Long Alley almshouses, with their distinctive cloistered walk, are the oldest almshouses in Abingdon. The building was constructed in 1446-7 by the Fraternity of the Holy Cross, a medieval religious guild associated with St Helen’s Church. The Fraternity was the first incorporated body to be independent of the abbey with the power to raise money for its own projects. The almshouses were constructed a few years after its incorporation to accommodate thirteen poor, sick and indigent people; seven men and six women. The location close to St Helen’s Church had initially been land intended for use as a church burial ground, but the abbot of Abingdon Abbey had viewed this as an infringement of his exclusive burial rights, and his overlordship was eventually confirmed in a papal mandate in 1396.
A study of the roof timbers during re-roofing has suggested that initially the seven men and six women were accommodated in two large open wards separated by the Hall, but by the 16th century these large spaces had already been partitioned. The archives of Christ’s Hospital record major structural works at the men’s and women’s chambers in 1564 with frequent reference to repairs to the ground sills and stud partitions separating the individual rooms.
In the early decades of the 17th century extensive improvements were made to the building including the construction of three porches featuring painted panels by Sampson Strong, an Oxford artist. A major refurbishment of the Hospital Hall included the insertion of a lantern in the roof and a new stone-mullioned bay window with battlements. Wainscot was brought up river from London to panel the walls of the Hall and bench seating constructed around the walls. William Jarrett, an Abingdon joiner, was paid four pounds for making the large oak table which still dominates the Hospital Hall.
Today Long Alley provides sheltered accommodation for seven residents. A five-year programme of essential maintenance work such as damp-proofing, re-wiring and re-roofing coupled with a refurbishment of kitchens and bathrooms has brought the residents’ living quarters into the 21st century.
The Hall at Long Alley is still used today for resident’s social functions and the monthly meeting of the Governor’s of Christs Hospital. It is open to the public during Heritage Weekend each year – this generally takes place in September (please keep an eye on the Events section for this year’s date).