Christ Hospital’s Charter
Christ’s Hospital of Abingdon was founded in May 1553 by Royal Charter of Edward VI and was the first incorporated body to be created in Abingdon after the dissolution of Abingdon Abbey and the abolition of the fraternities. Sir John Mason, a Tudor diplomat and Privy Councillor born in Abingdon, played a major role in procuring the charter for the new charitable foundation. Less well-acknowledged is the part played by Roger Amyce, an official in the Court of Augmentations, and that of prominent local men who contributed towards the expense of obtaining the charter. These included Richard Mayott, a prosperous woollen draper from a leading Abingdon family; Thomas Tesdale, father of the later benefactor; and Oliver Hyde, a potential contemporary of Mason at the town grammar school in Stert Street. In the charter Hyde’s name is third on the list of Governors appointed, after that of Roger Amyce, both men described as ‘our well-beloved.’
The new charity was the natural successor to the Fraternity of the Holy Cross, a medieval religious guild incorporated in the 15th century, one of two such guilds closely associated with St Helen’s Church. In addition to its religious role the Fraternity had performed a quasi-civic role providing an impetus to town commerce by financing the building of the bridges over the Thames at Boroughford and Culhamford in 1416 with their connecting Causeway. It also erected a Market Cross on the Bury, the old name for the Market Place. The construction of the Long Alley Almshouse in 1446 underlined the Fraternity’s Christian obligation to those less fortunate members of society, the poor and indigent.
The royal charter defines the charity’s main obligations which were entirely secular. Foremost was the care of the almspeople in Long Alley, who were to receive 8 pence per week, 1 shilling at Easter and 5 shillings a year for their clothing: gowns and hoods for the women and gowns and hats for the men. In addition, the charity shouldered the maintenance of the town’s bridges. These included not only those constructed by the Fraternity, but also the bridge over the river Ock at the town’s western extremity, and the medieval multi-arched stone bridge at the confluence of the Thames and the Ock known as St Helen’s Bridge, replaced in the 19th century by the canal company’s iron bridge. The charity was further empowered to make a financial contribution towards the support of the town grammar school should funds allow.
In its charter Christ’s Hospital was endowed with property and lands confiscated from the abbey and the fraternity with an annual value of 65 pounds 11 shillings 10 pence (£65.60). The rents from these properties would finance its charter obligations.The administration was supervised by a Master and Governors chosen from ‘twelve of the best discreetest and probable inhabitants of the town,’ all of whom were nominated in the charter. Sir John Mason was nominated for life as the first Master and four of the first Governors had been masters of the dissolved fraternity, notably Richard Mayott who would also later be appointed the first Mayor in the borough charter of 1556.