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Bedehouses, East Lindsey

Description: Bedehouses

Grade: II
Date Listed: 10 December 2013
Building ID: 1415796

OS Grid Reference: TF3259187217
OS Grid Coordinates: 532597, 387218
Latitude/Longitude: 53.3652, -0.0087

Locality: East Lindsey
Local Authority: East Lindsey District Council
County: Lincolnshire
Postcode: LN11 9AQ

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Listing Text


Bedehouses built in 1868-69 to the designs of James Fowler.

Reason for Listing

The Bedehouses, built in 1868-69 to the designs of James Fowler, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architect: James Fowler was a prolific and successful local architect who helped to shape the Victorian character of Louth. His buildings are already numerously represented on the List, and the Bedehouses display the architectural quality and ingenuity of planning that distinguish his best work;

* Architectural interest: the neo-vernacular Tudoresque detailing, notably the profusion of prominent chimney stacks and mullioned windows, conveys the homeliness and solace integral to the building’s function, and emphasises the historic link with the former mid-C16 bedehouses. This is further stressed by the incorporation of the C16 statue of the founder Edward VI, an element of significant artistic interest;

* Planning interest: the composition of a two-storey L-shaped range cleverly makes the most of a very small corner site, whilst the addition of the single-storey east range creates the traditional three-sided courtyard plan. This provision of accommodation on two storeys is relatively unusual for an almshouse;

* Historic interest: the Bedehouses represent the continuity of welfare provision in Louth from the C16 to the C19, and are still used today for their original purpose;

* Intactness: the principal elevations have survived virtually intact, and although the original paired one-room dwellings have been converted to make larger two-room units, this has had minimal impact on the historic fabric and plan form of the building, the original configuration of which is still clearly legible;

* Group value: it contributes strongly to the extremely well-preserved pattern of housing development representative of the peak of Louth’s C19 economic prosperity, and has considerable group value with the adjacent grammar school and other nearby listed buildings.


The town of Louth in Lincolnshire, often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Wolds’ has Saxon origins, and at the time of the Domesday survey was one of Lincolnshire’s 7 market towns, with a population of 600. Its medieval core is still discernible in the town’s street pattern, and was bounded by the River Lud, the streets of Gospelgate and Kidgate to the south and Church Street to the east. Street names including the suffix ‘gate’ abound in the medieval core, which is signed from a great distance in every direction by the spire of St James Church, completed in 1505, the tallest such spire of any parish church in England. Louth’s medieval prosperity was derived from exporting wool and grain, and its magnificent parish church is testimony to the wealth generated by agriculture in the region, and by Louth’s relative proximity to the east coast.

The town’s population was reduced by three-quarters by outbreaks of plague in the 1630s, and by the early C18 economic prosperity had understandably waned considerably. However, the opening of the Louth-Tetney canal in 1770 heralded a new era of prosperity, and the growth of industries related not only to the region’s agriculture such as malting and grain processing, but also activities such as tanning, boatbuilding and warehousing. Much of this development took place around the canal terminus at Riverhead, and the growth of the town eastwards, along Eastgate, James Street and Walkergate. In 1848, the East Lincolnshire Railway came to Louth, extending trade and communication links beyond those of the canal, and further enhancing the town’s economic strength. An expanding population stimulated the development of terraced housing and villas, churches, chapels, schools and a range of public buildings all graphically captured in the remarkable ‘Louth Panorama’, a two section painting produced by a local man, William Brown in 1844. The Panorama presents a view of the town from high in the spire of St James’ Church. It portrays Louth at the height of its development and prosperity, shortly after the arrival of the railway, set in its surrounding rural landscape, with the east coast seascape in the background. The structure of the town has changed remarkably little since the Panorama was created, and Louth has mercifully escaped the large-scale post-war redevelopment experienced by many communities in England. Louth remains a thriving historic market town with a high proportion of well-preserved C19 buildings.

In 1868-69 the Bedehouses and part of the Grammar School (which are attached via a cloister) were built to the designs of James Fowler (1828-92), a prominent architect and public figure in Louth. Fowler was born in Lichfield but moved to Louth at the age of twenty to work for the County Justices on Louth Prison. He established an architectural practice in the town and became known as Fowler of Louth but he also took on work in London and other counties. Fowler was a prolific architect, designing or restoring over two hundred buildings during his 38 years in practice, including 24 new churches, 40 vicarages or rectories, 13 schools, 4 almshouses, and over a hundred churches that he restored or rebuilt. Fowler had trained as a lithographer, and his extant plans and drawings show that he produced most of them himself, rarely relying on an assistant. Amongst his notable work in Louth are the Church of St Michael and All Angels (1862-63), the Orme Almshouses (1885), and his restoration of the Church of St James’s (1868-69). He was also appointed Diocesan Surveyor, a Louth Borough Councillor, and was twice Mayor of Louth. There are over sixty buildings on the List associated with Fowler, ranging from churches and rectories to a town hall and almshouses, as well as the numerous churches he restored.

