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Looking Back As Abbot’s Hospital Has Celebrated Its 400th Anniversary

Published on: 21 Nov, 2019
Updated on: 25 Nov, 2019

By Dr Mary Alexander

This summer Abbot’s Hospital has been celebrating the 400th anniversary of its foundation by George Abbot, a native of Guildford, who became Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Hospital of the Blessed Trinity (Abbot’s Hospital) today.

The festivities ended on Sunday, November 17 with a special Evensong in Holy Trinity Church.

Holy Trinity Church in the 1900s. David Rose collection.

Holy Trinity has always been closely involved with the hospital. The rector was one of the five men who appointed the Master of the Hospital, it was dedicated to the Trinity, and on three days a week all the residents had to process two-by-two over the road for morning and evening prayer in the church.

George Abbot.

George Abbot (1562-1633) founded the almshouse with people like his parents in mind – people who had ‘honestly laboured’ and especially those who had been tradesmen and employed others, like his father.

Drunkards, brawlers and those who had begged from door to door were specifically excluded.

There was already provision for them at the old leper hospital, or in parish almshouses, but people of the tradesman class didn’t have such a safety net.

We have no idea if Abbot’s parents fell on hard times in their old age, but George wanted to help those who had, and who had helped the town during their working lives.

There were to be 12 men and eight women, aged 60 or more, and unmarried. Was George thinking of his own bachelor state?

In fact, this was unrealistic as most people married, and the residents were almost all widows or widowers.

It was on April 6, 1619 that George Abbot laid the first stone.

Six brother and four sisters were admitted at first, and it took a few years to get the full complement.

A resident of Abbot’s Hospital pictured in the early 1900s. David Rose collection.

Of the men, George Burges was a glazier, Gregory Frye a butcher and Robert Kitchener a shearman (finishing woollen cloth).

Richard Butcher’s and John Rapley’s trades are not known, but all the men had been married with children.

Richard Pardey was still married, but because he had served Abbot’s parents he was given the weekly allowance, and lived outside the hospital.

The women were all widows. Incidentally, when they were buried the parish clerk often left a blank for the women’s Christian name in the register – clearly they were called Widow Rapley, or Widow Heath etc during their life, whereas the men were called by their full name.

Residents of Abbot’s Hospital in their traditional gowns.

The residents were given a weekly allowance, their room and food, and a thick woollen gown every two years. This would be a welcome warm outer garment.

Coal or charcoal was also provided, and four celebrations a year at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and the Founder’s birthday, October 29.

There was a garden at the back where fruit and vegetables were grown.

It is likely that the residents cooked together in the hospital kitchen, or rather, that some of the women did this.

There was a communal room where they could eat, sit, drink and smoke clay tobacco pipes.

Two women were appointed as nurses to look after the others.

A procession from Abbot’s Hospital to Holy Trinity Church in 1919 commemorating its 300th anniversary.

Naturally, things have changed over the years, but Abbot’s Hospital still provides a safe haven for the elderly in Guildford.

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