Researching the history of charity buildings

Bellott's Hospital, Bath, c.1850 by Henry V. Lansdown Medieval hospitals were almost invariably run by the Church along monastic lines. Most of them were in effect almshouses, rather than caring specifically for the sick. For the development of medieval hospitals see Heritage of Mercy. They were included in some surveys of ecclesiastical property and records pertaining to them may also appear in monastic cartularies or bishop's registers. In a few cases some of the hospital's own records survive from the medieval period, in which case they may be published by a local record society.

Subsequently hospitals, almshouses, orphanages, schools, workhouses and asylums were generally run by the local corporation or parish, or by trustees, whose archive may be deposited in the local record office, or retained by the relevant body. Such archives could include accounts and other administrative records, and cartularies and leases of property belonging to the charity and providing an income for it. For more on schools see educational buildings.

Some 40 hospitals in Great Britain were built by companies for their workers (see Wardropper below). Medical hospitals were taken over by the state under the National Health Service Act of 1946. The records of hospitals in the UK can be located through the Hospital Records Database provided by the National Archives.

Studies and Gazetteers

John Watson's Hospital, Edinburgh in 1829 by Thomas H. Shepherd

Engraving in 1829 after Thomas H. Shepherd of the newly-built John Watson's Hospital, Edinburgh, now the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

Charity Commission

Following the first Charitable Uses Act in 1597, national government made periodic enquiries into local charities. The findings are in the National Archives (indexed in Lists and Indexes 10). The Charitable Foundations Act of 1819 set up a national commission of enquiry, whose many volumes of published reports by counties became a directory of charities, with a mass of detail on their history and funding. It is worth checking whether the volume of interest to you has been digitised by Google, for example A Digest of the Reports made by the Commissioners of Inquiry into Charities [for the] County of Middlesex including London (1841) can be read online. The permanent Charity Commission of England and Wales was formed by the Charitable Trusts Act of 1853. This Act decreed that the accounts of charities should be deposited with the relevant county officers, so they can be found from this date in county record offices.

Also see general sources of maps and images.