Architecture has been a long-standing interest of mine. This has been one of the reasons why why my blog, Walking in the Country, has been extended to cover walks in towns and cities.
Almshouses grew out of medieval hospitals, which cared for the sick, the disabled, the elderly and also for travelers, usually in a communal hall with a chapel attached. Later, especially after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, these functions became more separated and pious wealthy people, and later occupational Guilds, endowed accommodation for various groups of people: e.g. the poor, the sick or retired members of occupations or professions, or their widows.
I find it hard to describe exactly why I find almshouses so fascinating, but I think it is primarily because they are so distinctive: you can almost always tell immediately that a certain building which you were looking for or have stumbled on is, or was, an almshouse. Many are simply beautiful or at least quaint.
So what are these distinctive features? There is almost always a plaque commemorating the founder (or sometimes a donor who funded a rebuilding or refurbishment). The entrance is normally quite elaborate with a gatehouse or at least a pediment, often projecting. Most almshouses are in a gothic or gothic revival style: red brick, often patterned or polychrome, tall chimneys, arched windows, pointed dormer windows, stone mouldings. There are beautiful classical examples of course as well.
There are five main structural forms: the cloister or quadrangle; the E shape (a central range with wings projecting forward at each end); the terrace (usually with the centre accented in some way); the block (one front door, but several individual dwellings within); the detached or semi-detached house or cottage.
I have on Flickr a series of albums pictures of almshouses in different counties. I have an ongoing project of adding to this as circumstances allow. Here are a few examples (place the cursor on an image to identify the subject):