Sir John Mason (1503-1566)
John Mason was born in Abingdon and is generally recognised to have been the nephew of Thomas Rowland, the last abbot of Abingdon Abbey. From relatively humble beginnings he rose to become a successful Tudor statesman and diplomat serving under four monarchs despite the political tensions and intrigues of the Tudor court. He has always been credited with the acquisition of the charter to establish Christ’s Hospital in 1553 following the abolition of fraternities in the Reformation.
Mason received his early education at the school in the abbey and later studied at All Soul’s College, Oxford. He was ordained a priest and appeared set for a career in the church. His scholarship earned him the patronage of Sir Thomas More. He was elected the King’s Scholar at the Sorbonne in Paris and entered the diplomatic service in the 1530s, travelling extensively in France, Spain and Italy. He was secretary to Sir Thomas Wyatt who relied on his learning and shrewd intelligence. He was ambassador to France and a favourite at the court of Queen Mary. Between 1553 and 1556 he served as ambassador at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in Brussels. During this period he also held the office of Chancellor of the University of Oxford and later from 1559-1564.
The Charter of Incorporation (1553) established Christ’s Hospital as the secular successor to the Fraternity of the Holy Cross. Although frequently abroad, Mason was nominated as the first Master, for life, of the new charity, and his deputy was Roger Amyce whose role has been somewhat overlooked. Mason laid down statutes for the governance of the charity, which were originally read at the beginning of every meeting.On his death in 1566 he was buried in (old) St Paul’s Cathedral. In the early 17th century a major refurbishment of Long Alley took place and a series of portraits of benefactors were painted by Sampson Strong. Sir John Mason’s portrait dates from this time. An entry in the charity’s accounts relates how a portrait was brought from Hartley Wintney to ensure a good likeness was made.
His name is commemorated in John Mason School and John Mason Road.
Mullard, Herbert George (1895-1976) – a 20th century benefactor
Herbert George ‘Bert’ Mullard founded the Cowley Concrete Company in the 1920s. In 1926 he moved his business from Oxford to Abingdon, to a site now occupied by the Radley Green housing estate. The company manufactured concrete-framed buildings, bridge sections, bricks and even fountains such as the one now used for floral displays in Roysse Court.
Mullard had a career in local government becoming a member of the Abingdon Borough Council in 1945. Between 1951and 1953 he served as Mayor and during this period he had the honour of reading the Accession Proclamation of HM Queen Elizabeth II from the steps of the County Hall. He was a founder member and president of both the Abingdon Chamber of Trade and the Rotary Club of Abingdon.His major contribution to recreation in Abingdon was to finance the bridge over the mill stream which created direct public access to the river-side facilities. At a ceremony held on 25th February 1960 he was created an Honorary Freeman of the borough of Abingdon, only the fourth individual to be recognised in this way.
His association with Christ’s Hospital began in 1958 when he was co-opted as a Governor of the charity. In 1962 he was elected to the office of Master, a position he held for a record fourteen years until his death in 1976. It was during this long association with the charity that his greatest benefactions took place. In 1965 he founded the Mullard (Abingdon) Housing Trust, of which Governors of Christ’s Hospital were Trustees ex officio. He and his wife donated £10,000 towards the erection of eight flats in the Motte, subsequently named Mullard House. These flats are now administered by OCHA (Oxford Citizens’ Housing Association). Land sales in 1972 brought in sufficient funds to allow Christ’s Hospital to contemplate building a further twenty flats in conjunction with the Trust. The new block of flats, on the north side of the western end of Ock Street, was opened on 1st March 1977. An access road to the rear of the flats was named Mullard Way.
Herbert George Mullard was Christ’s Hospital’s greatest modern benefactor. His portrait, the work of John Walton RA, was commissioned in 1972, and hangs in the charity’s offices in Old Station Yard.
Thomas Tesdale (1547-1610)
Thomas Tesdale was born in Stanford Dingley in Berkshire but grew up in Abingdon. His father, also called Thomas, leased Fitzharris farm from the borough Corporation. According to the 17th century Abingdon chronicler Francis Little, Tesdale was the first scholar to be admitted to John Roysse’s re-formed grammar school in 1563.
Tesdale became a wealthy maltster. In 1569 he had an early entry into Abingdon’s civic life being elected a secondary burgess at the age of twenty-two, followed soon after by appointment as one of the town’s two bailiffs. He was elected Mayor in 1581 but refused to serve. He was imprisoned but released on payment of a fine of forty shillings. His good fortune enabled him to purchase the manor of Ludwell in Oxfordshire which led to a second refusal to serve as mayor on the grounds that he was no longer resident in Abingdon. He later moved to the manor of Glympton, near Woodstock, where he ended his days as a livestock farmer and producer of woad for dyeing cloth. Alabaster likenesses of Thomas and his wife Maud may be seen on their lavish tomb in Glympton Church.
Thomas Tesdale had a strong association with Christ’s Hospital. His father Thomas had been one of the townsmen who helped fund the acquisition of its charter in 1553. In 1577 he was appointed a Governor of Christ’s Hospital and in 1579 he was appointed as Master although he only held the office for a year owing to his residing outside the town.
He and his wife Maud, whose portraits hang in the Hospital Hall, had no surviving children and no near blood relatives. The two major local benefactions in his will were concerned with education, in Abingdon and Oxford. He left £5,000 for the benefit of Abingdon scholars at Oxford. Initially Balliol College was to be the recipient of his largesse but in the event Broadgates Hall in Oxford was selected and transformed into Pembroke College. Tesdale is often referred to as ‘the Co-founder’.
He also left bequests to benefit his old school in Abingdon. To maintain an ‘Usher’ i.e. second master, he bequeathed to Christ’s Hospital the tithes and glebe lands of the hamlet of Upton in Warwickshire. Their income would pay the salary of the Usher, who was to be selected by the Governors. Thus began the longstanding connection between Christ’s Hospital and Roysse’s, (now Abingdon School). The Tesdale Usher was responsible for the education of the ‘Bennett Boys’, six boys funded by charity who received free education, clothing and apprenticeship privileges.
Tesdale’s portrait was painted by Robert Taylor of Oxford in 1684 and his coat of arms is displayed in the window of the Hospital Hall and on the ceiling of the Roysse Room.
The family surname is recorded in the name of a row of houses, Tesdale Terrace on the south side of Bostock Road, and his contribution to education in Abingdon was once acknowledged in the naming of Tesdale School, now known as the Kingfisher School.
Jackie Smith (Christ’s Hospital Archivist)