The Almshouse Charity was founded in 1847 when Wakelin Welch Esq. of Camden Place, Bath, his wife, Elizabeth Welch, and her sister, Mary Powell, built three pairs of semi-detached houses in the heart of Bitteswell with views of the village green. Mary and Elizabeth were sisters of the Rev James Powell, a former vicar of Bitteswell who served the Parish for 55 years, and who was married to Mary Twining, a descendant of the Twining family that founded the Twining Tea business.
Mary Powell established the Almshouses Charity and Elizabeth created an Endowment Charity to fund the Almshouses and their Residents. The two charities merged in 1889 to become the Powell and Welch Almshouse Charity.
The six Powell Row houses on Lutterworth Road in Bitteswell were built in 1847 and endowed with £6,000 from the late Wakelin Welch and Elizabeth Welch. They also left £2,000 for the endowment of schools. Today that charity is the Elizabeth Welch Charity – Registered Charity No 527949 – which supports St Mary’s Primary School in Bitteswell.
The Almshouses have the inscription:
‘these almshouses were built from funds left for charitable purposes by the late Wakelin Welch, Esq. of Camden Place, Bath and Elizabeth his wife, sister of the late Rev James Powell, vicar of this parish.’
The six Almshouses were intended for twelve aged poor persons from Bitteswell, who received a small pension of 5 shillings each per annum. The row of disused mud cottages they replaced are believed to have been the remains of the House of Industry, a term often used to refer to Victorian Workhouses created by the 1834 Poor Law. The six houses are now Grade II listed buildings and the Charity has been renovating each of the properties to improve their amenities, as they become vacant.
Census records from 1851, show that the homes were at that time occupied mostly by older people, although some younger relatives also lived there. One of the records, for house number 6, shows that it was occupied by two women, both called Elizabeth Broughton, one aged 82 who was an ex-school mistress, and the other a 26-year-old ‘stocking-maker’. Both had been born in Bitteswell. Number 2 was occupied by 70-year-old ‘washerwoman’ Mary Williams and her 14-year-old granddaughter Anne.
The houses were given Grade II Listed Building status by English Heritage in September 1993.
In 2013 the Board of Trustees for the Powell & Welch Almshouse Charity saw an opportunity to purchase some land which was the former site of a water pumping station, from Bitteswell Parish Council and the East Midlands Housing Association. A £200,000 project to build two one bedroom apartments on the edge of Bitteswell village was initiated.
This has provided two new much needed affordable homes. In 2014 the scheme received a ‘Highly Commended’ award from HRH The Prince of Wales, Patron of The National Almshouse Association.