Our history

Thomas Parsons’ Charity is the shortened name of the ancient Charity whose full title is The Governors of the Lands and Possessions of the Poor of Ely, otherwise Parsons’ Charity, in Ely in the County of Cambridgeshire (Registered Charity No. 202634).

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Thomas Parsons' Charity founded

The Charity was founded under the provisions of the Will of Thomas Parsons who is believed to have been a resident of Ely in the 15th Century. He died in an unspecified year, but before 1497, and in his Will “for the salvation of his soul and the souls of his relations” he bequeathed certain properties in the Parish of Stretham to pay the income there forth forever in the relief of the fifteenths tax levied upon the citizens of Ely. The tax was levied from time to time for the benefit of the monarch and Queen Elizabeth was a frequent recipient during her reign.

The Will set up a trust which was to be administered by 12 feoffees who were to be citizens of Ely and were to serve for life or from so long as they resided there, and the then current feoffees has power to elect their successors to fill vacancies.

Over time the tax was levied less frequently and the feoffees had surplus funds in their hands with which they purchases property and also provided work, education and benefits in cash and in kind for the poor of Ely.


Petition was made to King Charles I

In 1633, a petition was made to King Charles I to grant a Royal Charter for the Charity. It was granted and set up a formal framework for the Charity which stipulated that is should become a body corporate with its own Common Seal and should be administered by a board of 12 trustees to be knows as Governors. The board was to consist of 3 ex-officio trustees who were the Lord Bishop of Ely, the Dean of Ely and the Archdeacon of Ely for the time being and 9 elected trustees who were to be citizens of Ely and were to have the same power of self-appointment as before. All the lands and other assets of the Charity were to be vested in the new trust body and that remains the position today. The original Royal Charter is on public display in Ely Museum. There have been a number of notable persons elected as Governors in the past, including Oliver Cromwell during his time in Ely.

The Charity continued its work for the benefit of the poor of Ely, acquiring considerable areas of land and other properties and also accepting gifts from other charitable sources including properties used as Almshouses.


Governors purchased a piece of land

In the mid 19th Century the Governors purchased a piece of land in St. Mary’s Street Ely, and began to build a court of Almshouses there. They were designed by George Basevi, who designed other local buildings including Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The Almshouses were originally primitive by modern standards and by improvement and amalgamation have been reduced to 11 dwellings in total which are known collectively as Thomas Parsons’ Square. In the early 1960s the Governors built 4 bungalows in Deacons Land Ely, to replace the much older Almshouses elsewhere in the City which were out of date.


Grand opening

In 1976 they opened, also in Deacons Lane, a block of 12 flats designated as Almshouses which are named Bamford House in recognition of the chairmanship of the late Dr. J. B. Bamford.

21st Century

Continually working to improve

The Charity continues to administer the 27 Almshouse properties and provide support for the residents as beneficiaries. It also continues to make grants in cash and in kind for the benefit of the inhabitants of Ely, Stuntney, Queen Adelaide, Prickwillow and Chettisham whose parishes together constitute its area of benefit.

In current times the Charity derives its income principally from rents received from agricultural and other land, and from residential properties. In this the Governors are assisted and advised by land agents (knows as Receivers) and solicitors who act as their Clerks.

The Charity is continually working to improve its estates and assets for the benefit of its beneficiaries. In particular the Governors are mindful of their responsibilities as providers of accommodation and other benefits to the local community in following the charitable vision expressed by Thomas Parsons in his 15th Century Will with the intention that it shall be carried forward into the 21st Century and beyond.