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Guild in talks on almshouses future

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Members of an historic Shropshire guild of wool merchants have met with Government officials over the future of the nation's almshouses.

Drapers Hall – built by Shrewsbury Drapers Company

The Shrewsbury Drapers Company has been running almshouses in the town since 1444 and currently manage the almshouses at Holy Cross, adjacent to Shrewsbury Abbey.

The group's latest project will see 21 sheltered apartments created in Abbey Foregate, for the benefit of the elderly.

After a recent visit to the site of the development, Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski secured a meeting for guild members with the housing minister, Don Foster MP.

The meeting discussed the current funding arrangements in place for almshouse development and a review of current Government legislation with regards to the construction sector.

Following the meeting, Mr Kawczynski, said: "Almshouses play a huge role in supporting some of the most elderly and vulnerable people not only in Shrewsbury but all over the country.

"The Shrewsbury Drapers Company do outstanding work in the town through their almshouses and I was keen they pass on their informed views onto the Government."

He added: "The minister was as impressed with them as I was and asked the Drapers Company to write to him, expanding on further points raised in the meeting.

"This is real acknowledgement of their expertise and I would like to commend Richard Clowes and Andrew Cross of the Shrewsbury Drapers for their knowledge and hard work which benefits some of my most elderly and vulnerable constituents."

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The historic Shrewsbury Drapers Company is responsible for some of the more impressive timber framed buildings within Shrewsbury, including Drapers Hall, which now serves as a restaurant.

The guild established almshouses for widows and spinsters who received money, fuel and clothing from the company. The first group of 13 timber-framed cottages, a common hall and warden's house, were built in the churchyard facing St Mary's Street, then known as Ox Lane.

Today, the group manages the almshouses at Holy Cross, adjacent to Shrewsbury Abbey.

The facilities serve the elderly or disadvantaged and they include amenities like bowling greens and a social club.

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Almshouses trace their history back to monastic times where the terms bedehouse, hospital, maison dieu, almshouse and others described the provision of accommodation for those in need.

The first recorded almshouse was founded by King Athelstan in York in the 10th century, and the oldest still in existence is thought to be the Hospital of St Oswald in Worcester that dates from circa 990.

By the middle of 1500s, there were about 800 hospitals across the country but following the dissolution of the monasteries, only a handful remained.

Of the 1,700 groups of almshouse charities today many have celebrated anniversaries of more than 400 years.

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