The History of The Friends of Abingdon

In 1944, when the Friends of Abingdon was born, Abingdon was a small country town with many older properties showing the effects of neglect during two wars and the intervening years of economic depression.

As in other similar towns, some buildings of architectural or historic interest had already been demolished or condemned. A survey in 1943 had listed many sites in Abingdon which had been cleared or were proposed for clearance, and so there was a real risk that inappropriate buildings might be erected on sensitive sites. Out of this situation grew the Friends of Abingdon, as a civic amenities society which celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2009.

The Early Years

old-buildings-framed

The buildings suffering from years of neglect

Much of this informal history is taken from Dick Barnes’ excellent “History of the Society 1944 – 1994” (which contains more detail and is still available from the Society in printed form). The book records in some detail the foundation of the Society and its early years, and then follows through various topics which link the Friends’ activities during those 60 years. It is mainly a selection from the wealth of material in the archives of the Society – the minutes of Annual General Meetings and Committee Meetings, Annual Reports, newspaper cuttings, and the title deeds of the buildings of Abingdon Abbey which the Society has conserved and put to use. The abbreviated forms “the Friends” and “the Society” are used, as appropriate, to refer to “The Friends of Abingdon”. The Society’s civic amenities activities have taken place against a background of change in Abingdon: the near quadrupling of the population from c.9000 to c.34,000; the transfer of the town from Berkshire to Oxfordshire; and the replacement of the Borough Corporation by Abingdon Town Council within the Vale of White Horse District.

Two informal meetings in March 1944, chaired by the Mayor (Mr J L Etty), prepared a proposal for a society to be called The Friends of Abingdon, with the objects:

  1. To arouse in all people of Abingdon and neighbourhood a lively and practical interest in the town and its setting;
  2. To help preserve what is best worth retaining amongst its old buiIdings and to encourage new buildings worthy of its civic tradition and character.