Signs and Wonders 18: 599 years of charity

WHERE: Plumptre Square, off London Road

WHAT: Some while ago, Terry Keane of Wollaton called to mention an old building he’d spotted near the BBC offices. It had a plaque giving its history, he said, and it seemed quite interesting. Turns out that’s an understatement.

This is Plumptre Hospital, home of Nottingham’s oldest private charity from 1392 until 1991, a year shy of its 600th anniversary.

It was more almshouse than hospital. John de Plumptre, a merchant and Mayor of Nottingham, founded it to support two priests and 13 poor widows. He endowed it with 13 properties around the city. The priests were told to pray for John, his wife Emma, the king, the people of Notts, and all the Christian dead — especially those who gave to the hospital.

This fund-raising come-on seems to have flopped, because in 1414 John cut the number of widows to seven and gave the hospital his house, on the site that would later become the Flying Horse pub.

At the Reformation, Plumptre Hospital was found to be supporting two priests and no poor. John’s descendants rescued it, however. And in 1650, Huntingdon Plumptre — a sharp-witted doctor accused of atheism — renovated the building, raised rents, and gave the widows a proper allowance: five shillings a month, with sixpence extra at New Year.

In the 1750s, another John Plumptre expanded the hospital so it could at last take the full 13 widows. They now received £1 2s 6d a month, a gown and a tonne of coal every year, and the New Year sixpence.

The family moved to Kent in 1756, but they kept up the charity, rebuilding the hospital again in 1825 and supporting extra “outpatients”. A second set of almshouses went up in Canal Street in 1956.

By 1991, the charity could not afford to bring Plumptre Hospital up to standard and its residents were moved to the other almshouses — themselves shut in 1998 — and it sat vacant until taken on by the Royal National Institute for the Blind in 2001.

Even without its buildings, Plumptre Hospital is still giving alms — and its trustees are still members of the founding family.