1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abingdon
ABINGDON, a market town and municipal borough in the Abingdon parliamentary division of Berkshire, England, 6 m. S. of Oxford, the terminus of a branch of the Great Western railway from Radley. Pop. (1901) 6480. It lies in the fiat valley of the Thames, on the west (right) bank, where the small river Ock flows in from the Vale of White Horse. The church of St Helen stands near the river, and its fine Early English tower with Perpendicular spire is the principal object in the pleasant views of the town from the river. The body of the church, which has five aisles, is principally Perpendicular. The smaller church of St Nicholas is Perpendicular in appearance, though parts of the fabric are older. Of a Benedictine abbey there remain a beautiful Perpendicular gateway, and ruins of buildings called the prior’s house, mainly Early English, and the guest house, with other fragments. The picturesque narrow-arched bridge over the Thames near St Helen’s church dates originally from 1416. There may be mentioned further the old buildings of the grammar school, founded in 1563, and of the charity called Christ’s Hospital (1583); while the town-hall in the market-place, dating from 1677, is attributed to Inigo Jones. The grammar school now occupies modern buildings, and ranks among the lesser public schools of England, having scholarships at Pembroke College, Oxford. St Peter’s College, Radley, 2 m. from Abingdon, is one of the principal modern public schools. It was opened in 1847. The buildings lie close to the Thames, and the school is famous for rowing, sending an eight to the regatta at Henley each year. Abingdon has manufactures of clothing and carpets and a large agricultural trade. The borough is under a mayor, four aldermen and twelve councillors. Area, 730 acres.
Abingdon (Abbedun, Abendun) was famous for its abbey, which was of great wealth and importance, and is believed to have been founded in A.D. 675 by Cissa, one of the subreguli of Centwin. Abundant charters from early Saxon monarchs are extant confirming various laws and privileges to the abbey; and the earliest of these, from King Ceadwalla, was granted before A.D. 688. In the reign of Alfred the abbey was destroyed by the Danes, but it was restored by Edred, and an imposing list of possessions in the Domesday survey evidences recovered prosperity. William the Conqueror in 1084 celebrated Easter at Abingdon, and left his son, afterwards Henry I., to be educated at the abbey. After the dissolution in 1538 the town sank into decay, and in 1555, on a representation of its pitiable condition, Queen Mary granted a charter establishing it as a free borough corporate with a common council consisting of a mayor, two bailiffs, twelve chief burgesses, and sixteen secondary burgesses, the mayor to be clerk of the market, coroner and a justice of the peace. The council was empowered to elect one burgess to parliament, and this right continued until the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885. A town clerk and other officers were also appointed, and the town boundaries described in great detail. Later charters from Elizabeth, James I., James II., George II. and George III. made no considerable change. James II. changed the style of the corporation to that of a mayor, twelve aldermen and twelve burgesses. The abbot seems to have held a market from very early times, and charters for the holding of markets and fairs were granted by various sovereigns from Edward I. to George II. In the 13th and 14th centuries Abingdon was a flourishing agricultural centre with an extensive trade in wool, and a famous weaving and clothing manufacture. The latter industry declined before the reign of Queen Mary, but has since been revived.
The present Christ’s Hospital originally belonged to the Gild of the Holy Cross, on the dissolution of which Edward VI. founded the hospital under its present name.
See Victoria County History, Berkshire; Joseph Stevenson, Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon, A.D. 201–1189 (Rolls Series, 2 vols., London, 1858).