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Abingdon, Berkshire

Historical Description

Abingdon, a municipal borough and market and union town in Berks. It stands on a rich flat plain, at the influx of the Ock to the Thames, at the junction of the Wilts and Berks Canal with the Thames, and at the terminus of a sub-branch railway of 1¾ mile from the Oxford branch of the G.W.R., 6 miles by road S of Oxford, and 60¼ miles by railway W by N of London, It was called originally Scheovesham, softened into Shovesham. Cissa, king of the West Saxons, built an abbey in the seventh century, after which, says Camden, it began to lay aside its old name and to be called "Abbaddun" or "Abbington", that is, Abbot's town. Synods were held at it in 742 and 822, and the royal courts of Mercia and Wessex made it long a seat of state assemblies. Some foundations of its royal palace can still be traced in a meadow on the E side of the bridge. A manuscript in the Cottonian Library, called "the old book of Abendon," describes it as "in ancient times a famous city, goodly to behold, and full of riches." The town was visited by William the Conqueror, by Henry III., and by Henry VIII. It was garrisoned for Charles I.; made the headquarters of his horse, and the temporary retreat of all his family; and became the scene of sharp struggles and great excesses before he was conquered. A sharp practice of its Parliamentary garrison, of hanging all Irish prisoners without trial, gave rise to the proverb "of Abingdon law." A graceful gateway, in the Perpendicular style, adjoining St Nicholas' Church, and part of a refectory behind, and containing a beautifully decorated window, are the chief remains of the mitred Benedictine abbey of St Mary, which was one of the richest in England. The original abbey, founded in Bagley Wood, in the neighbouring parish of Sunningwell, was totally destroyed in the time of Alfred by the Danes, The subsequent edifice was founded at Abingdon by King Edred, and completed in the reign of King Edgar. The nave was 180 feet long, the choir 65 feet long; the Lady Chapel, 36 feet long; the transept, 156 feet long; the western tower, 100 feet high. The town consists of several wide streets diverging from a spacious market-place. It is well lighted, and has an excellent supply of water. It is also well drained, the sewage being utilized in the cultivation of a farm situated some distance S of the town, and belonging to the corporation. The borough received a charter in the year 1555, during the reign of Queen Mary, under which it was governed by a mayor, 2 bailiffs, and 9 aldermen. It has now a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors, the corporate body acting also as urban sanitary authority. Population within the municipal limits, 6557. The borough sent one member to Parliament from 1337 until the passing of the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, when the representation was merged in that of the county. It is the head of a petty sessional division and county court district; but the assizes, formerly held here in the summer, were removed to Reading by an Order in Council in 1868. The chief industry of Abingdon is the manufacture of ready made clothing, the large manufactory of Messrs Clarke affording employment to many hundreds of persons from the town and the surrounding villages. Brewing, malting, milling, and the making of sailcloth and sacking are also carried on. A weekly market for corn and cattle is held on Monday; horse fairs on the first Monday in Lent, May 6, June 20, September 19, and December 11; and on Monday before old Michaelmas Day there is a fair for hiring servants and pleasure. The town is a head post and telegraph office, has two banking offices, several good hotels, and a weekly newspaper. It gives the title of Earl to the family of Bertie, and it numbers among its natives or celebrities Archbishop St Edmund, Archbishop Newcome, Sir John Mason, Sir T. Smith, Abbot the Speaker, Moore who wrote the "Gamester," and W. Stevens the poet. Among the principal buildings of the town are the County Hall, a curious edifice of ashlar and rough freestone, erected in 1677 from the designs of Inigo Jones; the Grammar School, erected in Albert Park in 1869; the County Chamber, situated on the south side of the abbey gateway; and the Corn Exchange, which stands at the NW angle of the market-place. Christ's Hospital, founded in 1553 by Sir John Mason, is a curious cloistered edifice of brick and timber, with turret and dome; contains an oak hall with pictures and stained glass; shows, at the E end of its cloister, a representation of a famous octagonal market-cross which was destroyed in 1644, and has an income of more than £3000 a year. There are also several other charities and a well endowed grammar school. The bridge across the river is a picturesque structure with six pointed arches, erected in 1416; was regarded, at the time of its erection, as a grand boon to all the surrounding country; and is the subject of some quaint old verses preserved in Christ's Hospital. Prince Albert's cross is an elegant erection of 1864, after designs by Gibbs. It has a quadrangular base, with medallions, a central octagonal shaft, with rich entablature, side columns, with carved capitals supporting heraldic lions; and a surmounting pyramidal pedestal, crowned by a statue of the Prince. In the centre of the market-place there is a white marble statue of the Queen, which was erected in commemoration of Her Majesty's jubilee in 1887. St Helen's Church occupies the site of an ancient nunnery, and was restored in 1873. It has a nave, three aisles, and a south chapel, and forms altogether a spacious rectangle. The north aisle has rich timber ceilings of the time of Henry VI., and the south aisle was built in 1539. A tower, in the Early English style, rises at the NE corner, and is surmounted by a lofty octagonal spire, in the Perpendicular style, which figures conspicuously for miles. St Nicholas Church was built about the year 1300, on the site of an earlier edifice; and it has a good Norman doorway and a tower; it was thoroughly restored in 1881. The Church of St Michael, erected in 1867 as a chapel of ease to St Helens, is a building of stone, in the Decorated style. There is also a small iron church in the union grounds. The Roman Catholic church, dedicated to St Mary and St Edmund of Canterbury, is an edifice of stone in the Decorated style. There are also Baptist, Congregational, Primitive Methodist, and Wesleyan chapels, and a place of meeting of the Salvation Army. The parish of St Helen comprises 3255 acres, and includes the farms of Barton and Pumney, the hamlets of Northcourt and Cholswell, and the townships of Sandford and Shippon. Population, 6233. The parish of St Nicholas comprises 148 acres; population, 532. The living of St Helens is a vicarage, that of St Nicholas a rectory, in the diocese of Oxford, and the two are conjoined. Patron, the Bishop of Oxford. The vicarages of Drayton, Sandford, and Shippon are separate benefices. The net yearly value of St Helens is £138 and residence, and that of St Nicholas £56.

