same trustees. In 1981 the total income was over £3000 of which £900 was spent on maintenance and £62 on Christmas parcels.
In June 2000, Willingham Combined Charity and Josiah Smith Homes Trust were amalgamated into the Willingham Combined Charity.
In 2016, the land in Houghton, which had been let as grazing land but was not making much income, was sold. The proceeds were used to purchase and refurbish a property in Haden Way.
Today the charity is still going and being looked after by trustees from the village. Assets include
- the Josiah Smith Bungalows in Over Road and the land at the back rented to a local farmer for hay
- two allotment sites in Westmeadow Close and Church Street
- a house in Haden Way
The aim of the charity is to look after the boundaries to these sites and maintain the bungalows. In the future it is hoped that the charity will be able to purchase other suitable accommodation.
As bungalows become vacant they are advertised in the Willingham News.
Jo Bonar, former Trustee.