Reprinted from Newsletter 124, dated 2007 November

Mendip passes Magdalene almshouses to church

Jim Nagel

A very old drawing of a stone building. A large arched doorway is in the centre, with a small window on one side. It has a flat roof in the centre, and the roof slopes down on each side. Out front is a well.

Built about 1258 above pure flowing waters, this type of hospice was very common in the Middle Ages. Few now remain. This one, in Magdalene Street, became almshouses after the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539. The view is from the west, where 1960s flats now stand. The door leads to a narrow passageway to the chapel at the east end, between the two ranges of almshouses shown in the drawing. The nearer range was demolished in the 1960s.

The 13th-century St Margaret’s almshouses off Magdalene Street are to be given to Bath and Wells diocese by Mendip Housing, which nearby has emptied the hostel-type Magdalene Close flats — built in the former almshouse gardens by the old borough council in the 1960s — for redevelopment.

The Quest Community Trust leased the almshouses from Mendip from 1993 until dissolving last year.

An offshoot group, Friends of St Margaret’s, still keeps the adjoining chapel open day-to-day, under the auspices of St Benedict’s Church, which has responsibility for the ancient chapel simply because it lies within the parish boundary, but has no resources to maintain it.

Mendip did restoration work on the old almshouses in 1993 before the lease to Quest. A new project to use them is being planned.