Hospitals: Abingdon

Pages 92-93

A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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From an early date there was an important gild or fraternity at Abingdon (of which some account has already been given) dedicated to the Holy Cross, and associated with the church of St. Helen. In the reign of Henry V a hospital or almshouse was established in connexion with this gild, and dedicated to the honour of St. Helen, and mainly founded through the munificence of Geoffrey Barbour and Sir John de St. Helen. (fn. 1)

In 1442 this gild was incorporated by royal charter, and empowered to possess lands of the annual value of £40, to the intent they might maintain and repair the two bridges and the highway between Abingdon and Culham, and also provide for the relief of thirteen poor persons of both sexes (seven men and six women), and for the support of two chaplains. In 1446 the members of the fraternity rebuilt the almshouse, providing it with thirteen separate chambers. No one was to be admitted to the almshouse save by consent of the gild in their place of meeting over the north porch of the church of St. Helen. The money allowance for each inmate at that time was but a penny a week, but in 1456 the amount was raised to 4s. a quarter. They attended daily service in St. Helen's church.

The gild was incorporated afresh by Richard III in 1483, when 'the continual maintenance of thirteen impotent weak men and women' was again put forward as one of their chief objects.

Leland, writing in the time of Henry VIII, says—'There is now an Hospital of 6 men and 6 women at S. Helenes, mainteind by a Fraternite ther.' (fn. 2)

The gild, with all its good works, including the hospital, was suppressed and stripped of its endowments in 1548, under the plea of superstition, by the council of Edward VI. But Sir John Mason, a native of the town and chancellor of Oxford, had sufficient influence at court to bring about the restoration of much of the gild property, wherewith he refounded the gild hospital, in May, 1553, on lines very similar to the old foundation, under the name of Christ's Hospital. Each inmate was to receive 8d. a week, with an extra shilling on Easter Day, and 5s. yearly for livery. (fn. 3)


The hospital of St. John, Abingdon, stood without the gate of the great Benedictine abbey, over against the church of St. Nicholas. It was founded by one of the earlier abbots, for the maintenance of six poor persons. The master or prior who governed the house was appointed by the abbot, and it is probable that the inmates were at first directly sustained by the abbey.

The house was well established at the time or the taxation roll of 1291, when mention is made of 3s. annual rents at Oxford, and a pension of 20s. from the church of Chilton, Berkshire, as pertaining to the hospital.

Licence was granted to the master and brethren of the hospital of St. John, Abingdon, on 29 May, 1318, to acquire in mortmain lands, tenements, and rents, to the value of 100s. a year. (fn. 4) On 15 March, 1320, six messuages in Abingdon, together with arable land, meadow, and wood, of the value of 17s. 4½d. a year, held of the abbey of Abingdon, were acquired in mortmain by the hospital, in part satisfaction of the licence of 1318. (fn. 5)

The ratification of the estate of Simon Callyng, as master or prior of the hospital of St. John, Abingdon, was enrolled on 10 June, 1387. (fn. 6)

There is a cast of the seal of this hospital at the British Museum, (fn. 7) showing St. John Baptist with nimbus, holding the Agnus Dei, between two trees. Legend:—



There was a third hospital at Abingdon of early foundation, dedicated in honour of St. Mary Magdalen; very little can be gleaned respecting its history.

A year's protection was granted by Edward III in 1336 for the keeper and brethren of the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen on the bridge over the Ock without Abingdon. (fn. 8)

This is probably the foundation referred to in a manuscript account of the possessions of the Benedictines in Abingdon, shortly after the suppression of the abbey:—

There is also another poore house, called the Olde Almeshouse, standinge upon the ryver of Thames, wherein been xx poore creatures, relieved at this present onelie by the charitable allowance of the good devout christian people of the towne of Abingtone. (fn. 9)


  • 1. Leland, Itin. ii, vii, 161.
  • 2. Ibid. ii, 16.
  • 3. For these and other particulars of the gild and hospital, see A Monument of Christian Munificence, written in 1627 by Francis Little, master of the hospital. The MS. is in the possession of the governors of Christ's Hospital, Abingdon; it was printed in 1871.
  • 4. Pat. 11 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 13.
  • 5. Ibid. 13 Edw. II, m. 11.
  • 6. Ibid. 10 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. I.
  • 7. B.M. Iviii, 50.
  • 8. Pat. 10 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 11.
  • 9. Univ. Lib. Camb. Gz. iv, 21; cited in Tanner, Notitia, Berks. i.