Christ's Hospital, which dates from 1553, is the most ancient of Oxfordshire's charities. But the Hospital is pre-dated by both the Fraternity of the Holy Cross, first documented in 1436 and responsible for building the Long Alley Almshouses in 1446, and the older and smaller chantry, The Guild of Our Lady, in existence certainly by 1247, possibly formed substantially earlier.
Exchequer Room at St Helen's Church
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 in 1553 by royal charter under the full title of the Master and Governors of the Hospital of Christ of Abingdon. Sir John Mason was the Master, serving from 1553 until 1566. Mason also played an important role in the affairs of Elizabethan England; 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.
Almshouses round the Churchyard
St Helen's churchyard is surrounded by three rows of almshouses, whose architecture is picturesquely enhanced by proximity to the church and River Thames.