The Hospital was built in 1681 followed eight years later by the church which has the more important architecture of the two buildings. Ralph Dutton refers to them thus: ‘these testimonies to charity and piety stand on either side of a narrow country lane, with the tall gates to courtyard and churchyard set opposite each other, so that the whole forms a single composition’.
On his return from France with King Charles II, one of Sir Stephen Fox’s first priorities was to assist the village of his birth. His intention was to provide accommodation and funds for the elderly poor, and Farley Hospital was commissioned for this purpose. It comprised twelve separate almshouses, spreading either side of a central Wardenry where a Clerk in Holy Orders was to live with his family, acting as Warden for the elderly inhabitants, and as village priest as soon as a new church was built to replace the village’s old ruined chapel.
The Hospital was built by Alexander Fort, Sir Christopher Wren’s master mason, though it is doubtful whether the design was Wren’s. It is a long, two storey building of brick (Flemish Bond), with the central Wardenry rising to three storeys.
Its centre is in line with the church opposite, and above the two main doors is a tablet with a Latin inscription shown in this picture:
The text translates as:
‘The Humble and Grateful Founder of this School land Hospital
Offers it to Almighty God
The Giver of all good Things
For acceptance as a token, small though it be
Of a thankful heart.
In the year of our redemption
What do riches profit thee which thou doest spend on thyself
who are but a guest here on earth
For in eternity thou shalt have only those riches which thou shalt have
bestowed on others.’
Inside the Wardenry is a large half-panelled hall which leads to a panelled room previously used as the vicar’s study, with a door into the garden. On the right and down two steps is the ‘long room’, running from the front to the back of the building. The panelled room has been used at various times as a school room, chapel, meeting and general function room for the village.
There was direct access from the drive by a separate front door, now no longer in use. In this room hangs a copy of the original regulations for the conduct of the inhabitants of the almshouses.
An oak staircase with well-turned balusters rises from the hall to the first floor, where a fine plaster ceiling of the mid 18th century depicts the coat of arms and achievements of Sir Stephen Fox. A portrait of Sir Stephen by Lely also hangs in this room.
Sir Stephen Fox by Lely (detail)
Each almshouse originally provided a living room and kitchen downstairs, with a bedroom above. The addition of bathrooms and other improvements has necessitated alteration to the back of the houses, but the front remains as original. There are walled gardens to the rear of each almshouse wing.
The Hospital was inhabited by 1681, each resident receiving a pension and allowance for winter fuel and other needs, and a warm coat. Sir Stephen also provided education for twenty village children, with extra financial help for clothing and shoes for the twelve poorest. The warden, who later became the vicar, received a salary from the same source. Farley Hospital has been continually used as it was originally intended until this present day, the only difference being that the Wardenry is no longer used as a vicarage. The charity has now passed into the hands of the Charity Commissioners, and is managed by a board of trustees.
The Great Book
The Great Book, Farley Hospital
The Great Book was started in 1680. One of the earliest entries, signed by Sir Stephen Fox, set out his intentions to build the Hospital and Church, laying the foundation for his other charitable trusts, and making plans for their upkeep and direction. Accounts of the building costs, and the yearly accounts of the Hospital follow. The book is still in use today for the annual accounts.
Right: Signature of Sir Stephen Fox