Woodstock: Charities for the poor

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.

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A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley, 'Woodstock: Charities for the poor', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, ed. Alan Crossley, C R Elrington( London, 1990), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp419-423 [accessed 25 July 2024].

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley, 'Woodstock: Charities for the poor', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Edited by Alan Crossley, C R Elrington( London, 1990), British History Online, accessed July 25, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp419-423.

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley. "Woodstock: Charities for the poor". A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Ed. Alan Crossley, C R Elrington(London, 1990), , British History Online. Web. 25 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp419-423.

In this section

Charities for the Poor

Municipal Charities. The corporation's first almshouses were successors to those founded in the chantry house on the north side of the church by Thomas Croft (d. 1488). (fn. 77) In 1551 the corporation bought the chantry house and undertook to use it for three or four almsmen, but the site was later found inconvenient and in the 1590s the house was taken over for the town clerk's use. (fn. 78) The corporation provided an alternative house with a large close in Hollow Way (later Oxford Street), rebuilding it in 1612 and again in 1724. (fn. 79) In 1614 it housed old men and women; a list of doles to the almshouse poor c. 1630 evidently included payments to the poor elsewhere, since there were over 40 recipients of a total of 33s. (fn. 80) In the 17th century the lop of trees in the almshouse close was let separately, and from 1778 much of the close was probably taken up by the adjacent workhouse, later the site of the Olivet chapel. (fn. 81) In the 18th century the corporation regularly repaired the buildings and provided alms and gowns for the occupants, but after the duchess of Marlborough's almshouses were opened in the 1790s the buildings seem to have been used as unendowed poorhouses. (fn. 82) The corporation continued to maintain the buildings, (fn. 83) which comprised six or seven appartments, usually, by the 1870s, occupied by single women. (fn. 84) The corporation sold the almshouses in the early 20th century for c. £80, which was invested for the general use of the poor. (fn. 85) The buildings survive as nos. 76-8 Oxford Street. (fn. 86)

William Cornwell, alderman, by will proved 1552 charged his house in Copperyware Street with 6s. 8d. to be distributed to the poor in bread on Good Friday. (fn. 87) The rent charge was confirmed in 1650 after a lapse of c. 20 years. (fn. 88) Cornwell's house, later divided, may be identified as nos. 13-17 High Street, whose tenants paid the rent into the 20th century. (fn. 89) Other Good Friday bread charities were given by Alderman William Rayer (d. 1619), 10s. a year, (fn. 90) and Henry Hopkins of Exeter College, Oxford (d. 1643), 4s. a year. (fn. 91) Bread distributions on St. Thomas's day derived from bequests of £5 each from Edward Johnson (1673), Benjamin Merrick (1675), and Christopher Newell (1678). (fn. 92) Good Friday and St. Thomas's day bread was given out regularly by the mayor in the 18th century and early 19th. (fn. 93) Separate distributions were made of the bread charities of Richard Major, who by will proved 1717 gave £5 for bread for five widows, and John Bellinger, who by will proved 1767 gave £20. In 1782 bread worth a total of £3 4s. 8d. was distributed. (fn. 94) Major's charity lapsed in 1783 and Bellinger's in 1795, and with accumulated interest they were worth £46 and £14 respectively in 1828. (fn. 95) In 1839 it was agreed to assign the baking of charity bread for the year to the town's bakers in alphabetical rotation. (fn. 96) In a reorganization of municipal charities in 1848 the former Good Friday and St. Thomas's day bread charities, excluding Cornwell's rent charge, were allotted stock yielding £1 6s. a year, Major's charity 12s. 2d., and Bellinger's £1 7s. Bread distributions continued throughout the 19th century. (fn. 97)

From 1615 Sir Thomas Spencer provided weekly doles of bread for 10 men, 10 women, and 20 children, with an additional gift at Christmas; by 1618 he was spending £20 a year, and by will proved 1622 confirmed that the doles should continue. (fn. 98) His son Sir William Spencer challenged the bequest but in 1641 granted a rent charge of £18 3s. 4d. from Windmill field in Yarnton. The corporation was still involved in litigation over the charity in 1647, but by 1652 the mayor was distributing the weekly doles as given in Sir Thomas's lifetime, with additional gifts of 1s. each to adults and 6d. to children at Christmas and Easter. (fn. 99) The rent charge fell into arrears from 1688, and the charity was confirmed only after prolonged litigation in the 1690s with the four sons-in-law of Sir Thomas Spencer (d. 1685). (fn. 1) Thereafter the rent-charge was regularly distributed in bread. (fn. 2)

