Christ’s Hospital of Abingdon is the oldest of Oxfordshire’s charities and dates from 1553. The Hospital is pre-dated by the Fraternity of the Holy Cross, first documented in 1436 and responsible for building the centrepiece of Christ’s Hospital, the Long Alley Almshouses, in 1446. Christ’s Hospital is also partly derived from the older and smaller charity, the Guild of Our Lady, in existence certainly by 1247, possibly formed substantially earlier.
Fraternity meetings were held in the small room above the north porch of St Helen’s Church, a chamber still retained by Christ’s Hospital. From 1450 the Fraternity’s influence was at its height, serving to voice views of townspeople to counter the dominating influence over Abingdon by the Benedictine Abbey.
Suppression of the Two Guilds
Early in Henry VIII’s reign (1509-1547), a renewal charter was granted to the Fraternity, but in 1547 both guilds were suppressed by Edward VI (1547-1553), almost ten years after the dissolution of Abingdon Abbey (1538), with their funds taken into the King’s empty treasury.
Some five years after the suppression of the guilds, Christ’s Hospital was created by a royal charter from Edward VI under the full title of the Master and Governors of the Hospital of Christ of Abingdon. It was through the good offices of an influential Abingdonian, Sir John Mason, that the charter was granted and Mason became the first Master serving from 1553 to 1566. Sir John Mason played an important role in the affairs of Elizabethan England and was consequently able by his influence to set the earlier suppressed Abingdon charities on a stable footing. As a man of aphorisms, ‘do and say nothing’ is stated to have been his favourite maxim. Such masterly inactivity was perhaps the key to his survival through troubled times.
Christ’s Hospital and Education
Formally involved in education of Abingdon boys from 1608 until 1870, Christ’s Hospital administered and appointed Bennett Scholars and Tesdale Ushers at Abingdon School. An usher taught six poor boys of Abingdon and had priority for election to Abingdon scholarships at Pembroke College, Oxford. From 1870 the connection between Christ’s Hospital and Abingdon School remained close, and in recent years support has been widened to pupils attending other schools in the town.