Abingdon Parliamentary Division, or Northern Berkshire, was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 49,082. The division includes the following parishes: Abingdon,:-Abingdon (St Helen, without the borough), Abingdon (St Nicholas, without the borough), Appleford, Appleton and Eaton, Bagley Wood, Besselsleigh, Chandlings, Cumner, Draycott Moor, Drayton, Frilford, Fyfield, Garford, Grandpoint, Hinksey (North), Hinksey (South), Kingston Bagpuize, Lyford, Marcham, Milton, Radley, Seacourt, Steventon, Sunningwell, Sutton Courtney, Sutton Wick, Tubney, Wootton, Wytham, Wittenham (Long), Wittenham (Little); Faringdon,:-Ashbury, Baulking, Bourton, Buckland, Buscot, Charney, Coleshill, Compton Beauchamp, Coxwell (Great), Coxwell (Little), Eaton Hastings, Faringdon, Fernham, Hatford, Hinton, Kingston Lisle, Longcott, Longworth, Pusey, Shellingford, Shrivenham, Stanford, Uffington, Watchfield, Woolstone; Wantage,:-Ardington, Chaddleworth, Challow (East), Challow (West), Charlton, Childrey, Denchworth, Fawley, Goosey, Grove, Hanney (East), Hanney (West), Harwell, Hendred (East), Hendred (West), Letcomb Bassett, Letcomb Regis, Lockinge (East), Lockinge (West), Sparsholt, Wantage; Wallingford (or Moreton),:-Aston Tirrold, Aston Upthorpe, Blewbury, Brightwell, Cholsey, Didcot, Hagbourn (East), Hagbourn (West), Moreton (North) Moreton (South), Moulsford, Sotwell, Upton; Wallingford,:-All Hallows and Clapcot, St Leonard's, St Mary-the-More, St Peter, Castle Precincts; Wallingford, municipal borough; Abingdon, municipal borough (the part in Berks); Oxford, municipal borough (the part in Berks).

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyBerkshire 
Poor Law unionAbingdon 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.


The Cemetery is in the Spring road, west of the town, and consists of about six acres, prettily laid out and planted; there are two mortuary chapels of stone, in the Decorated style, and a curator's residence. Orders in Council respecting various graveyards in the town were published in the London Gazette on June 27th, 1856; Jan 24th, July 3rd, and Dec. 21st, 1860, and April. 19th, 1861.

Church Records

The register of St. Helen dates from the year 1538.

The register of St. Nicholas dates from the year 1538.