Thomas Fletcher by will proved 1617 gave £12 a year, payable by the Skinners' Company of London, to be divided equally between the grammar school, a sermon, and doles of 6d. to the poor who attended the sermon. The doles were paid regularly, and in 1892 the Skinners' Company transferred £480 to the official trustee to maintain the charity. (fn. 3) Edmund Hiorne (d. 1629), the town clerk's father, left £5 to the poor in the almshouse, and in 1632 the corporation agreed to pay 8s. a year in respect of the gift. (fn. 4) The payment ceased after 1795, perhaps when almspeople were transferred to the duchess of Marlborough's almshouses. (fn. 5) In 1828 the unpaid benefit was reckoned to be £11 12s., and in 1848 stock yielding 9s. 4d. a year was allotted to the charity. (fn. 6)

Sir Littleton Osbaldeston (d. 1691) presumably in his lifetime gave £10, (fn. 7) and Edward Fennimore in 1700 and Sir Thomas Crispe in 1714 each left £5, (fn. 8) together yielding 18s. to be given by the mayor at Christmas to widows in doles of 6d. On New Year's day the mayor distributed another 18s. to widows, derived from £20 given by will of Esther Morgan alias Jenkins in 1727. (fn. 9) In 1848 Morgan's charity and that of 'Osbaldeston and others' were each allotted stock yielding 16s. a year. (fn. 10)

In 1691 John Cary gave a rent charge of £8 a year from Wilcote manor to provide clothes for 6 men, 6 women, 3 boys, and 3 girls, resident churchgoers who were to wear their new clothes on Christmas day. (fn. 11) The distribution of Cary's cloth was regularly made, but by the later 18th century the income was insufficient to clothe the full number: (fn. 12) in 1825 coats or gowns were given to 12 men and women and 2 children. As much as £74 was spent in 1837, after a lapse when corporate government was suspended in the 1830s. (fn. 13)

Dr. John Case by will proved 1600 left £40 to be lent interest free to 4 residents for 6 years, (fn. 14) and Richard Nash of Old Woodstock by will proved 1637 left £80, which was lent to 8 tradesmen on the same terms. (fn. 15) Captain Thomas Warburton of Bletchingdon in 1641 gave £100 to provide loans of £20 to 3 tradesmen and £10 to 4 others for 3 years. (fn. 16) John Taylor in 1744 gave £100 to be lent to 4 tradesmen for 5 years. (fn. 17) The loan charities, £320 in all, were regularly taken up and by 1825 only one £10 sum, part of Nash's gift, had been lost. (fn. 18) Reference in 1844 to the difficulty of finding sureties for loans suggests further losses, and thereafter the money seems to have been invested and the interest usually distributed in doles to freemen; in 1871 the capital was only £272. (fn. 19) In 1873 the corporation decided to use the loan fund for educational purposes, which seems to have been done since in 1909 the Charity Commission ordered the capital to be replaced from the income of the grammar school estate. (fn. 20)

By will proved 1817 George, duke of Marlborough, left £500 for the poor of Oxford and Woodstock at the discretion of his executors. (fn. 21) After a distribution a surplus of £20 was apparently invested for the use of the Woodstock poor in 1819, and in 1843 the corporation was given the capital of £44; in 1848 the Marlborough charity was allotted funds yielding £1 10s. a year. (fn. 22)

By will of 1865 George Benham left £10 a year to the poor which in 1868, when received by the corporation, comprised £300 stock yielding £9 a year. It was distributed in coal to 80 poor families in that year, and continued usually as a coal charity, frequently augmented by the corporation from the general fund. By 1909 it was yielding only £7 10s. (fn. 23)

