Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for ABINGDON

ABINGDON, a town, two parishes, a subdistrict, and a district in Berks. The town comprises parts of the two parishes, and is a borough. 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 Great Western, 6 miles by road S of Oxford, and 60¼ by railway W by N of Lon don. It was called originally Scheovesham, softened into Shovesham, and afterwards Abandune, altered into Abingdon. It was a place of note in the time of the Britons, and became a royal residence in the times of the Saxons. 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. 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." Some foundations of its royal palace can still be traced in a meadow on the E side of the bridge. 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 subdued. A sharp practice of its garrison, of hanging all Irish prisoners without trial, gave rise to the proverb of "Abingdon law."

The town consists of several wide streets, diverging from a spacious market-place. The market house is a curious edifice, of ashlar and rough freestone, with a tower erected in 1678. The county prison is a substantial structure, with capacity for 45 male and 16 female prisoners, built in 1812, at a cost of £26,000. The grammar school, founded in 1563 by J. Royse,-was rebuilt outside the town in 1869; has an endowed income of £341; holds five scholarships at Pembroke College, Oxford; and numbers among its pupils Lord Chief Justice Holt Archbishop Newcome, Godwin and Morant, the antiquaries; Holwick, the linguist: and Graves, the author of the "Spiritual Quixote." 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 endowed income of £682. Other charities have £930. 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.

St. Helen's church occupies the site of an ancient nunnery, and was about to be restored in July 1869. 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 A graceful gateway, in the perpendicular style, adjoining St. Nacholas' church, and part of a refectory behind, now used as a stable, 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 was founded in Bagley-wood, in the neighbouring parish of Sunningwell, about the year 680, by Cissa, viceroy of Centurin, King of Wessex; but 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 Independent chapel was built in 1863, and is in the Italian style. The Roman Catholic chapel was built in 1866, at a cost of more than £5,000; and is in the second pointed style.

The borough comprises 289 acres. It received a charter of Queen Mary in 1557. It is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors; it holds a commission of the peace and a court of quarter sessions; it is the seat of summer assizes for Berks; and it sends a member to parliament. The average annual revenue is £750; the amount of taxation in 1859 was £3,759; the number of electors in 1868 was 329. Real property in 1860, £20,425. Pop. in 1851, 5,954; in 1861, 5,680. Houses, 1,189. A large trade is carried on in clothing; and a little is carried on in matting, hemp dressing, and sack and sail-cloth making. A weekly market is held on Monday; a wool fair, on the first Monday in July; a hiring fair, on the Monday before Old Michaelmas day; lamb fairs, on 5 Aug., 19 Sep., and 11 Dec.; and other fairs on the first Monday in Lent, 6 May, and 20 June. Races are run annually, on a 1¼ mile course. The town has a head post office,‡ a talegraph-office, two banking offices, two principal hotels, four dissenting chapels, and a variety of local institutions. 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.

The parish of St. Helen comprises 3,184 acres, and includes the farms of Barton and Pumney, the hamlets of Northcourt and Cholsall, and the townships of Sandford and Shippon. Rated property, £14,342. Pop., 5,958. Houses, 1,214. The parish of St Nicholas comprises 177 acres. Rated property, £2,212. Pop., 742, Houses, 143. The living of St. H. is a vicarage, that of St. N. a rectory, in the dio. of Oxford; and the two are conjoined. Value, £255. Patron, the Bishop of O. The vicarages of Drayton, Sandford, and Shippon are separate benefices.-The subdistrict of Abingdon comprises five parishes and two extra-parochial tracts. Acres, 12,983. Pop., 8,672. houses, 1,789. The district of Abingdon, though all in the registration county of Berks, is partly in the parliamentary county of Oxford. It comprehends the subdistrict of Fyfield, containing the parishes of Kingston-Bagpuize, Fyfield, Tubney, and Appleton, and parts of the parishes of West Hanney and Longworth; the subdistrict of Abingdon, containing the parishes of Marcham, St. Helen, St. Nicholas, Radley, and Suuningwell, and the extra-parochial tracts of Bagley-wood and Chandlings-farm; the subdistrict of Cumnor, containing the parishes of Besselsleigh, Cumnor, Woodden, Wytham, North Hinksey, South Hinksey, and Binsey (the last in Oxfordshire), and the extra-parochial tract of Seacourt; the subdistrict of Sutton-Courteney, containing the parishes of Sutton Courteney, Milton, Drayton, Steventon, and Culham (the last in Oxfordshire); and the subdistrict of Nuneham-Courteney, all in Oxfordshire, and containing the parishes of Sandford, Nuneham-Courteney, Baldon-Marsh, Baldon-Foot, Chiselhampton, Stadhampton, Drayton, and Clifton-Hampden, and parts of the parishes of St. Mary-Oxford and Dorchester. Acres, 56,445. Poor-rates in 1866, £14,319. Pop. in 1841, 18,780; in 1861, 20,861. Houses, 4,328. Marriages in 1866, 162; births, 652,-of which 48 were illegitimate: deaths, 388,-of which 100 were at ages under 5 years, and 18 were at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 1,409; births, 6,940; deaths, 4,911. The places of worship in 1851 were 37 of the Church of England, with 9,073 sittings; 2 of Independents, with 740 s.; 8 of Baptists, with 2,730 s.; 11 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 986 s.; 2 of Primitive Methodists, with 312 s.; and 2 undefined, with 338 s. The schools in 1851 were 27 public day schools, with 1,742 scholars; 33 private day schools, with 768 s.; 43 Sunday schools, with 2,707 s.; and 3 evening schools for adults, with 133 s. The workhouse is in Northcourt hamlet, and was built at a cost of £8,500.


(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, two parishes, a subdistrict, and a district"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Abingdon CP       Abingdon SubD       Abingdon PLU/RegD       Berkshire AncC
Place: Abingdon

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