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Townland Governors

07 townland governors

Townland Governors
By Steve Trinder

The track can be heard here: Townland Governors

More information about Steve Trinder can be found here: Steve's Twitter profile
More information about Townland Governors can be found here: Wantage almshouses

The text is as follows:
cI am Stephen Trinder, and I came to Wantage in 1966, when my father Alan bought Clegg's the Chemist in Newbury Street. I have lived a life since then but chose to return in 2010 as Wantage is a wonderful Town, surrounded by beautiful countryside. I have now been Mayor twice in 2016 and 2017 and am President of the King Alfred's Scout Group. Another voluntary role I have taken on is that of Chair of the Wantage Townland's Governors.

The Townland's Governors are a Charity, and their objects are the upkeep of Almshouses, currently eighteen in number, and their surroundings to offer affordable homes for people in reasonable health who are in need. The aim is to provide for residents of at least 60 years of age who have close connections with Wantage.

For me the most amazing fact about the Townland Governors is that they were first documented in an Act of Parliament in Queen Elizabeth the First's reign in 1597. The Charter document is now held at the Berkshire records office in Reading, but I do wonder if we should reclaim it for the Vale and Downland Museum?

Along with the Charter is the seal of the Townland Governors. The Act said The Governors were to be a body politic in deed and in name, and were to have a Common Seal. A copy of the original was made around 1920, and it is still used today to emboss official documents.

The Act of Parliament set out that there should be twelve Governors to run the affairs of the Town Lands, and that they should be from 'the better sort of the inhabitants of Wantage'. This sprung from the questionable behaviour of persons dealing with the Town's affairs in the past.

Through time, many people donated land and money to the Townland Governors, and the history of this is recorded in the book Pupils, Potholes and Poor Relief by Hazel Brown. This book was preceded by another good read, Wantage Past and Present from 1901.

With regard to the history of the Townland Governors another favourite part for me is the record of William Trinder being involved from 1832 to 1849. He was a Butcher in the Town, and a great philanthropist, being buried in the Chancel of St Peter and Paul's Church, and the large East window in the Church is dedicated to his memory. The Trinder coat of arms hangs on the wall.

Originally, the income from the Town Lands was supposed to have been used to relieve the poor, to maintain the Grammar School and to keep the highways in good repair. Alms-houses were created to provide accommodation for the less well off, and the occupants were also given an allowance to support them. Over time, the land, properties and donations were managed in various ways, and we now have 10 Alms-houses in Eagles Close, and 8 in Mill Street. Eagles Close was completed in 1867, on land donated by Thomas Fewson Eagles. The Mill Street houses were built between 1868 and 1871.

One if the original rules regulating their occupancy stated 'It is expected that the Houses and Gardens will be kept in good order and that the tenants will look upon them as God's gift to enable them to pass their declining days in freedom from anxiety and earthly cares, and to prepare to meet Him in eternity'.

The Governors now maintain the houses through a Clerk appointed to oversee their upkeep, and the welfare of the residents, who rather than receiving an allowance, now have to pay maintenance contributions. The properties are protected as grade 2 listed buildings, and both rows are a delight to behold, and are carefully looked after by their occupants. Both sites are well worth a visit if you happen to be passing, bearing in mind of course that the gardens are private, and not for public access.

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