Almshouses are houses provided for the elderly and poor and funded through religious endowment. Almshouses are often recognisable by their uniformity of character and the layout of the buildings within their grounds. Although the inhabitants each have their own unit in which to live there are also communal elements such as a meeting room and chapel. Many almshouses originated from medieval hospitals, which had a need to provide long-term accommodation and many still fulfil the function for which they were originally built.
Almshouses developed out of medieval hospitals which were by the 15th and 16th centuries often providing for a fixed number of long-stay inmates. Some almshouses are survivals of medieval foundations, others are new foundations of the 16th to 20th centuries. Apart from those which originated as medieval hospitals (which are often of uncertain origin), most almshouses have a known founder and date of foundation. Both will be documented in written records, and are often prominently recorded in an inscription on the building itself.
Like medieval hospitals, most almshouses were in towns. Some towns were well-provided with almshouses. The best-known group is probably that at Abingdon (Oxon), where four separate establishments are still in use. Cathedral cities such as Winchester, Chichester, and Canterbury seem to have retained ancient foundations and enabled them to survive the Reformation.
In Buckinghamshire almshouses are also situated in towns, such as that on Church Street in Buckingham. Some of the foundations were named after their founder, who established them as an act of charity and piety, such as the Kidderminster almshouse or the one at Chenies. Others were attached to churches, such as those south of Ellesborough church or Hughenden Church House.