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Building of the Month - June 2012

Skiddy's Almshouse, Bob and Mary's Walk, Cork, County Cork

Skiddy's Almshouse, Cork 01 - Representative View 

Figure 1: A view of Skiddy's Almshouse in Bob and Mary's Walk, Cork, the second almshouse built using the proceeds of a bequest from Stephen Skiddy for ten of the city's 'honestest poorest persons' aged 50 and over.  Occupying a corner of the churchyard of the medieval Saint Mary's Church, the almshouse once formed part of a self-contained ensemble alongside the adjacent Green Coat Hospital and School (1715; demolished 1955).  Saved from demolition in the 1960s, Skiddy's Almshouse is one of the very few surviving eighteenth-century institutional buildings in Cork

Stephen Skiddy, Master Vintner and native of Cork, wrote his will on the 20th of March, 1584, in the City of London.  Skiddy made his fortune through trade in wine and the acquisition of confiscated church property.  Resident in Coleman Street and with business interests in the Vintners' Hall in Thames Street, it is probable that Skiddy was kept informed of events in Ireland through his family and trading connections in Cork.  In 1582 there had been a famine and an outbreak of plague in Cork and more than 30,000 people were claimed in Munster in a six-month period.  Perhaps the social conditions in his native city prompted Skiddy to leave a legacy to the poor of Cork.

Skiddy's will followed the traditional format of the Tudor period.  Wealthy merchants were expected to leave money or other commodities to the poor or to establish foundations for almshouses.  Redemption from sin, salvation for the soul, and entry through the gates of heaven all depended on one's attitude to the poor either during one's earthly life or during one's eternal rest by leaving perpetual legacies behind.  The Vintners opened almshouses for their former employees.  St. Martin of Tours, their patron saint, is depicted in art as a wealthy knight on horseback who divides his mantle with his sword and shares the cloth with a beggar.  The symbol of St. Martin is found in the Vintners' coat-of-arms and is displayed as a gold cartwheel on a red mainsail of a caravel [1].

In his will Skiddy recommends his soul to God; gives instructions for his funeral arrangements; and deals with outstanding debts.  His remaining estate was divided into two equal parts: one half bequeathed to his wife Helen and the other to charitable bequests and legacies.  The list of legacies is extensive.  It includes the poor of many parishes, almshouses, hospitals, prisons, and spitals.  He bequeathed 20 shillings to the poor of twelve London parishes including St. Nicholas in Cheapside; St. Leonards in Fosters Lane; St. Martynes in Ludgate; and Christ Church within Newgate.  £20, one of his largest gifts, was given to 'Christ Hospital to the use of the poor children there in money'.  The prisoners in Newgate were to share 40 shillings.  Twelve of the poorest persons in St. Stephen's Parish and the almspeople in the Vintners' almshouse were gifted gowns.  The spitals of St. Bartholomie and St. Thomas received 40 shillings.  The annual legacies gave seventeen parishes and the Vintners' almshouse an amount of 20 shillings each to provide coal or wood to the poor.  The largest charitable legacy in his will, however, was to the poor of Cork.  The Vintners' Company were to pay out £24 annually and forever to the Mayor of Cork or his deputy [2].

Skiddy's will is not only an important social document informing us of the customs of death and burial, matters of family and friendship, charity and salvation.  Many place names are mentioned so that it also records the topography of the City of London at the end of the sixteenth century.  It is also a reminder of the almshouses, hospitals and spitals that existed to care for the poor in a century of Tudor rule more famous for its political intrigue, violence and religious intolerance.

Skiddy's Almshouse, Cork 02 - Plaque (1718) Skiddy's Almshouse, Cork 03 - Plaque (1620)

Figures 2-3: Two cut-limestone plaques record the origins of the present almshouse.  The first is inscribed: "This Building was/begun by ye City/of Cork July 5 A.D./1718 and finished/Sep. 21 A.D. 1719".  The second is inscribed: "THIS ---- ALMSHOUSE BE-/LONGS TO THE FOUNDATION OF M./CLEMENT SKIDDY ALIAS SONDAMORE/WHO ABOUT THE YEAR OF OUR LORD/GOD MDCXX [1620]/SETTLED A PERPETUAL ANUITY OF/TWENTY FOUR POUNDS PAID BY THE/VINTNERS COMPANY OF THE CITY OF/LONDON FOR THE BENEFIT OF TWELVE/AGED WIDDOWS OF THIS CITY/THE END OF THE COMMANDMENT/IS CHARITY 1ST TIM 1ST"

Skiddy's legacy to the poor of Cork came into effect on the death of his wife Helen in 1606.  She had been left land and properties by her husband which were formerly owned by the dissolved Priory of Blackfriars, now Ludgate, in London.  They became known as Broadway and Shoemaker Row and were to revert to the Vintners' Company on her death to pay for certain legacies.  The first annuities to the Mayor of Cork were collected by John Skiddy, Stephen's brother, at the Vintners' Hall in 1606 [3].  The building of the first almshouse near North Gate Bridge commenced about 1615 and opened in 1620.  Destroyed by fire during the Siege of Cork (1690) and subsequently repaired the almshouse was criticised in 1718 as 'too narrow and incommodious for want of good air'.  Consequently the present almshouse in Shandon was begun in 1718 and finished in 1719.

Skiddy's charity is still in existence today.  The survival of his almshouse, however, has not always been assured and in the early 1960s the trustees of the charity opened new homes in Pouladuff Road, selling the almshouse to the North Infirmary Hospital who intended redeveloping the site.  The demolition being postponed until all remaining residents were rehoused, The Cork Preservation Society (CPS) was formed by locals concerned at the impending destruction of the almshouse.  The CPS lobbied for the preservation of the almshouse and was granted a temporary stay during which time proposals were to be drawn up outlining a viable future for the site.  Reformed as a private company the CPS was successful in having the almshouse placed on the List of National Monuments in 1968 and raised the necessary funds to purchase the site outright and embark on its restoration.

Skiddy's Almshouse, Cork 04 - Loggia Skiddy's Almshouse, Cork 05 - Loggia

Figures 4-5: Two views of the arcaded courtyard, the loggias of which, according to Samuel Lewis, 'were subsequently added at the expense of some benevolent individuals [Brigadier Sterne and Alderman Knapp]' (1837 I, 428).  Saved from demolition by the Cork Preservation Society (CPS), the almshouse was restored as fifteen self-contained apartments and attracted a number of artists as tenants.  Further repairs were necessary, however, and a second restoration was carried out by the Social Housing Development Company in 2004-5

The restoration was completed in 1975, the European Architectural Heritage Year, and the almshouse was rented out as fifteen self-contained apartments.  Further repairs were necessary by the end of the century but, unable to carry the financial burden, the CPS sold the almshouse in 2000 to the Social Housing Development Company, a not-for-profit voluntary organisation.  The second restoration of Skiddy's Almshouse was completed in 2005 and has secured the future of the site as an important aspect of the architectural heritage of Cork for generations to come.

Angela Devlin O'Donnell MPhil History

The History of Skiddy's Almshouse MPhil. Thesis 2004 is available to read in Cork City's public libraries

[1] Vintners' Company, Some Notes on the History of the Vintners' Company (London, 2001)

[2] Vintners' Company, Will Book (Guildhall Library MS 15364, pp.69-74)

[3] Vintners' Company, Receipts for Mr. Stephen Skidmore Legacy from October 1606-1665 (Guildhall Library MS 15361, FCAA/61)

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