The municipal charities also included the rector's house and endowments for schools, sermons, and a curfew bell. (fn. 24) Although until the mid 19th century the corporation merged charitable funds with general income and expenditure, (fn. 25) its administration of charities was satisfactory. A benefactions book given in 1646 by Charles Padget, a former pupil of the grammar school, was kept up to date and few charities had lapsed by 1825. (fn. 26) In 1828 the corporation accounted fully for trust funds in its possession, but by 1839 the chamberlains were obliged to allot £200 in part repayment of over £300 owed to various charities. (fn. 27) A re-examination of accounts in 1848 led to the withdrawal of charity funds from Woodstock Savings Bank and investment in consols, and at the same time the corporation bought £500 stock to supplement a group of charities whose endowments had been lost. (fn. 28) Rack-renting was introduced for the charity estates, increasing their income. (fn. 29) Schemes of 1886 and 1901 regulated the trusteeship and grouped the loan charities as those of Case and others, and the charities restored in 1848 as those of Alderman Johnson and others. (fn. 30) A Scheme of 1906 created a separate educational fund by adding to the grammar school estate £160 stock, a third of Fletcher's charity, and £146 stock from the charity of Johnson and others, which was renamed Major and others. (fn. 31) Sir Robert Cocks's charity, a municipal charity chiefly for education, had been divided in 1900 to provide an educational fund of £27 a year, the residue of the total income of £60 being devoted largely to the poor, an arrangement confirmed in 1906. (fn. 32) In 1909 the non-educational municipal charities were regulated by a Scheme which separated ecclesiastical charities under the trusteeship of the rector and churchwardens: the ecclesiastical charities were the rector's house, c. £226 stock for sermons derived from Fletcher's charity and that of Major and others, and payments from the municipal trustees in respect of Cocks's sermon charity and Cary's clothing charity, which was exclusive to churchgoers. From the remaining municipal charities the trustees were to spend £2 on children's books, provide 6s. a week for two pensioners, and devote most of the residue to the general benefit of the poor. The total annual income of the non- educational municipal charities in 1909 was c. £130, of which £27 was payable to Cocks's Educational Fund, which retained its separate identity thereafter. (fn. 33) Cary's ecclesiastical charity, the rector's house, and Cocks's sermon charity were later separated from the municipal charities, which in 1975 were yielding c. £340 a year; pensions were no longer given, but coal and groceries were distributed. In 1977 a Scheme for relief in need was sealed. (fn. 34)

Other Charities

In the 1790s the duke and duchess of Marlborough provided two groups of almshouses. Six were completed in 1794 by John Churchill on the west side of the causeway towards Old Woodstock, the site of the later nos. 87-93 Oxford Street. (fn. 35) Evidently the site was found unsatisfactory, for before the almshouses were finished Churchill agreed to build six more near Hensington Gate and to take a lease of the first building. The plan was for Caroline, duchess of Marlborough, to nominate six almswomen and endow the almshouses with stock worth £3,000. (fn. 36) In 1794 the duchess's benefaction for six widows was celebrated in verse, but reference to allowances from May 1795 to six almsmen, if not a clerical error, implies a temporary change of plan. (fn. 37) When the almshouses near Hensington Gate were completed in 1797 (fn. 38) they were endowed in the manner intended for the first foundation, under the trusteeship of the vice-chancellor of Oxford University and others and with the nomination of almswomen reserved to the duchess for life; the almswomen were to receive an allowance of £1 a month each and clothing every other year, and provision was made for medical expenses, furniture, and repairs. (fn. 39) The first building, on Almshouse Lane in 1841, was still known in the 1860s as the old almshouses but was occupied by the duke's rent-paying tenants; (fn. 40) it was probably so used from an early date, since in 1825 it was not mentioned as a charity. The building was replaced by a row of estate cottages in 1874. (fn. 41) In 1825 the Hensington almshouses were operating as planned, occupied by six women and supported by an income of £90 a year. Before 1871 the stock was increased by £500, presumably a gift from the Marlborough family. (fn. 42) In 1890 the mayor asserted his right of inspection, complaining that the duchess alone had appointed almswomen, contrary to the terms of the trust deed. (fn. 43) Under a Scheme of 1968 the almshouses were transferred to the borough council and reopened as Caroline Court in 1970, providing sheltered accommodation for the elderly; the Blenheim Estate trustees sold adjacent land for more houses on condition that they retained the use of two apartments. After local government reorganization in 1974 the property passed to West Oxfordshire district council. (fn. 44)

In 1868 Samuel Lovegrove left c. £5 a year to poor communicants of the Church of England resident in Woodstock; the charity survived in 1985. (fn. 45)

