Facing Sowerby Hall across Towngate there used to stand a small terrace of six cottages in a neat row. These were donated to the citzens of Sowerby under the will of Elkanah Horton (1661-1729) of Sowerby Hall. The cottages had a middle room, or Oratory, for "their daily assembling in for prayers" as well as a garden each.
Under a condition imposed by Mr Horton the three men and three women who lived there had to be unmarried, must have been born in the Chapelry of Sowerby, had to be sixty or over, and were to remain single as long as they lived there. This last condition was for the reason that the apartments could accommodate more than one.
Each occupant received 2s 6d per month under the endowment. The trustees had to be satisfied that the occupants were "virtuous and good natured and kept off the parish by their industry" until age or infirmity made this impossible
But there was more to it than this. Punctually at 9am and 3pm daily one of the occupants rang a bell (except on Sundays when the second bell rang at 5pm) as a signal that the twice daily ritual that had to be followed.
The bell summoned the other five inhabitants to the one who rang, who then had to read to them a chapter from the New Testament and offer a prayer from a book of devotions. For carrying out this compulsory duty the reader received five shillings quarterly, but any of the others omitting to assemble for this reading forfeited a halfpenny each time to the reader, unless a sound reason for absence was presented. The monthly allowance could be seriously reduced or entirely forfeited by failing to answer the calling bell twice daily.
The little row of six dwellings became dilapidated after nearly one hundred and fifty years of useful existence and were replaced by more commodious dwellings in 1862. At the opening ceremony the old occupants were provided with a substantial tea and were said to be highly pleased with their lofty rooms and comfortable furnishings. Less restrictive regulations were agreed to and the allowance was increased to 5/- a week.
The new accommodation was altered to provide for two married couples and four single persons. The married couples were allocated the two central houses and the singles had the two on either end.
On one of the crests was to be seen a memorial inscription to Gertrude Rawson, the only daughter of John Rawson (1813-1899) of Brockwell, in whose memory he built the houses in 1862; on the other crest Mr Rawson perpetuated the memory of Elkanah Horton who built the original almshouses in 1728.
The property was acquired by the Sowerby Bridge U.D.C. and demolition commenced in 1947 to provide shops and access to the new housing development on the North side of Towngate.
By John Kerridge
For the location please see the main village photograph