St Albans almshouse octogenarian fears visit from bailiffs

Duchess of Marlborough's almshouses

Duchess of Marlborough's almshouses - Credit: Archant

Although she once worked for romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland, an 81-year-old St Albans woman has yet to have her happily ever after at a local almshouse.

Duchess of Marlborough's almshouses

Duchess of Marlborough's almshouses - Credit: Archant

The octogenarian lives at the Duchess of Marlborough Almshouse in Hatfield Road, in the vacated former unit of a fellow pensioner who abruptly upped and left the premises in unusual circumstances.

A few months ago, the Herts Advertiser reported on a 72 year old suddenly departing his accommodation because his partner was understood to have had a baby. Visitors are not permitted to stay in the flats.

His move was unusual as residents normally only leave the place in one of two ways – upon their death or when they have to move to a care home for specialised help.

But it has now emerged that, while the former resident is busy looking after his child, the pensioner who has moved into his vacated unit – since refurbished – has had to deal with letters demanding money from her predecessor.

The 81 year old, who does not want to be named, used to work for Dame Barbara, researching for her books, and has a similar penchant for the colour pink.

The resident said she feared that bailiffs would knock on her door and mistakenly demand her possessions.

Some of the envelopes delivered to the unit contained final warnings, seeking hundreds of pounds in payment.

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One of the woman’s fellow residents said: “She was in a worried state so I took the letters to the police.”

There were also letters from the district council, demanding an overdue payment. In response, the octogenarian wrote to the authority to notify staff of the former resident’s disappearance, saying, “evidently the last tenant left at midnight with a lady, who was pregnant. I have had to deal with bailiff’s letters which stated they were coming, which [were given] to the police.

“I hope I do not receive any more bills for this man; one cannot call him a gentleman.”

Although the council acted promptly and sent no further letters, the woman maintains that the almshouse management should have intervened earlier and had all of the previous occupier’s mail redirected.

She said: “I was worried because I thought to myself, if I’m out and they [bailiffs] do what they do on the telly, they will smash my door down.”

The woman has criticised the management for failing to deal adequately with the situation, saying it is one of a number of issues she feels disgruntled about.

She said that, “beggars have been coming to our door and forcefully begging, and between Thursday night and Monday morning, you have people who come out of the pubs and end up in our garden. There can be up to 10 of them, and I have seen sleeping bags on the bench in our garden. I’ve seen people chasing each other around the garden, having fights or they dump rubbish there.”

Built in the 18th century to help house those aged over 60 years of age, and needy, St Albans’ largest almshouses - there are 36 flats - were founded by Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough in 1736.

Bill Fardell, clerk to trustees for the Charity of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, said: “There is no way that we can interfere with the residents’ mail. If someone sends a letter to a flat, it goes straight there. Residents can bring them to me, and I can redirect them.”

He said that it was not possible for bailiffs “to take property that belongs to someone else. They would have to get a court order first. Some of our residents are vulnerable people, and this [sort of thing] is upsetting for them, but we are limited in what we can do. We can only redirect the mail – but I don’t have a forwarding address for the former resident.”

In relation to the resident’s complaints about drunks and beggars at the premises, Bill said that while there had been a call to have round the clock assistance for residents, to help during evenings when he was not in the office, that was not financially feasible as the charity’s money was tied up with major restoration work. This included a £600,000 scheme to repair the roof, and paying towards residents’ utility bills.