IV.—THE GEFFRYE MUSEUM (formerly GEFFRYE ALMSHOUSES).
The London County Council.
Description and date of structure.
Sir Robert Geffrye, by his will dated 10th February, 1703–4, after
providing for certain charities in St. Dionis Backchurch, and Landrake and
St. Erney in Cornwall, directed that the residue of his real and personal
estate should be paid to the Ironmongers' Company to purchase a piece of
ground for an almshouse. On 25th March, 1712, the company purchased (fn. 1)
of Richard Longford (probably the mortgagee) and Henry Hunt a parcel
of ground (fn. 2) in occupation of John Jewkes, 390 feet north to south and 187 feet
east to west. The northern boundary is given as ground belonging to
Henry Hunt, and the southern is described as "in part a piece of ground
belonging to the said Henery Hunt, and in part on a piece of ground granted
or intended to be granted by the said Richard Longford and Henery Hunt
to or to the use of the Drapers' Company." (fn. 3) About 1715 the almshouses
were erected at a cost of £4,500, and on 29th March, 1716, the company
purchased of John Jewkes (fn. 4) a further piece of ground immediately to the
north, having a frontage to the main road of 20 feet, a width in the rear of
38 feet, and depth of 187 feet. This was afterwards used as a burial ground.
In the year 1908 the Ironmongers' Company applied to the Charity
Commissioners for leave to accept an offer made by the trustees of the
Peabody Donation Fund for the property. Considerable opposition was
raised to the proposal, and in the result the Commissioners refused permission.
The company thereupon took the matter to the Court of Chancery, who, after
enquiry, made an order allowing the property to be sold. Meanwhile, the
matter had been engaging the attention of the London County Council,
who decided to make an offer in respect of the premises, and on 13th December,
1910, agreed to purchase the property from the Peabody Trust. The total
cost of acquisition was £34,289, of which £6,000 was provided by the
Shoreditch Metropolitan Borough Council and £2,000 by voluntary subscription. Thus in a district which is notably lacking in open spaces and
old buildings there was permanently saved a particularly interesting example
The almshouses are in a pleasant garden, which has some very fine
lime and plane trees 200 years old. A small pond recently occupied the
centre, but this has now been filled in and a raised paved platform constructed
instead. The buildings consist of two storeys and basement, ranged round
three sides of the garden and are constructed of yellow stock-bricks with
red-brick dressings. The tiling of the roofs was renewed in 1898, but the
original wooden cornice with its modillions is preserved.
The chapel, with its pediment, quoined angles and bell turret, forms
a pleasing central feature. Over the central doorway, in a brick niche, stands
a replica of the lead statue of the founder (Plate No. 46), the original of which
was taken away by the Ironmongers' Company and placed upon the new
almshouses at Mottingham.
The design and general arrangement are simple and well balanced,
and form an excellent example of the domestic architecture of the period.
The chapel has a small semi-circular sanctuary enclosed by a decorated
cast-iron altar rail. The walls have high deal panelling, while the upholstered
seating is simple in design (Plate 52). On the east wall, near the southern
end, was a monument to the founder and his wife (Plates 53 and 54) brought
from St. Dionis Backchurch, when that church was taken down in 1878.
It has now been removed to the new almshouses. In other respects, the
chapel remains practically the same as when erected.
The monument referred to is in grey mottled marble, and consists
of a rectangular panelled slab, flanked by recessed panelled pilasters, with
a horizontal moulded cornice and base. On the cornice stands an enriched
urn between two hand lamps, connected by festoons of fruit and flowers.
The slab rests on a moulded and scalloped shelf of black marble, which also
supports two cherubs, one on each side. Below each figure is a bracket
formed of carved consoles with a pendant of acanthus leaves, and under the
central slab is an oblong panel containing representations of a fur cap, a mace
and sword crossed—emblems of the office of Lord Mayor which Geffrye held
in 1685–6. The central panel is carved with a representation of drapery
bearing the inscription, and an achievement of arms, with a skull on either side.
The inscription is recorded on Plate 54, the arms being argent, 6 billets
sable, on a chief sable a lion passant or.
The interior of each almshouse consisted of a central staircase opening
into a room on either side of both floors, with cupboards behind the stairs
and a wash-house and fuel-store in the basement. The staircases have wellturned balustrades and plain panelling to the walls.
The London County Council having secured the garden and buildings
for the public, threw open the garden in July, 1912, as a public park, and
decided to utilise the buildings as a furniture museum.
By internal alterations, which consisted chiefly in removing the upper
floor and making in the division walls doorways connecting the separate
houses, a series of galleries was formed in the eastern block, leaving the
external aspect of the buildings unaltered. In these galleries have been
placed groups of different types of furniture.
An open covered way was constructed on the east side of the chapel
to obviate the necessity of disturbing the latter and afford connection between
the north and south galleries. The north and south wings were not altered,
and are used as residences for the staff and for storage.
The buildings were opened to the public on 2nd April, 1914, under the
title of the Geffrye Museum.
The monuments in the burial ground at the north-west corner of the
premises include three belonging to the 18th century.
The first is an altar tomb with panelled sides. The top has a coat of
arms, now undecipherable, (fn. 5) on a shield carved in a sunk circular panel,
and on the south side is the following:—
In Memory of
THOMAS BETTON (fn. 6) ESQUIRE
Member of the Court of the Worshipful
Company of Ironmongers
And a munificent benefactor to that corporation
DIED DECEMBER 1721
An upright stone against the western boundary wall has a shaped head
carved with a representation of a skull, and bears the following inscription:—
Here lyeth the body
of MRS MARY COOK
the wife of MR JOHN COOK
Citizen & Ironmonger
she departed this life
December 22, 1747.
The remainder of the inscription is beneath the soil. (fn. 7)
On a small stone slab built in the same boundary wall is the following
WILLIAM HESSE (fn. 8)
DIED NOV. 19TH 1792
AGED 31 YEARS.
There is also an upright headstone with an inscription in memory of
Mrs. Maria Chapman (d. 1840), for many years matron of the almshouses,
and, abutting against the Betton memorial, and enclosed in the same iron
railing, is the tomb of Sir Robert and Lady Geffrye, bearing an inscription
recording the fact that the bodies were removed thither from St. Dionis
Backchurch when that building was demolished in 1878.
In the Council's collection are:—
General view of almshouses, looking north (photograph).
(fn. 9) Do. do. north-east do.
(fn. 9) Exterior of chapel (photograph).
(fn. 9) Interior of chapel do.
(fn. 9) Monument of Geffrye in chapel (photograph).
(fn. 9) Do. do. (measured drawing).
(fn. 9) Detail of external elevation of chapel (measured drawing).
(fn. 9) Ground floor plan of almshouses do.
(fn. 9) Elevations and plans of first floor and basement of almshouses (measured drawing).
(fn. 9) Plan and details of interior of chapel (measured drawing).
Section through chapel do.
(fn. 9) Joinery details (measured drawing).
Statue, in niche, of Sir Robt. Geffrye (photograph).
(fn. 9) Portrait of Geffrye, by Kneller, in Council room, Bridewell Hospital (photograph).
General view of tombs in burial ground (photograph)
Inscription on founder's tomb (measured drawing).