Lost Charities

Several bequests granted to the corporation in the 17th century were probably single payments, not endowed charities. (fn. 46) A rent-charge of 20s. for the poor, left to the corporation by Roger Norwood in 1593, may not have been received. (fn. 47) In 1608 William Metcalfe left £2 for the poor in addition to a sermon charity; a distribution of bread was made in 1637, but no later reference has been found, although the sermon charity was restored in 1640. (fn. 48) By will of 1626 Mary Keene gave £20 which was delivered in part in 1628 but not recorded later. (fn. 49) Dr. Hugh Barker by will proved 1632 left £20, recorded in the benefactions book in 1652 but lost by 1825. (fn. 50) The corporation agreed to give doles of 24s. a year in respect of £10 received under the will of John Chadwell in 1637, but the charity was lost by 1652. (fn. 51) In 1678 John, Lord Lovelace (d. 1693), gave the corporation a rent charge of £50 from Water Eaton, payable after his death and that of his mother, to provide an almshouse; the gift was not implemented. (fn. 52) A loan charity ordered by will of the Revd. Abraham Gregory of Gloucester in 1690 was not established, despite investigation in 1713. (fn. 53) In 1744 the corporation tried unsuccessfully to recover an apprenticeship charity ordered by will of Robert Bruce in 1716. (fn. 54) Richard Norman of Calcutta in 1811 left the residue of his estate to the poor of Woodstock, but his debts exceeded the value of the estate. (fn. 55) Sophia Brown (d. 1859) by will of 1830 gave to the corporation a house in Brown's Lane to provide doles to the poor in memory of her father Alderman Thomas Brown (d. 1825); apparently the bequest was not executed. (fn. 56)


