BUILDING IS about to commence on four new almshouses in the city centre and the celebrations were held on Saturday morning in St Pancras.
A traditional ceremonial was held for the turning of the first sod – a traditional ceremony that celebrates the first day of construction for a building or other project.
Joining in the ceremony was the Rev Mark Payne, chairman of the Dears trustees and Alderman Bill Craven, Mayor of the corporation of St Pancras and yown crier, Cllr Richard Plowman.
The Dears Almshouse Charity was set up by Martha Dear in the 19th century and has been the principle charity of the corporation of St Pancras (est 1689) and known as the Wheelbarrow Club which has raised £60,000 towards the project over the years.
The building on the north side of The Hornet (no 19) has a foundation stone dated to 1802 and now houses an arcade of smaller shops.
Up to about the 1970s, however, it was the ‘Old Dears’ Almshouses, so named as it provided housing for elderly women living on slender means.
At the ceremony, Cllr Plowman said: “I had been mayor of the corporation of St Pancras and a trustee of the Dears Almshouse Charity for three years and determined to see the delivery of four new, much needed, high-quality almshouses so today’s ceremony was a very poignant moment as it hasn’t been an easy journey.
“The project is the first of the community-led development initiatives in Chichester to come to fruition and leads the way for communities to build their own houses to meet their own needs.”
Prior to the start of the 19th century, there had been six earlier almshouses on the site. These had become severely dilapidated to the extent they could no longer be used.
However, local philanthropist Martha Dear left a legacy of £1,000 to fund them again.
According to the Charity Commissioners’ report of 1836, the almshouses had already been rebuilt by voluntary subscription on the site of the six earlier almshouses that had ceased to be used.
The day-to-day running of the charity was administered by St Pancras Parish Council and was recorded in the churchwardens’ and vestry books.
In the early 20th century, it was apparent the almshouse inmates were in need.
In November, 1905, it was resolved that a collection be made by the mayor and corporation of St Pancras.
The current project is also the first one to be supported by the community-led development initiative from central government and administered by Chichester District Council. The scheme helps and contributes to project costs such as architects’ fees.
Local architect, Richard Meynell has designed the four almshouses to a high standard and they are fit for life with plenty of space for mobility scooters, wheelchairs and wet room bathrooms in a lovely courtyard and safe setting.
They will be built by local firm Nutbourne Construction and building work is expected to be completed by the autumn.