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HER Number:MDV4515
Name:Penrose Almshouses, Litchdon Street, Barnstaple


Almshouses built by merchant John Penrose in 1627. The almshouses, originally comprising 20 dwellings, are arranged around a large square courtyard with an imposing frontage onto Litchdon Street and an enclosed, contemporary allotment garden to the rear. Later repair and refurbishment includes 20th century replanning with partial conversion into flats. Bullet holes and cannon balls found during the renovations reputedly date from a Civil War skirmish.


Grid Reference:SS 560 328
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBarnstaple
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBARNSTAPLE

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 34005
  • National Monuments Record: SS53SE42
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS53SE/133
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I): 485677
  • Pastscape: 34005

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ALMSHOUSE (XVII - 1627 AD to 1627 AD (Between))

Full description

Lysons, D. + Lysons, S., 1822, Magna Britannica, 39 (Monograph). SDV323771.

Gribble, J. B., 1830, Barnstaple (Cartographic). SDV357319.

Almshouses marked (10).

Ordnance Survey, 1880-1899, First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map (Cartographic). SDV336179.

'Penrose's Almshos.' marked on 1880s-1890s 25 inch Ordnance Survey map.

Pevsner, N., 1952, The Buildings of England: North Devon, 48 (Monograph). SDV336196.

French, K. + French, C., 1957, Devonshire Plasterwork, 129 (Article in Serial). SDV4676.

Penrose Almhouses. Pendant of intersecting wooden hoops in the chapel, similar to that at Rashleigh, Chumleigh. Period 2 moulded rib ceiling (1600-1650).

Crowley, J., 1961, Sundials in South Devon, 282 (Article in Serial). SDV4705.

Sundial at Penrose Almhouses.

Lomas, J., 1967, The Old doors and Doorways of Barnstaple, 44, Plate VI (Article in Serial). SDV85818.

Penrose Almshouses, Litchdon Street has some good doors with durns of the early 17th century together with an inscribed granite entrance to the unusual colonnade that fronts on to the main street. Of particular interest are the 'arabesque' chamfer-stops incorporating initials of John Penrose, the founder of the buildings in 1627.

Department of Environment, 1973, Barnstaple, 48 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV89941.

Twenty dwellings round a square courtyard, includes a chapel and boardroom.

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 74 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

Savage, D., 1995, The Penrose Almshouses (Un-published). SDV344463.

Penrose Almshouses constructed on 1627, possibly on the site of buildings demolished by the flood of 1606. Clearly built on site with previously well-defined boundaries as the layout is awkwardly located within the parallelogram shaped plot. The framed timber stairs and central brick stacks were quite new innovations at the time of construction. Upper floors now with lathe and plaster ceilings, although there is evidence of partly plastered party walls in the loft spaces, which may indicate an earlier ceiling line. Bullet holes in boardroom door and cannon balls found in ground floors during recent renovations reputedly date from the Civil War skirmish. Details of repairs/renovations from the 17th to the 20th century given.

National Monuments Record, 2010, 34005 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV344462.

Almshouses founded by John Penrose in 1624 and completed in 1627. They consist of twenty dwellings, each occupied by two tenants, arranged around a square courtyard. The lay-out includes a chapel and board room at either end of the frontage to Lichdon Street. The houses have oak mullioned windows at ground floor level with gabled dormers at the first floor. To the chapel and boardroom are Gothic windows whilst between these of the road frontage is a cloister with 16 granite coumns on a low wall. The square courtyard has a verandah all round with a water pump in the centre. Record last updated: 2000

Ordnance Survey, 2012, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV348725.

English Heritage, 2012, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV348729.

