Alan Crosby's blog: John Johnson's family almshouse

By Guest, 7 April 2016 - 10:40am

Would you set up an almshouse to cater for relatives who had fallen on hard times? That's what one wealthy architect did, as Alan Crosby discovered on a trip to Leicester Cathedral

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 7 April 2016
Alan Crosby
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John Johnson consanguinitarium

John Johnson's memorial in Leicester Cathedral – now also home to the remains of King Richard III (Photo: Alan Crosby)

It’s not often that I am completely unable to understand the meaning of a word on a monument, but it happened in Leicester Cathedral the other week.

The word was ‘consanguinitarium’, carved on the marble inscription to John Johnson of London, an architect from a Leicester family, who died in 1814 and was the founder of the aforementioned ‘consanguinitarium’. We were baffled, but a helpful cathedral guide explained (and the internet confirmed) that this extraordinary institution was actually a charity.

John wanted to provide for his less fortunate relatives, and in 1792 he gave money for the construction in Southgate Street, Leicester, of a block of five small houses, in Gothic style with stone battlements. All the inmates of this “almshouse” were to be related to Johnson (hence the magnificent name, reflecting “consanguinity”) and the trustees (also his relatives) were to impose draconian regulations about the morals, behaviour and daily lives of those within.

God was thanked for “enabling and permitting the Founder... to have the pleasure of giving the comforts they afford to them” but should any be “so lost to themselves as to sow strife and discord, or by abusive words or actions render the meek-minded unhappy, they will be removed forever from their places of residence”.

It sounds ghastly – we all love our family history, but do we love all our relations? And would we choose to live cheek-by-jowl in that way? John himself may not have been too sure about the harmoniousness which consanguinity would produce, to judge by the rules and regulations.

Being a Johnson relative was perhaps a very mixed blessing – but what a wonderful way to enforce standards from beyond the grave!

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities.

 

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