Restoration and Maintenance of the Abbey Buildings

Restoration Work

One of the first actions of the newly formed “Friends of Abingdon” was, in 1944, to commence negotiations to save the seven Abbey Cottages in Thames Street which were threatened with demolition. They succeeded in purchasing the properties by February 1945 at the cost of £400.00. Here are some “before and after” pictures:

then-now-unicorn
then-now-thames-frontage
then-now-lower-gallery
then-now-checker
then-now-long-gallery

 

Investigations by the Ministry of Works revealed that the cottages were not, as assumed, constructed from the stones of the old abbey but were in fact actual remains of part of the old abbey itself.

The Friends, over the ensuing years, managed to acquire the adjoining remnants of the abbey by purchase or by gift so that by 1948 they owned the range of what are now the Curators Cottage, the Unicorn Theatre, the Checker and the Long Gallery and adjacent gardens.

In 1945, the immediate priority of The Friends was to make the cottages waterproof and safe and then to convert the first three cottages into accommodation for the curator and the society itself. This was difficult and slow work under the existing wartime conditions of shortages and controls.

A generous grant from The Pilgrims Trust which had funded the purchase of the Checker and the Long Gallery from the Abingdon Municipal Trust also covered some work on the other four cottages and the Checker to enable the creation of a Lecture Hall.

The Long Gallery after restoration

The Long Gallery after restoration

In November 1952 a proposal was agreed to create a theatre in the Checker Hall (the lecture hall) and  much volunteer help, especially from the boys of Radley College, a workable theatre had its first production “Two Angry Women of Abingdon” in Coronation week, June 1953. The Theatre was spartan but as funds generated by its use came in improvements were steadily made and continue to this day making this a well-loved and valued venue for the town.