History of the FoA (cont)

The informal meetings prior to the inauguration of the Society had rejected the alternative of forming a trust specifically to purchase threatened buildings, but the Mayor suggested the aim of purchasing one site and reconditioning the building on it as an example of what could be done, and mentioned the Abbey Cottages in Thames Street. Little could he have known what the consequences would be during the years to come. It was soon learnt that the derelict Abbey Cottages were threatened with demolition; although not yet actually the subject of a Demolition Order. The newly founded Society began urgent negotiations with the owner of the cottages, Mr W Dockar Drysdale of Wick Hall, and soon after the first General Meeting he offered to sell or lease them. A survey by Mr Walter Godfrey and the Ministry of Works followed, and showed that the cottages (now the Curator’s house and the Unicorn Theatre) were actually domestic buildings remaining from the great abbey, rather than merely being built with abbey stone. By February 1945 the cottages and their gardens had been purchased for £400 and transferred to newly appointed trustees.

This increased the Friends’ interest in the adjoining Checker and Long Gallery, which were held by the Abingdon Municipal Charities and leased to the Borough Council. Although the Borough was willing to transfer the lease to the Friends, neither they nor the Trustees of the Charity could find a copy of the actual lease. In the end, a donation by the Pilgrim Trust enabled the Friends to purchase the Checker, Long Gallery, and the brewery Fuel Store opposite for £450 in February 1946. Another piece of land with a barn, opposite the Checker, was given to the Friends by Morland & Co, the brewers, in October 1945. (The Pilgrim Trust aims to provide initial stimulus and encouragement to a wide range of charitable purposes, using the income from an endowment of some £2 million from Edward Harkness of New York in 1930.)

Shortly after VE-Day, in April 1945, a small enclosed plot of land was given by Mr James Lyell, a solicitor living at The Knowl in Stert Street. This land, described as stable-yard and premises, lay to the north of the Checker. Its sole access was over the car park of the Baptist chapel, a right of way which proved to be a source of trouble for many years. Another small plot of land, immediately to the north of the gardens of the Thames Street cottages and now corresponding roughly to the Friends’ car park, had been the site of a cottage, No 13 The Abbey. The owner, Miss Selina Rogers of Sheen, sold the plot for £30. Abingdon Coaches operated their business from a garage at the bottom of Checker Walk, and had become accustomed to using this derelict land for turning and parking their vehicles. This, too, proved to be a source of trouble for many years.

The final transaction was the gift in 1948 by Mr Dugdale of a cellar running under the easternmost Thames Street cottage, together with an adjoining small garden against the west wall of the Checker. This led to a series of misunderstandings and recriminations later.