Penrose Almshouses, Litchdon Street. Almshouses, originally 20 dwellings, each for 2 inmates of the same sex. Completed 1627, 3 years after the death of the founder, John Penrose. Later repair and refurbishment includes 20th century replanning with partial conversion into flats and some features copying the original. Local ashlar masonry for external walls, internal partitions of brick; granite colonnade; natural slate roofs; brick stacks with old handmade brick shafts with considerable repair in modern brick with corbelled cornices (one original stack retains clustered shafts with a corbelled cornice of moulded bricks; lead gutter on colonnade is brattished and decorated with Tudor roses and oak leaves. PLAN: 4 ranges of almshouses arranged facing onto a large courtyard, with a passageway through from the street and another at the rear, leading to allotments. EXTERIOR: the street frontage has a 2-storey porch in the centre, with open returns, flanked by lean-to roofs supported on 9-bay colonnades on low walls and, to left and right, projecting gabled wings containing a single storey boardroom to the left and a chapel to the right. The parallel range at the rear also has short projecting rear wings; former laundry outside courtyard in rear right corner. Almshouses single-storey and attic with gabled half dormers and ovolo-moulded oak mullioned windows and 4-centred doorways with oak door frames, the latter with scroll stops. Windows glazed with diamond-leaded panes; plank and cover strip doors. Continuous slate pentice at first-floor level. Each range has a regular 4-window elevation facing the courtyard, the dormers with coped gables and purple stone relieving arches. 4 doors to each elevation, the 2 ranges parallel to the road with additional wider passageways in the centre with oak frames, the stops on the front-passage front frame carved with the initials of John Penrose. The Litchdon Street elevation has the 2-storey porch in the centre with a coped gable and an ovolo-moulded arched granite doorway inscribed 'John Penrose' and a 17th century-style timber gate. Above the doorway a plaque records 'this howse was founded by Mr John Penrose, marchant, sometime maior of this towne. Ano Do 1627'. 4-light mullioned window above with relieving arch and sundial in the gable. Tapering granite columns to left and right. Passageway from Litchdon Street is lit by a probably 18th century sexagonal lamp, suspended from the pentice by an iron knee bracket. The gable ends of the left and right wings have 4-light Gothic stone windows with a king mullion and Y-tracery. Chapel gable to the right has a bellcote. Gabled attic half dormers have ovolo-moulded timber mullioned windows. Under the colonnade there are 2 doorways and 4 (2 to each side of the porch) 20th century 4-light mullioned windows matching the originals. Floor paved with probably 19th century tiles and 19th century or early 20th century timber seat in 17th century style attached to wall. Oak door frames and doors lead into the chapel and boardroom, with a wicket door into the chapel. Flat-roofed 20th century service extensions to rear of the almshouse ranges on all but the street side, although the rear elevation backing onto the allotment has original mullioned windows and one half dormer partly rebuilt in brick. INTERIOR: one almshouse inspected; thoroughly modernised, although features of interest may survive behind modern plaster. The chapel has a fine interior with a 3-light east window and shallow, coved plaster ceiling with the remains of a 17th century scheme of decorated plasterwork with vine motif and a central pendant for a chandelier. Fittings include 17th century bookrests and benches with some 19th century panelling and a 19th century lectern. The boardroom has a 19th century panelled dado with fitted drawers and a somewhat altered fireplace. HISTORICAL NOTE: according to a board fixed under the colonnade John Penrose, 1575-1624, buried in Fremington, was a dealer in slight woollen goods and mayor of Barnstaple. The boardroom contains a portrait of John Penrose, aged 26, signed Cornelius Jannsen and dated 1601, a portrait of Gilbert Paige (Paige's Almshouses, Church Lane, Barnstaple circa 1650 and some interesting photographs of circa 1910 showing the Penrose Almshouses with residents in uniform including an interior showing the double range which was used at that date in the shared units. Also 1944 drawings by Allen T Hussell, 32 High Street, Ilfracombe, showing the almshouses before addition of the rear blocks, with privy blocks shown behind the ranges. This is a remarkably attractive and ambitious early 17th century complex, incorporating some interesting Gothic Survival windows to chapel and boardroom and is the finest of a notable group of almshouses in Barnstaple. Date listed: 19th January 1951.

Devon Gardens Trust, 2020, Penrose Allotments (Report - non-specific). SDV363703.

The almshouses have an imposing frontage onto Litchdon Street behind which is a spacious courtyard, with a 17th century pump in the centre, surrounded by dwellings. There were originally 20 dwellings, each housing two people of the same sex. The almshouses were founded by John Penrose, a wool merchant. Above the doorway is a plaque which reads 'this howse was founded by Mr John Penrose, marchant, sometime maior of this towne. Ano Do 1627'.
A passageway leads from the almshouses to allotment gardens to the rear surrounded by a high cob wall with slate coping. The gardens, laid out for productive rather than ornamental use appear to be contemporary with the almshouses and to have changed little since the latter's foundation.