Church of England

St. Helen (parish church)

St. Helen's church, standing close to the river, south-west of the town, is a spacious edifice chiefly in the Perpendicular style, consisting of five parallel aisles of unequal length and breadth, named as follows, beginning from the north--Jesus aisle, Our Lady's aisle, St. Helen's aisle, St. Catharine's aisle and the Holy Cross aisle; a tower and spire on the north-east, with a porch in the lower stage, vestry on the south-east, and a small chapel or chantry west of the tower; the church was completely restored in 1873, under the direction of Mr. Woodyer, at a cost of £7,021, when the pews and galleries were removed, the nave and chancel roof renewed in open timber work and considerably heightened; the chancel was also newly inclosed by a stone screen on the north side, and separated from the nave by a lofty and elaborate screen of oak, and in 1897 a handsome reredos of oak designed by G. F. Bodley esq. R.A., F.S.A., was presented by Miss Hyde: the north aisle has a timber ceiling, richly painted with figures of kings, prophets and saints, given by Nicholas Gold, one of the founders of the fraternity of the Holy Cross; and an altar of alabaster, with an upper slab of jasper also designed by G. F. Bodley esq. and erected as a memorial to the Rev. R. C. F. Griffith M.A., vicar 1885-96: the south aisles, one of which was built in 1539, for the use of a guild, are rather later, but of the same character, as is also the south porch, which has a good doorway and a canopied niche, recently filled with a figure of St. Catharine, the buttresses being surmounted with figures of St. Dunstan and St. Ethelwold: the tower is Early English and has a plain parapet with crocketed angle turrets, from within which flying buttresses support a tall octagonal spire; it contains a peal of 10 bells, remarkable for their exceeding sweetness of tone, and a clock; the restoration of the tower and spire was completed on May 1st, 1886, under the superintendence of J. Oldrid Scott, architect; at the same time the three porches were restored and figures placed in the vacant niches; the cost of repairing the Early English north porch being defrayed by Christ's Hospital; the west porch now bears in a niche a figure of St. Helen, holding in her arms a model of the church, and surmounting the buttresses are the symbols of the Evangelists, carved in stone; a large new window was placed in the baptistery by Mrs. George Gibbs in memory of her husband, two large niches on each side of the window were also repaired and statues of St. John the Baptist and St. Philip the Deacon, executed by Nicholls, placed in them; the whole cost exceeded £2,700; the east and west windows, both of which are of modern date, have been filled with stained glass; the former as a memorial to Thomas Hyde esq. and the latter to his brother, John Hyde esq. and there are others to George Bowes Morland esq. Edward Morland esq. Alfred D. Bartlett esq. and to Mrs. Griffith, wife of the Rev. Robert Charles Francis Griffith M.A. vicar 1885-96; one erected by the late Miss Kent to her father and brother, and another by the teachers and children of the Sunday school; in the north aisle, beneath a feathered arch, is the altar tomb of John Roysse, founder of Abingdon school, who died 27 July, 1571; the upper slab, brought by his direction from his garden in London, served, until 1873, as a tablet from which bread was distributed every Sunday, in accordance with his will, to 13 poor persons; it bears the shield of arms - gules, a griffin segreant arg. with crest and mantling - formerly placed above it; and also an inscribed brass plate affixed on the restoration of the tomb by the past and then present scholars in 1873; in the north aisle is a huge marble monument by Hickey, with portrait figures and busts, erected pursuant to the will of Mrs. Elizabeth Hawkins, ob. May 22, 1786, and commemorating the deceased, her relatives, and the Rev. Walter Harte, vice-principal of St. Mary Hall, Oxford. who died in 1768, on the eve of their intended marriage; here also is a small square altar tomb, repaired by Christ's Hospital in 1826 and inscribed to Richard Curtaine, gent. "a principal magistrate of this Corporation," buried July 18, 1643; and at the west end of St. Catharine's aisle is a brass, within a large slab of Caen stone, to Galfridus (Geoffrey) Barbour, merchant, ob. April 21, 1417, with his effigy in the attitude of prayer; he was for some time bailiff of Bristol and was chief benefactor to this town; his remains, removed from the abbey on its dissolution, were re-interred in this church; in the church was also buried Henry Langley D.D. master of Pembroke College, Oxford, d. 10 Sept. 1679; there is a brass to William Heyward S.T.D. vicar. ob. 1501, with his effigy in academic dress; in the choir vestry is a portrait, on panel, of Mr. William Lee, five times mayor of Abingdon, who died in 1637, aged 92; accompanying the portrait is a genealogical chart, and an inscription, stating that he had in his lifetime issue from his loins two hundred, lacking but three; in St. Catharine's aisle near the organ is now placed a chained bible, dated 1611; several other chained books remain in the church, but have been much damaged by damp; in the first south aisle is a mural tablet to Edmund, youngest son of Lionel Bostock, ob. Aug. 3, 1605, and over it 3 quartered shield of arms; near it, on a framed wood panel are painted the arms of Oliver Hide, 1565, and Thomasine his wife, 1568; on the west wall is a small brass inscription to Thomas Mayott, twice mayor, ob. May 30, 1627; the pulpit is Jacobean, and bears in panels the legend: "ad haec idoneus quis," and the date 1636; there are seven seats set apart for the Corporation, the foremost of which is flanked by figures of the lion and unicorn, carved in wood and supporting shields; hung in the clergy vestry are portraits of some Bishops of the Diocese and six former vicars; the organ, inclosed in a panelled case of carved oak, displays a quaint figure of David, carved in wood, with gilded harp and crown; the font, of white marble, was executed by the late Mr. H. P. Peyman, of Abingdon, and shown in the Great Exhibition of 1851; the oak canopy dated 1643 was restored in 1902 and is surmounted by a figure of an angel bearing the Book of Life, carved by A. Hodge esq.: in 1644-5, the Parliamentary army, under General Waller, while quartered here, used the north aisle as a stable; among the vicars may be mentioned Ethelmarus or Aymer de Valence, half brother to Henry I. and afterwards Bishop of Winchester; there are 1,200 sittings. The church was wholly closed against interments June 27, 1856.

