Almshouses were a type of housing designed to accommodate the elderly. They were common in Medieval Europe, especially in the Netherlands. They featured in other countries, such as England, where they were controlled by the church. In the Netherlands, they were a secular institution. The first almshouses were built in the 1300s, and their popularity peaked in the 17th and 18th centuries. One prevalent form of almshouse was the Hof. This was an enclosed building with a courtyard in the centre. Apartments are built around this space, which often includes a garden for the comfort of its inhabitants. They can be found throughout the Netherlands, in towns and cities such as Amsterdam, Leiden, and Harlem.

It was customary for wealthy people with no heirs to build a Hof that would inherit their money upon death and then be used to care for their elderly inhabitants. Most of these buildings were named after their founder to ensure their memory lived on. To ensure this, they were often built in locations that would advertise their visibility, like a canal’s bank. Some Hofs were modest in scale, while more well-funded ones could be lavish and luxuriant. They became a staple of Dutch architecture and influential well into the twentieth century.

Artist: Alicia Walsh

The inside courtyard of an almshouse

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Credit: Alicia Walsh and Open Past

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