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Old Botanic Gardens, Downing Street and Free School circa 1850

Free School & Perse’s Almshouses

History of Old Free School and Almshouses, Free School Lane

Old Botanic Gardens, Downing Street and Free School

On the map above dating from circa 1850 no. 24 is the Fitzwilliam Museum and no. 25 is the Free School. No. 31 is probably the old Lecture Room which held a collection of dried Botanical Specimens, as described in 1831.

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The 1831 New Guide to … Cambridge describes at this location:

At the corner of free School lane, west of the Botanic Gardens are Perse’s Almshouses. which have a very neat appearance, and a small garden in the front. They were founded in 1615 by Stephen Perse MD of Caius College, for six poor single persons of the age of 40 at least, of the parishes of St Michael and St Edward, or (in default of a competent number) from the parish of St Benedict. The stipend of each inmate in 16l per annum, and the appointment is vested in the Master and Fellows of Caius College.

Adjoining is the Free School which is a plain brick building, with stone dressing and a small arched gateway surmounted by the Founder’s arms. The Master’s House is on the south side of a small court, formed by the various buildings, and a new School Room has been erected within the last few years, in consequence of the room formerly used, being occupied as the temporary reception of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

There then follows a description of the contents of the Fitzwilliam Museum with had been left to the University in the will of Richard Viscount Fitzwilliam who had died in 1816. As the book was written the building of the new Fitzwilliam Museum was about to start.

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British History Online has this description of the almshouses:

Stephen Perse (d. 1615) founded several important charities including almshouses for six single persons who were to come from certain parishes in Cambridge. The almspeople received allowances from the endowments he left to Caius in trust for all his charities. (fn. 4) The original almshouses built under Perse’s will on the corner of Downing Street and Free School Lane were sold to the University in 1884 and new ones were built in Newnham Road.

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