Behind St Helens Church are some splendid almshouses which were built to house some of Abingdon's old and poor. Long Alley Almshouses are incredible and got their name for the obvious reason that they are looooooonng and have a splendid covered walkway across the front, filled with religious sayings and scriptures on the wall.
The Long Alley Almshouses were built in 1446/7 and added to during the early 1600's. There is a metal plaque with historical information, located on the wall to the south. As far as I can see, people still live in the almshouses, therefore if you want to grab a photo opportunity try and respect their privacy.
Opposite are some more 'modern' almshouses, named after Charles Twitty who bequeathed the massive sum of £1700 for their construction in 1707.
St Helens Church, with its tall spire, is hard to miss on the skyline. With five aisles it is also the second widest church in England and is wider than it is long. The current church first appeared in the late 1100's and the fifth and final aisle was completed in the 1530's. You can imagine what an important church it was at that time!
St Helens has its fair share of interesting memorial stones, furnishings and paintings. The wodden pulpt dates from 1630 and the casework of the organ dates from 1726. Evidently the church increased in importance after Abingdon Abbey was sacked by Henry VIII in 1538. For this reason Kate, the wife of the Abbey's final steward John Audlett, paid for the construction of the final fifth aisle and the couple's initials are visible high up on the south wall.
The church is open regularly and has a team of friendly and helpful church wardens, as well as a stall selling leaflets, postcards and souvenirs. Whn I last visited there was an art exhibition taking place in the church. The altar was recently moved to the centre of the building and performances of various kinds are held here regularly.
Every Saturday afternoon, weather permitting, the roof of Abingdon Town Hall is open to the public. There are great views across the town to the Oxfordshire countryside and River Thames.
Admission is 1 GBP for adults and children go free. Pay at the counter in the Museum on the first floor.
Well worth the price if you get the chance!
There were only two people up there when I visited, but there is a maximum of 10 allowed at one time, so on a busy day you will have to wait.
STOP PRESS: Building closed for refurbishment until Spring 2012
It is not recommended you ask English women to see their baps, unless they are very good friends. A slap in the face often offends :-)
However, if you ask the nice ladies at Abingdon Museum to show you their buns, they will be delighted to do so. They will take you across the room to a cabinet full of ancient bakery products. And give you a leaflet!!
Abingdon has a long tradition of throwing buns from the roof of the Town Hall for special occasions. They have a selection of old buns, dating back to 1760.
The museum also has a variety of other artefacts and displays. If you ask the ladies to show you their chest, they will take you to their C13th carved wooden casket. There are many interesting historical and archaelogical finds here and also lots of information particularly for children.
The museum on the first floor of the Town Hall. It is open 7 days a week 10.30am to 4pm. Admission is FREE. There is also a large gift shop, tea and coffee available.
STOP PRESS: Museumn closed for refurbishment until Spring 2012
Both in October the Michaelmas Fair was a hiring fair when workers sold themselves into a years work bond.The Runaway Fair a week later was when workers who had runaway from hard masters would re-sell themselves.
Link here to last years Michaemas Fair
Abingdon fair 2006
Web site below for events over the whole year.
The monastery founded in 670 A.D. at Abbandun (Hill of Ebba) was moved to the present site in 695 A.D. In the Domesday book of 1086 it states that the Abbot of Abingdon was only second in landholdings in Berkshire after the King.
Under Aethelwold and Abbot Faritivs it became one of the most scholarly and wealthy monasteries in England.
In the 14th century the local people rebelled against the Abbeys' control of the burial rights and local markets and torched the Abbey.
Henry VIII stayed at the Abbey in 1518 with then wife Catherine of Aragon,later he demolished it and removed much of the stone work.
Todays ruins are a sham and were put up in the 1920's known as Trendell's Folly but the foundations are still buried underneath the grounds.
There are still several old Abbey buildings surviving the 13th century Exchequer building with its fine chimney and long gallery (c1500)next to it being the best,link shows some pictures.
For links to a more detailed history look in my Abingdon introduction.
Long Alley is definately the best of the three Almshouses.
Built in 1446 by the Fraternity of the Holy Cross,the cloistered walk was added in 1605 and the Lantern in 1707.
Depictions from the bible adorn the outside of the cloister,above the gates.
Christ's Hospital took over from the guild in 1553.
Twitty's was built in 1707 and Brick Alley in 1718.
Sorry the picture of Twitty's is out of focus but you can just about make out the words.
It says Charles Twitty gave 1700 pounds for the building and maintenance in perpetuity.
Parts of the building date back to the 13th century but it is believed that 6th-7th century foundations lie underneath.
When the townsfolk revolted against the Abbey in 1327 it was their rallying point and the bells their call to action.
In the surrounding grounds are the Almshouses,Long Alley being the best.
The church was home to the Medieval Parish Guilds and they each had their own chapel hence the church is wider than it is long.
The Fraternity of the Holy Cross was one of the guilds and built the Abingdon and Culham bridges,also the Long Alley Almshouses in 1446.
Years ago only the elite burgesses were allowed to vote for the Mayor,so the townsfolk in 1700 decided to elect their own mock mayor to lead the Ock street Morris dancers.
On the nearest saturday to the summer solstice they meet once again to carry on the tradition.
Nothing is left from Abingdon Abbey, except for the 13th century Exchequer, or Checker building on Thames Street.
After King Henry VIII sacked the Abbey, it was used as a cheap source of building materials by the towns folk!
However, the Checker is a lovely collection of old buildings and, in my view, the symbol of Abingdon. The tall thing that looks like a tower is actually a very rare 13th century chimney. There is also a grand timbered hall, the size of a small barn!
Sometimes part of the building is used as the Unicorn Theatre, in which case you can pay the admission and see a play.
From Tuesday to Sunday, 2-4pm, the Checker Buildings are open to the public, admission £1 for adults.
Abingdon Market Place has a long history. It has been the site of the regular Monday Market since at least 1328 and regularly without a break since 1556.
It was the site of a 50' high stone Market Cross, which was torn down by Roundhead soldiers in the English Civil War (the towns around Oxford were loyal to the King).
More recently it had a statute to Queen Victoria, which was later moved to the Abbey Gardens, I guess in the 1960's.
These days the Market Place is a pleasant enough spot to sit beneath a tree and eat your sandwiches, or people-watch. A bit noisy with the traffic, but a warm sheltered sun-trap on a bright day. You have a wonderful view of the County Hall and St Nicholas's Church.
It could really do with somewhere nice indoors to have food, or a coffee. At the moment all you have is "La Baguette", a sandwich and cake cafe, which is cheap, though it has some nice exposed ceiling beams.
Close to the centre of town,so easy to pop into and get some information and on the way to the Abbey grounds.
Open everyday from April to October,November to March closed on Sundays.
The Hospitium or guesthouse originally built in 1130,subsequently became the town's council chambers and was altered in 1731.
Sorry my pictures don't do it justice.
Didn't get a chance to look in,in the 2 hours i had in town but looks an interesting place to visit.