The history of United St Saviour’s Charity starts properly in 1541, when Henry VIII passed an Act of Parliament forming the Corporation of Wardens of the Parish of St Saviour, Southwark, to administer the parish affairs.
At the dissolution of the monasteries, the two former parishes of St Margaret the Virgin and St Mary Magdalene Overye, were surrendered by the local Prior and merged into the new Parish of St Saviour, Southwark. The land and buildings became Crown land until they were bought back by the parish from James I in 1614.
The Act of 1541 provided that the parishioners of the new parish elect six able persons to be church wardens, and carry out all their duties, which would include looking after the poor of the parish and management of the parish estates, including land and money gifted to them by wealthy benefactors. The six wardens had specific roles and titles to go with it, such as Warden of the Great Account, Renter Warden, Bell Warden and College Warden.
In 1584, the local MP and Warden, Thomas Cure Esq, gave a large amount of land and money to the parish to establish sixteen almshouses as a ‘College or Hospital for the Poor.’ Thomas Cure had made his wealth by becoming the Master of the Saddle Horses to three monarchs, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. He was a very important and influential man locally and died in 1588. The land he gave now forms our Park St estate in the heart of Borough Market, London SE1.
Over the centuries, many others left money and lands to the parish. Some built more almshouses in Park St next to Thomas Cure’s:
- Jane Hargrave in 1587
- Edward Hewlett 1622
- Messrs Jackson, Young and Spratt who each funded almshouses
- Mary Reading in 1742 left money to build two almshouses to be occupied by a man and woman who had to be named Mary and Joseph.
The famous playwright Edward Alleyn also left money to build ten almshouses in Soap Yard (next to Park St) in 1626, which eventually became part of the parish endowment. Other benefactors left farm land as far afield as Godalming in Hampshire (John Symond 1628), Dartford (Robert Buckland 1639), and Barnet (John Hayman 1646). These gifts today still fund the work of the charity, and in some places, we still own the land.
The Corporation of Wardens continued in existence for many centuries, acting as trustees of the charities, and heavily involved in Borough Market. During the Victorian period, and after the formation of the Charity Commission, the connections between many London churches and parish charities were broken, and United St Saviour’s Charity came under the control of the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark. As populations changed, the area from which people could be helped broadened. St Saviour’s Parish Church itself became Southwark Cathedral in 1905.
The almshouses in Park St were forced to move in 1868 when the new railway line into Charing Cross was built. The inhabitants moved to newly built almshouses in West Norwood, on land which had been swapped for land needed to locate the new gas works required for the Crystal Palace in Sydenham. The new almshouses at West Norwood were beautiful traditional style almshouses, built in Victorian gothic style. Despite significant bomb damage in WWII, they were still standing until 2005, when eventually their age and general poor state of repair forced a move to Purley in 2006, where the current almshouses stand.
Not all the land at Park St was needed for the new railway, and the charity developed the row of public houses and shops in 1831, which stand there today. The buildings were mostly used as ancillary stores for the new Borough Market traders, although the tradesmen’s thirsts were well sated by the three pubs, The Wheatsheaf, The Harrow (now the Market Porter) and the Yorkshire Grey (now 7 Park St).
In 2012, United St Saviour’s Charity took on custodianship of Hopton’s Almshouses at Bankside. Charles Hopton was born around 1654 to a wealthy family and was a member of the Fishmonger’s livery company. In his will of 1731 he left money to build the 26 almshouses for poor men of the parish of Christ Church Southwark. They were completed in 1752 at the cost of £2600, and have been occupied ever since by older people from Southwark. The buildings were severely damaged during WWII but were rebuilt, and later reconfigured to provide the 20 homes. The beautiful gardens conceal a huge underground air raid shelter built for the local print works.