38 THE PERFECT ALMSHOUSE ch. iv
I have left until the last the prettiest thing in this city of comely streets and houses—St. Mary's Hospital, at the end of Lion Street (out of North Street): the quaintest almshouse in the world. The building stands back, behind the ordinary houses, and is gained by a passage and a courtyard. You then enter what seems to be a church, for at the far end is an altar beneath an unmistakably ecclesiastical window. But when the first feeling of surprise has passed, you discover that there is only a small chancel at the east end of the building, on either side of which are little dwellings. Each of these is occupied by a nice little old woman, who has two rooms, very minute and cosy, with a little supply of faggots close at hand, and all the dignity of a householder, although the occupant only of an infinitesimal toy house within a house. How do they agree, one wonders, these little old ladies of a touchy age under their great roof?
Different accounts are given of the origin of St. Mary's Hospital. Mr. Lower says that it was founded in 1229 for a chaplain and thirteen bedesmen. In 1562 a warden and five inmates were the prescribed occupants. Now there are eight sets of rooms, each with its demure tenant, all of whom troop into the little chapel at fixed hours. Mrs. Evans, sacristan, who does the honours, would tell me nothing as to the" process of selection by which she and the seven other occupants came to be living there; all that she could say was that she was very happy to be a Hospitaller, and that by no possibility could one of the little domiciles ever fall to me.