St. Margaret

The iron church of St. Margaret in the Union grounds was used for the inmates of the workhouse, and would seat 100 persons.

St. Michael, Albert Park

The church of St. Michael, a chapel of ease to St. Helen's, and situated on the south side of the Albert Park, is a building of stone in the Decorated style, from designs by the late Sir G. Gilbert Scott R.A. and erected at a cost of £2,500, by the Rev. N. Dodson M.A. a former vicar, and consecrated in 1867; it consists of chancel, nave of five bays, aisles, south porch and an open bell-cote on the western gable with 3 bells; the east window is stained, and there is a memorial window to Emma, (Armytage), wife of the Rev. the Hon. Henry Bligh, vicar of Abingdon (1874-8); she died December 27th, 1881: there are sittings for 500 persons.

St. Nicholas, Market Place (parish church)

The church of St. Nicholas, situated on the north side of the Market place, adjoining the abbey gateway, was built, according to Dugdale, by Nicholas de Coleham or Culham, prior, and afterwards abbot of Abingdon, between the years 1289 and 1307, although portions of the west front seem to indicate an earlier origin, perhaps during the period 1200-20; traces of the triple lancet window, which originally lighted the west front, are still visible, as well as of other similar windows in the north wall; and it may therefore be concluded that the building existed at least 60 years before the abbacy of de Coleham; the church is a small structure, consisting only of chancel and nave, a small chantry, organ chamber and vestry on the north and an embattled western tower, containing 6 bells, cast in October, 1741, by Abel Rudhall, who received for the work the five old bells and clappers, valued at £141 10s. 4½d. and £70 1s. 10d. in cash; a new clock with quarter chimes was placed in position in 1887; the tower is built partly upon the west wall, and is otherwise supported from within the church by two stone piers or legs, standing clear of the walls attached to it; in the north side is a minstrels' gallery and a singular square stair turret, with a gabled roof and a small triangular window; the west doorway. with its lateral Breading, is a good example of Late Norman work, but the rest of the church as now existing is chiefty Perpendicular: during the year 1881 the church underwent a thorough restoration at the hands of Mr. Edwin Dolby, architect, of Abingdon, at a cost of £2,5549 in course of which the nave roof was entirely renewed in English oak, and a panelled and embattled parapet, with numerous carved shields, was built upon the north wall; the floor was also relaid with small blocks, tiles and disturbed gravestones; the old pulpit refixed and the chancel and nave refitted in oak; the modern heraldic glass, with which the east and other windows were previously filled, including a shield of arms of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was wholly removed and sold; some may still be seen in the windows of Barton Court; the late E. J. Trended esq. of the Abbey House, refilled the east window with Bristol glass; there are memorial windows to Mrs. Trendell and to the late George Bowes Morland esq. his wife and children, placed in 1890, and one to Henry Yeates, of Abingdon; the reredos, given by the Rev. W. C. Gibbs M.A. rector (1878-84), is of carved oak; the Perpendicular font was restored at the cost of Mrs. Summers, wife of the late Rev. Edgar Summers B.D. (d. 1907), head master of Abingdon school 1870-83; on the north side of the nave is the tall mural monument of John Blacknall, a great benefactor to the town, and Jane, his wife, both of whom died on the 21st August, 1625; there are kneeling effigies of both, and the decorations have been renewed; there is also a monument to Walter Dairell esq. recorder of Abingdon, 1628; a marble monument with arms, to the Rev. Thomas Woods M.A. 37 years head master of Abingdon school, d. 1753; a floorstone in the vestry over the grave of the Rev. Henry Bright M.A. also head master, d. 1803; a mural tablet to the Rev. William Smith M.A. rector, and Tesdale usher of Abingdon school, d. 1845; and a small inscribed brass to the Bostock family of Fitzharris, 1669: there are 250 sittings.


