A brief history of the Merchants’ Almshouse

The Merchants’ Almshouse is some of the most quirky accommodation in the UK. Our serviced apartments are in a building of huge historical importance not only because of its age but because of the part it has played in Bristol’s history.

The Almshouse was built in 1696 by the Society of Merchant Venturers. The Society represented people trading overseas, exporting and importing goods to Bristol. As trade coming into the port city grew, the Society took charge of the docks (now the Harbourside) from the early 1600s to 1848, overseeing the establishment of Bristol as the country’s second city after London.

Old sailors sitting outside Merchants' Almshouse Bristol - home to quirky accommodation uk

Originally, the Society built the Almshouse to look after their sick sailors and families once they were unable to work at sea any longer. The building was four sided around a central courtyard, set within a larger complex including the Merchants’ Hall where the Society operated from.

However the Hall – along with two sides of the original Almshouse building, were destroyed during bombing in World War II, leaving the remaining two sides of the accommmdation which is still used today.

In 2014 the building was bought by the current owners and developed into vibrant serviced apartments. Today, the Merchants’ Almshouse provides a completely unique opportunity for people visiting Bristol to stay in one of the city’s most quirky accommodation right in the centre.

Who are the Society of Merchant Venturers?

The Society of Merchant Venturers have been intrinsically linked with the history and development of Bristol. From their formation in 1552 they funded various exploration voyages around the world throughout the 16th and 17th century. This led to them taking charge of the city docks from the 17th until the mid 19th century.

However, an article documenting the history of the Society cannot omit the organisation’s involvement with the slave trade. Due to the nature of the organisation’s trading routes – in particular with the West Indies and Africa, this should be acknowledged.

In the 1800s the Society helped set up the Great Western Railway, funded the building of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and supported the University as well as setting up and funding various schools in Bristol. Now they provide support for projects which continue to support the young people in the city – for example Bristol’s Royal Hospital for Children and education programmes at the SS Great Britain.

When the original Merchants’ Hall which neighboured the Almshouse was destroyed in World War II, in 1953 the Society moved to The Promenade in Clifton where they are still based today.