  • 77. Above, Church.
  • 78. Boro. Mun., Garrett Ho. deeds; above, Bldgs. no. 39.
  • 79. Boro. Mun. 79, f. 15 and v.; 87, Mar. 1723/4.
  • 80. Ibid. 79, f. 30; 96, f. 39.
  • 81. Ibid. 79, f. 159v.; 7/1: rental 1652; above, Local Govt., Par. Govt. and Poor Relief.
  • 82. Boro. Mun. 93, passim; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 329.
  • 83. Boro. Mun. 90, pp. 145, 176, 289-90, 295; 93-5, passim.
  • 84. Ibid. 90, p. 190; P.R.O., Ho 107/893, 1730; ibid. RG 10/1449; RG 11/1512.
  • 85. Boro. Mun. 4, Scheme (1901); Char. Com. files, Scheme (1909).
  • 86. Cf. O.R.O., MS. d.d. Par. Woodstock c 13, f. 50v., which places the almshos. east of the workho., and ibid. Ark. XIII/ii/1; Pellatt XXXVIII/ii, which places them immediately west of the former Mermaid inn (no. 74 Oxford Street): above, Bldgs. no. 8.
  • 87. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 180, f. 122; Boro. Mun. 97, p. 14.
  • 88. P.R.O., C 93/20/10.
  • 89. e.g. Char. Digest, H.C. 292-II, pp. 10-11 (1871), 1v; Scheme (1901) for municipal chars.: copy in Boro. Mun. 4; above, Bldgs. no. 51.
  • 90. P.R.O., PROB 11/134, f. 75.
  • 91. Boro. Mun. 97, p. 14. Hopkins's will mentions only a char. for Bladon: O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 32/2/29.
  • 92. O.R.O., MSS. Wills Oxon. 37/5/7; 45/2/4; Boro. Mun. 97, p. 15.
  • 93. Boro. Mun. 93, pp. 65, 78, 172.
  • 94. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 141/4/8; P.R.O., PROB 11/931, ff. 271-2; Boro. Mun. 93, p. 275.
  • 95. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 328-9; Boro. Mun. 93, p. 493.
  • 96. Boro. Mun. 89, pp. 404-5.
  • 97. Char. Digest (1871), pp. 10-11; Boro. Mun. 94, passim.
  • 98. Boro. Mun. 79, ff. 66-8; P.R.O., PROB 11/140.
  • 99. Boro. Mun. 79, ff. 156 and v., 164-5, 168, 184-5v.; 92, p. 12; P.R.O., C 5/98/28.
  • 1. Boro. Mun. 76/2, Jan. 1690/1, May 1693, Oct. 1694, Mar. 1695/6; P.R.O., C 5/98/28; C 5/286/3.
  • 2. Boro. Mun. 93, pp. 402-4, 426-30; 95, s.a. 1837-8 and passim.
  • 3. Boro. Mun. 97, pp. 3-6; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 326; inf. from Skinners' Co. For early negotiations over the char., Boro. Mun. 79, ff. 47, 54, 60, 73-4.
  • 4. P.R.O., PROB 11/156, f. 86; Boro. Mun. 81, s.a. 1632.
  • 5. Boro. Mun. 93, passim; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 329; below.
  • 6. Boro. Mun. 93, p. 493; Char. Digest (1871), pp. 10-11.
  • 7. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 328. The gift was not by his will: P.R.O., PROB 11/408, f. 13.
  • 8. P.R.O., PROB 11/454, f. 6; PROB 11/541, f. 205v.
  • 9. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 137/2/2; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 328.
  • 10. Char. Digest (1871), pp. 10-11.
  • 11. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 327-8.
  • 12. Boro. Mun. 93-4, passim.
  • 13. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 328; Boro. Mun. 89, pp. 55, 101; 94, s.a. 1837.
  • 14. Oxf. Univ. Arch., Hyp. B 21, vol. C. For Case see D.N.B.
  • 15. P.R.O., PROB 11/174, ff. 272-3; Boro. Mun. 79, ff. 142v., 153v.; 97, p. 13.
  • 16. Boro. Mun. 79, f. 165v.; 97, p. 13; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 351, ff. 10-13, where Warburton's gift is wrongly dated.
  • 17. Boro. Mun. 93, p. 49; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 351, ff. 10-13.
  • 18. Boro. Mun. 93, passim; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 329.
  • 19. Boro. Mun. 90, pp. 2-3, 38; 101, pp. 77-8, where the loan fund was presumably the 'Tradesmen's fund'; Char. Digest (1871), pp. 10-11.
  • 20. Boro. Mun. 90, p. 327; Char. Com. files, Scheme (1909).
  • 21. Blenheim Mun. S/S/32A.
  • 22. Boro. Mun. 89, p. 473; Char. Digest (1871), 10-11.
  • 23. Char. Digest (1871), 10-11; Boro. Mun. 90, pp. 260, 266, 323, 331, 363, 382, 400; 101, pp. 86 and passim; Char. Com. files, Scheme (1909).
  • 24. Above, Church, Educ.
  • 25. Boro. Mun. 79, 93-5, passim.
  • 26. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 321 sqq. For another list of benefactors see Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c 351, ff. 110-13.
  • 27. Boro. Mun. 95, Dec. 1828; 89, p. 410.
  • 28. Char. Digest (1871), pp. 10-11.
  • 29. Oxf. Chron. 22 Dec. 1866.
  • 30. Boro. Mun. 4, Scheme (1901).
  • 31. O.R.O., QSD C 137.
  • 32. Char. Com. files, Scheme (1909); above, Educ.
  • 33. Ibid.; above, Educ.
  • 34. Char. Com. files; O.R.C.C., Kimber files.
  • 35. Blenheim Mun., shelf G 1, estate pps. box 2. The building is located by ibid., draft deed of endowment 1795; ibid. E/P/58: survey 1863 and associated map, plot 159.
  • 36. Ibid. shelf G 1, estate pps. box 2.
  • 37. Oxf. Jnl. 9 Aug. 1794; Blenheim Mun., Treasury box XXIII/77/4, acct. bk. 1781-97.
  • 38. Plaque on bldg.
  • 39. Blenheim Mun., shelf B 5, reg. of docs. 1748-1816, p. 142; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 319.
  • 40. P.R.O., HO 107/893; Blenheim Mun. E/P/58 and associated map of 1863.
  • 41. Date on bldg. For former almshos., Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. a 69, no. 615.
  • 42. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 319; Char. Digest (1871), pp. 10-11.
  • 43. Boro. Mun. 102, pp. 128-9.
  • 44. Char. Com. files; inf. from Blenheim Estate Office and West Oxon. district council; R. Mole, Cottage Improvement to Sheltered Housing (Oxf. 1987), 49-50.
  • 45. Char. Com. files.
  • 46. e.g. Boro. Mun. 81, s.a. 1606; O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 11/2/2; P.R.O., PROB 11/289, f. 184; ibid. 11/392, f. 103.
  • 47. P.R.O., PROB 11/82, f. 52. For dispute over will, O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 22, ff. 252-7.
  • 48. Boro. Mun. 81, Dec. 1608, Dec. 1640; ibid. 79, ff. 138, 151v.
  • 49. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 39/3/1; Boro. Mun. 79, f. 96.
  • 50. Boro. Mun. 79, f. 114; 97, p. 12; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 329.
  • 51. Boro. Mun. 79, ff. 140v., 152; 81, Dec. 1640; 97, p. 13.
  • 52. Ibid. 76/1, Aug. 1678, Jan. 1679; 97, pp. 21-3; 12th Rep. Com. Char. 329.
  • 53. P.R.O., C 93/48/3.
  • 54. Boro. Mun. 45/3/1; ibid. 87, Jan., Apr. 1744.
  • 55. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 329.
  • 56. O.R.O., Misc. Ri. III/1; below, Bldgs. no. 27.