Baptist Chapel, Ock Street

The Baptist chapel, in Ock street, is a building in a quasi-Classic style, lying back some distance from the street; the front exhibits four huge pillars supporting a heavy pediment; the chapel, erected in 1841, was completely restored in 1882 at a cost of £750, and has an attached baptistery; further improvements were made in 1893 and 1898, when it was ceiled anew and a new organ provided. In 1902 the adjacent school room was completely restored; extending from the front to the entrance gates next the street is a burial ground: the first foundation of the Baptist cause here was in 1652, but its registers are not earlier than 1764: it has sittings for 650 persons.


Congregational Chapel, The Square

The Congregational chapel in the Square, rebuilt in 1862, in the Italian style, has sittings for about 600; its records date from 1688; part of the old chapel is now used as Sunday school, class rooms and vestries. The chapel and vestry were wholly closed against interments June 27th, 1856.


Primitive Methodist Chapel, Ock Street

The Primitive Methodist chapel, in Ock street, formerly the Wesleyan chapel, is a building of stone, in the Early English style, erected in 1845, from a design by the late Mr. Wilson, architect, of Bath; the font is lighted by a triple lancet window of good design, and is flanked by open turrets with short stone spires: there are sittings for 150 persons.

Trinity Wesleyan Chapel, Albert Park

Trinity Wesleyan chapel, in Albert Park, erected in 1875, is a building in the Decorated style, and consists of chancel, nave, transept, south porch and a tower with broach spire at the north-west angle: there are sittings for 460 persons: adjoining are schools and a chapel keeper's house; on the opposite side is the minister's house; both the chapel and other buildings are of local ragstone with Bath stone dressings and form three sides of a square, laid down in the centre with turf and enclosed by a low wall with open iron work, supported by stone piers.

Roman Catholic

St. Mary and St. Edmund of Canterbury, Oxford Road

The Catholic church on the Oxford road, and dedicated to St. Mary and St. Edmund of Canterbury, is an edifice of stone in the Decorated style, and consists of chancel, clerestoried nave and aisles, lady chapel and transept on the north side, another chapel on the south side, sacristy, and a cloister connecting the church with the presbytery; on the west gable of the chapel is an open bell-cote with one bell; the east window, which displays elegant flowing tracery, is stained, and there are sittings for 300 persons; on the west and north of the church is a cemetery, and beyond are schools of the same material and in the same style, with an open bell-turret surmounted by a shingled spirelet; further to the north, with gardens intervening, is the convent, built of brick with stone dressings, in a plain style and consisting of a central block with wings and a large block in rear; adjoining the south wing is a new chapel of brick with stone dressings in the Lancet style, consisting of a lofty nave of five bays with a slender oak-shingled flèche rising over the east end; both the convent and chapel were erected by the late Sir George Bowyer bart.; the organ was provided in 1890.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Abingdon was in Abingdon Registration District from 1894 to 1974

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Abingdon from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Berkshire is available to browse.


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Newspapers and Periodicals

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Villages, Hamlets, &c

Cholsall or Cholswell

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Berkshire 1532, 1566, and 1665-6 is available online.

DistrictVale of White Horse
RegionSouth East
Postal districtOX14
Post TownAbingdon