History of the FoA (cont)

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 two objectives:

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

An Inaugural Meeting was held on 4th May 1944, in the Great Council Chamber. The Chairman was the Mayor, and the Member of Parliament for the Abingdon Division of Berkshire, Sir Ralph Glyn, was among the 113 persons present. The meeting confirmed the name and objects of the new society, and appointed a provisional committee to draw up rules and suggest a programme of activities.

The formation of the Friends of Abingdon took place against the wartime background of preparations for the assault on the Normandy beaches on 6th June, and the V1 “flying bomb” attacks on London.

The first General Meeting was held on 13th July 1944. The rules were adopted. Mr A T Lloyd, the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, was elected as President, and Mr A H Emden, Principal of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, as Vice-President. The officers elected at the meeting included the Mayor as Chairman, Mrs Ursula Liversidge as Vice-Chairman, and Miss Agnes C Baker as Secretary.

The Abbey

Several of the original members of the Executive Committee were to exert great influence on the new Society. Mr Walter H Godfrey, an eminent architectural historian and architect whose speciality was the restoration of old buildings, supported the Friends both with regard to the abbey buildings and to local conservation issues, until his death in 1961. Mr Austin C Longland KC guided the organisation of the Society from the beginning, particularly in the long period when he was Chairman. Miss Agnes Baker had supervised the excavation of the site of the abbey church and cloisters, and also maintained strong links with local history and amateur dramatics.

It was agreed that the Society should be affiliated to the Central Council of Civic Societies. A lecture, exhibition and visit were proposed as future activities. Concern was expressed about the future of the burnt-out clothing factory in West St Helen Street, and about the provision of ladders at St Helen’s church so that prompt action could be taken against incendiary bombs. The society had thus been launched with an Executive Committee of some standing and experience, and showed an immediate concern for practical matters in the town.