Almshouses were established in the Middle Ages as charitable foundations to care for the elderly, poor and infirm. Each had a warden, master or prior and consisted of an infirmary hall and chapel, similar in plan to a monastic infirmary. Bedehouses were a type of almshouse run to a set of strict rules, usually by a church. (Bede is the Anglo-Saxon word for priest). Each Bedesman or woman would have been given an allowance in addition to clothing and fuel, in return for which they lived by a timetable of prayer and manual work. Most almshouses or hospitals, as they were also known, were dissolved as places of worship in 1547 but were re-established by the Elizabethans as refuges for the poor or elderly. The original Bedehouses in Louth had been founded for twelve poor people in 1551 by a charter of King Edward VI. The charter had also endowed the Grammar School in Schoolhouse Lane which was described in 1848 as having almshouses under the schoolroom for the maintainance of twelve resident women (A Topographical Dictionary of England). One of the new school buildings and the Bedehouses were built on the same site at a cost of around £3,000, a large portion of which was subscribed by old scholars and townsmen. The Bedehouses were described in 1892 as ‘exceedingly pretty structures, with dwellings for 12 poor people, who have each 5s. per week’ (History, Gazetteer & Directory of Lincolnshire).

There is some disparity between Fowler’s original plan for the Bedehouses and what was finally built. The plan shows a rectangular range with four dwellings along Schoolhouse Lane which is attached on the east side to an L-shaped range of eight dwellings facing Gospelgate. The dwellings are arranged as pairs with a shared front door and entrance hall giving access on either side to a dwelling consisting of one main room with two very small service/ storage rooms. Fowler’s plan also shows a front court facing onto Gospelgate, and a rear court bounded by the cloister to the north. A single-storey building not depicted on Fowler’s plan has been built in the rear court. This appears on the 1889 Ordnance Survey map and, based on stylistic evidence, is probably contemporary with the Bedehouses.

Each pair of dwellings was converted into a one-bedroom unit in c. 2000, and some of the brickwork on the rear elevations has been replaced, possibly around the same time. The front wall has been rebuilt, and the railings on the wall and balcony have been replaced with those of a similar design to the original.


Bedehouses built in 1868-69 to the designs of James Fowler.

MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with ashlar stone dressings and a slate roof covering.

PLAN: the building occupies a plot on the corner of Schoolhouse Lane and Gospelgate. The single-storey range comprising two dwellings faces west onto Schoolhouse Lane, and along its east side is a covered passageway linking it to the two-storey L-shaped range facing south onto Gospelgate. This has four dwellings, one on each floor, and a staircase in the angle of the two wings. In the rear court to the north is a single-storey building which is rectangular on plan, and the courtyard garden to the south is enclosed by a wall and railings.

EXTERIOR: the building has a Tudoresque, neo-vernacular character, its homeliness enhanced by the irregularity of its plan form. The steeply pitched roofs have terracotta cresting and raised stone-coped gables surmounted by trefoil stone finials. The coping terminates at right angles in the form of miniature gables, under which are moulded stone kneelers. The roof is dominated by tall, paired brick chimney stacks which have broached bases and octagonal stacks with oversailing courses. The single-storey range on Schoolhouse Lane has a stone-coped plinth and six irregular bays. The second and fourth bays are gabled with the same coping as the roof gables. The first, second and fourth bays are lit by large three-light mullion windows in blocked stone surrounds, with those in the gabled bays having pointed arch relieving arches. The narrow third and fifth bays are lit by single-light windows in the same blocked surrounds, and the last bay is blank. This fenestration is regular on all the principal elevations. There is a chimney stack passing through the ridge in the first bay, and another rising from the eaves of the fifth bay. The left (north) gabled end incorporates the highly decorative original stone statue of Edward VI in a canopied, corbelled niche. The crenellated, vaulted canopy has cusped ogee arches surmounted by crocketed finials. The right (south) gable end is lit by a three-light mullion window with a relieving arch. In the gable head is a recessed stone panel recording the founding of the Bedehouses in 1551 by Edward VI and their rebuilding in 1869. The panel is surmounted by two small crocketed gables with carved human heads at the foot of the outer gables. The subsidiary rear (east) elevation, accessed via a covered passageway with a shallow pointed arch opening, provides entry to the dwellings. The front doors, in similar arched openings, are late C20 in date, and the windows have been replaced with uPVC windows.

The two-storey L-shaped range has wide eaves with exposed rafters, and at either end a timber bracket resting on a moulded stone corbel. Each wing has three bays with a central, four-panelled C19 front door in a shallow pointed arch opening. This is flanked by three-light mullion windows, except on the right bay of the east wing which has a two-light window. The first floors are identical. They are reached via an arched opening in the angle of the two wings which leads to a flight of stone steps onto the balcony, supported by moulded stone corbels and late C20 pillars, painted black. Each wing has a ridge stack and a gable stack. The rear, subsidiary elevations are plain. The windows have been replaced with uPVC windows and some of the brickwork has been replaced with C20 brick. The single-storey range in the rear court has the same pitched roof and decorative gabled ends as the east range facing Schoolhouse Lane, with the addition of dentilled brick cornice. The north elevation has a door on the left and four regularly spaced brick pilasters. (The attached cloister is considered to be part of the grammar school). The gable ends are lit by four-light mullion windows under a Tudor headmould.

INTERIOR: the dwellings retain their basic original form. The front doors open into a small hall, either side of which a segmental arched opening leads into a bedroom and a sitting room. The former rear service/ storage rooms have been fitted with modern kitchens and bathrooms. The interiors are very plain and have unfortunately lost their fireplaces, although many of the original moulded door frames and four-panelled doors survive. The interior of the rear single-storey range was not inspected.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.