Trewin Design Partnership, 21/10/1996, Re: Emergency Repairs, Penrose Almshouses, Litchdon Street, Barnstaple (Correspondence). SDV354418.

Letter regarding poor condition of one of the dormer windows and the need for immediate repairs

Trewin Design Partnership, January 2009, Quinquennial Survey Report of Penrose Almshouses, Barnstaple (Report - Survey). SDV348157.

Quinquennial survey inspection and report on the condition of the external structure and fabric of the buildings.

Unknown, July 1975, Barnstaple Municipal Charities Historic Almshouses (Leaflet). SDV82108.

John Penrose, cloth merchant and Mayor of Barnstaple in 1620, left lands and money in his will for the founding of a set of almshouses in Barnstaple.Two stone houses were built in Litchdon Street surrounding a cobbled courtyard with a central pump. An attractive granite arcade faces the street with a chapel and board room at either end and behind the houses is a large garden.

Friends of Archaeology ND, Unknown, Historic Barnstaple (Leaflet). SDV356772.

Griffiths, D. M., Unknown, Houses + Lands (Worksheet). SDV357948.

The Devon Record Office has a book of plans of c1779 of various houses and lands in and around Barnstaple including Litchdon Almshouses (DRO TD 146).

Trewin Design Partnership, Unknown, No Title (Plan - measured). SDV357947.

Plans and sections of Penrose Almshouses.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV323771Monograph: Lysons, D. + Lysons, S.. 1822. Magna Britannica. Magna Britannica: A Concise Topographical Account of The Several Counties o. 6: Devonshire. Unknown. 39.
SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV336196Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: North Devon. The Buildings of England: North Devon. Paperback Volume. 48.
SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 74.
SDV344462National Monuments Record Database: National Monuments Record. 2010. 34005. National Monuments Record Index. Website.
SDV344463Un-published: Savage, D.. 1995. The Penrose Almshouses. University of Plymouth Module. ARCC Mo2. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV348157Report - Survey: Trewin Design Partnership. January 2009. Quinquennial Survey Report of Penrose Almshouses, Barnstaple. Trewin Design Partnership Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #92415 ]
SDV348729National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2012. National Heritage List for England. Website.
SDV354418Correspondence: Trewin Design Partnership. 21/10/1996. Re: Emergency Repairs, Penrose Almshouses, Litchdon Street, Barnstaple. Letter to North Devon District Council. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV356772Leaflet: Friends of Archaeology ND. Unknown. Historic Barnstaple. Leaflet + Digital.
SDV357319Cartographic: Gribble, J. B.. 1830. Barnstaple. Frontispiece to Memorials of Barnstaple. a4 single Sheet + Digital.
SDV357947Plan - measured: Trewin Design Partnership. Unknown. No Title. Plans + Digital.
SDV357948Worksheet: Griffiths, D. M.. Unknown. Houses + Lands. Worksheet + Digital.
SDV363703Report - non-specific: Devon Gardens Trust. 2020. Penrose Allotments. Devon Gardens Trust. Digital.
SDV4676Article in Serial: French, K. + French, C.. 1957. Devonshire Plasterwork. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 89. A5 Hardback. 129.
SDV4705Article in Serial: Crowley, J.. 1961. Sundials in South Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 93. A5 Hardback. 282.
SDV82108Leaflet: Unknown. July 1975. Barnstaple Municipal Charities Historic Almshouses. Leaflet + Digital.
SDV85818Article in Serial: Lomas, J.. 1967. The Old doors and Doorways of Barnstaple. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 99. Paperback Volume. 44, Plate VI.
SDV89941List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1973. Barnstaple. Historic Houses Register. A4 Comb Bound. 48.

Associated Monuments

MDV53861Parent of: Chapel at Penrose Almshouses, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV128466Parent of: Penrose Allotments, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV38800Parent of: Pump at Penrose Almshouses, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV12527Related to: Salem Almshouses, Salem Square, Barnstaple (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV5565 - Survey of Penrose Almshouses, Barnstaple

Date Last Edited:Jun 10 2020 2:18PM