BAS Walking Tour of Abingdon

Saturday, 16th July 2022

On Saturday 16th July 2022 nine members of BAS were led on what turned out to be a nearly 2 hour walk by Kevin Thomson and his colleague Mike of “Walk.About.Abingdon” (www.walkaboutabingdon.org.uk). This is now a charitable venture, so our £10 contributions went straight to local charities. We were also joined at intervals by 2 then 4 foreign tourists which made Kevin’s efforts worthwhile without making the group cumbersome. Kevin is very knowledgeable and has a head full of dates. The early archaeology of the town is hidden below ground so our tour began with the Saxon abbey.

We started at the Guildhall and the adjoining gate into the former abbey grounds. The abbey itself was so thoroughly dismantled after the Dissolution that it can only be traced by lines of bricks in the very attractive park. What look like standing remains are in fact a folly built by Edwin Trendell in 1780 to enhance the view from his new “Abbey House”. Fortunately, some original buildings survive adjacent to the mill stream which diverts from the Thames. These included a granary – now the Unicorn Theatre – and the impressive Long Gallery – once a monastery dormitory. Some impressive medieval wall paintings survive on the gable of one of the dividing partitions. Sadly, the large mill buildings, until recently the Upper Reaches Hotel, have been abandoned and are decaying fast.

Back in the town centre we saw the school built by John Roysse in 1563. It cost £63, is 63 feet long and housed 63 scholars! 

More medieval paintings could be seen on the ceiling of a chapel in St Helen’s Church, a short walk towards the southwestern end of the town centre. These trace the family tree of Christ from his ancestor, Jesse. The church itself is unusual in possessing 5 aisles. It would perhaps have had more if the river was not so close! Around the corner on the gable end of one of several alms-houses is a framed 17th century painting showing the now destroyed Abingdon Cross.

We then retraced our steps back to the impressive neo-classical Market Hall, now home to the Abingdon Museum, passing the house where Charles I stayed and further up, the oldest house in Abingdon. By this time, we were tired and hungry so headed to the nearest pub for an enjoyable lunch! Many thanks to Kevin and all those who attended.

report by Tim Lloyd, photos by Simon Cains

Exploring the archaeology, history and heritage of Berkshire