Explore Historic Abingdon in Ten Bites

1. Coral Reef

Abingdon, 150 million years ago. Imagine a warm, shallow sea here where we live in Abingdon!. Calcium carbonate secreted by millions of tiny corals (marine invertebrates) in this sea grow into a large coral reef, which down through the eons is laid down, crushed and becomes Coral Rag, Abingdon’s only local stone. Fast forward millions of years to medieval Abingdon and this stone is quarried and used, in part, to build the town’s great buildings – including the Abbey Church, St Nicolas’ Church and St Helen’s Church.

2. The Oldest Town

Recent excavations have shown that Abingdon-on-Thames has been continually inhabited back through Roman times, back through Iron Age times and can be traced to a settlement that existed more than 3000 years ago. Even before that, as far back as 6500BC, large ‘Thames Picks’, (a kind of Mesolithic axe), have been found in The Wilsham Road area. So Abingdon is the oldest inhabited town in Britain!

3. Time Machine

If we had a time machine and could go back to late 12th century Abingdon, we wouldn’t get lost. The buildings may have changed, but the street lay-outs haven’t altered a great deal. So, in the 21st century, Abingdon-on-Thames is still basically a medieval town.

4. Abingdon Abbey

Abingdon Abbey was the fifth richest Abbey (and 863 years old) at the time of the dissolution by Henry VIII, and according to old documents was founded around AD 675, when a local prince called Hean set up a monastery. It was the second abbey in size and status to Westminster.

5 “Splendid and Precious”

In 1965 the Council for British Archaeology published a list of towns in Britain with historic centres that were considered to be worth preservation and that needed most careful treatment in any planning or redevelopment proposals. Of the 324 towns on this list, 51 were considered to be of special importance and their centres “so splendid and so precious that ultimate responsibility for them should be a national concern”. Abingdon-on-Thames was one of those shortlisted.

6 A Royal Favourite

The Abbey’s growing importance can be seen in the fact that William the Conqueror visited the Abbey in 1084 to celebrate Easter, and left his son, the future King Henry I, to be educated there.
Early in his reign, in 1518, Henry Vlll (1509-1547) and his first wife Catherine of Aragon spent a few weeks including Easter at the Abbey when escaping the ‘plague’ in London. His sister Mary who he called the French Queen was one of his guests. In those days the capital of the country was wherever the King was! He loved the place. 20 years and 2 wives later he destroyed it!

7 Magna Carta

King John (1199-1216) was a frequent visitor to Abingdon Abbey. One occasion was in July 1215, one month after he had sealed under oath, the Magna Carta. He appreciated the excellent hospitality and had a relationship of trust and friendship with Abbot Hugh.

8 St Edmund of Abingdon

Abingdon’s greatest son, St. Edmund of Abingdon was educated at the Abbey and became the first Doctor of Divinity of Oxford University, before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 1234. He was born on 20 November 1175, exactly 300 years to the day after St.Edmund, the East Anglian king, had been murdered by the Vikings. His life was one of self-sacrifice and devotion to others. He was canonised in 1247.

9 Agincourt

In the early 1400’s the Fraternity of the Holy Cross built bridges across the Thames at Abingdon and Culham with a causeway in-between. This put Abingdon on the main road to London and increased Abingdon's importance as an important centre of the wool trade.
In 1416, the year after his victory at Agincourt, Henry V is said to have commissioned the building of the Abingdon’s bridges –
“King Harry the fyfthe in his fourthe yere, Hath i-founded for his folk a brige in Berkshire”

10 And……..of course Throwing Buns!

The Coronation of King George III in 1761 (he came to the throne in 1760) was the first recorded civic occurrence of the unique Abingdon tradition of bun throwing, which still happens to this day, and attracts huge crowds on royal occasions. Councillors and freemen climb the steps to the County Hall Museum roof, and then throw currant buns down at the people gathered below. Some are caught and eaten. Others are kept as souvenirs.
The Museum has buns from many previous ‘bun throwing’s’. The earliest dates from 1887 and was part of celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

By Kevin Thomson Walk.About.Abingdon