The Abbess Adelicia Charity

The Abbess Adelicia Charity
According to Pevsner’s Edition of The Buildings of Essex 1140 (King Stephen) was the foundation
date for the Hospital at Ilford, which is confirmed in the Victoria History of the County of Essex by
reference to a list preserved in the Ashmolean Library in Oxford although, according to Morant’s
History of Essex it was during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) when the Abbess of Barking
Convent was Adelicia; she founded a Hospital at Ilford originally intended as an asylum for leprous
tenants or servants of her religious community. Early on there was a secular master, two chaplains
and a clerk, a leprous master and 13 brethren lepers. The Hospital was endowed by the Abbess
with considerable land, houses, quit rents and tithes mainly in the 4 Parishes of Barking, East
Ham, Great Ilford and Little Ilford. Initially the Hospital Chapel was dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin
but later was also dedicated to St. Thomas Becket whose sister – Mary Becket – became Abbess of
Barking in succession to Adelicia.
When The Crown seized all monastic premises (Barking Abbey in 1539) the Hospital continued to
operate as before and under Edward VI (1550) there is a note recorded that only 1 priest and 2
poor men were present.
In 1572 Queen Elizabeth granted the Hospital to Thomas Fanshawe, Remembrancer in the
Exchequer, and his heirs for ever including the patronage, advowson and free disposition of The
Hospital of The Blessed Mary, Thomas Fanshawe to appoint in future a Master or Keeper of the
Hospital, to keep the Chapel and buildings repaired and maintained as well as providing 4 extra
dwellings for four poor people in addition to the two existing dwellings, with an obligation to
maintain six in number at all times and to give and pay annually to those six poor people a stipend
of 45 shillings ‘ at the usual feasts ‘. Also Thomas Fanshawe covenanted for himself and
successors to appoint a competent Priest to celebrate every Sunday and Feast Day the divine
services and offices for all persons there coming according to law. It was later recorded that the
owners for the time being were permitted to receive all the rents and profits from the extensive
Hospital estates once the stipend of the poor and of the Priest had been paid.
In 1668 (Charles II) the Fanshawe Family signed over ownership to one Thomas Allen and
ownership thereafter passed through several hands until owned in 1739 by Sir Crisp Gascoyne,
Lord Mayor of London; then to his grandson Bamber Gascoyne whose daughter inherited but then
in 1821 married The Marquess of Salisbury in whose family ownership remained from 1830 to
1982. According to a Decree of The Court of Chancery during the reign of George IV (1820-1830)
so long as the owner fulfilled his financial obligations towards the poor residents and to the
Chaplain as well as keeping the Chapel and other buildings in repair Lord Salisbury was free to
appropriate all surplus revenue (and to dispose of land) to his own personal use – which he
continued to do until all the endowed land was finally disposed of.
In 1927 increased road traffic resulted in the need to widen Ilford Hill which involved the complete
reconstruction of the Almshouses and The Chaplain’s House. The new buildings in Jacobean style
were set back to widen the Courtyard and so looked much older than the 90 years since
reconstruction. At the end of The 1939-45 War Lord Salisbury had disposed of the last of all the
endowments initially provided in mediaeval years and so the Ilford premises were simply an
expense, so he looked about for some means of disposing of the Hospital Chapel site.
In 1966 I had created in Chelmsford the very first Housing Association in Essex (Chelmer Housing
Association) to provide homes for unsupported mothers with infant children, the need for which had
been seen at the maternity unit at St. John’s Hospital in Chelmsford. I had invited Canon Ted
Finch, the Vice-Provost at The Cathedral and responsible for Moral Welfare work in the Diocese, to
become one of my Trustees. Then Shelter wrote inviting me to form a second Housing Association
for Essex offering an annual Grant of £5000 for 2 years to help to get a Scheme ‘ up and running ‘.
My Chelmer colleagues were disinclined to be further involved so Canon Ted Finch and I decided
to form what became a strong ecumenical Housing venture under the name of Springboard
Housing Association which over the next 30 years and more managed to build or convert over
5000 residential units.
In late 1970 Lord Salisbury, still then retaining ownership of the Ilford Hospital Chapel premises,
approached the Diocese of Chelmsford with a proposal that ownership be transferred to The
Diocese. The Diocese immediately declined to consider this opportunity. Canon Ted Finch, by
reason of his position at The Cathedral, learned of the offer and refusal, decided that such an
opportunity should be investigated so he contacted me to propose that I work out how to take
advantage of the offer. So I made contact with Lord Salisbury’s Agent at Hatfield House, arranged
a meeting with The Charity Commission’s in-house lawyer from whom I learned of the various
proposals successively put forward by The Marquess all of which The Charity Commission had
declined to sanction because of the absence of any endowment to safeguard the ancient buildings
So I had further negotiations resulting in Lord Salisbury finally agreeing to provide £60,000,
£10,000 to immediate, urgent repair work to the Buildings and £50,000 as a permanent
endowment. The body needed to take over responsibility from Lord Salisbury had to be a legal
Charity so I set about creating such a Charity which I named Abbess Adelicia in honour of that
Abbess who created the Hospital in the reign of King Stephen nearly 850 years earlier. The Charity
Commission lawyer required that there be 4 Trustees, 3 to be termed Co-Optatative and to serve
for 5 years initially and 1 as Chairman and ex-officio being the Diocesan Bishop as it was said that
this would ensure that the Hospital Chapel continue as an Anglican establishment.
When these preliminary steps had been settled I arranged for a Deed of Conveyance to be drawn
up which was signed on 30th June 1982 by the Sixth Marquess of Salisbury, his son (Viscount
Cranbourne) and the Gascoyne Cecil Estates Company as Trustees by which there was conveyed
the freehold of The Ilford Hospital Chapel and the Almshouses held therewith to The first Trustees
of the newly created Abbess Adelicia Charity namely Bishop John Waine, Canon Ted Finch and
two brothers – George and James Mathieson, prominent Churchmen of Woodford Green. Later,
and following the death of George Mathieson and the retirement of James Mathieson I was invited
to become a Trustee in 1990 and, following a new Scheme sealed by The Charity Commission on
5th February 1997 to eliminate the need for future ex-officio Trustee I was appointed Chairman of
the 4 Co-Optative Trustees serving renewable 5-year terms. By 2005 it had become obvious that
the current Almshouse dwellings had become unsuitable. A Scheme was drawn up for a complete
rehabilitation; as no Chaplain had been resident for the previous 45 years The Chaplain’s House
was adopted for 4 flats and the existing 6 flats were made into 3 flats, a total of 7 flats. The
Scheme was costed at £688,000 towards which The London Borough of Redbridge made a
generous Grant of £280,000 in return for being permitted to have ‘ Nomination Options ‘ while with
help from Springboard Housing Association with which close ties remained the balance of
£408,000 was borrowed. Repayment of that loan was to come from the residents’ weekly
contributions secured by a Mortgage Deed dated 31st March 2006 in favour of Springboard
Housing Association which subsequently was absorbed into Genesis Housing Association which
now manages the residential flats on behalf of the Trustees of Abbess Adelicia.
During all these negotiations there had come into existence a body known as The Friends of The
Chapel which has subsequently become a registered Charity. The aim of The Friends is to support
financially and in other ways the upkeep of The Chapel and to work harmoniously with The Abbess
Adelicia Charity Trustees. An ancient Norman window was discovered and thanks to our Architect
we secured the re-Listing of our mediaeval Chapel as the oldest building in the London Borough as
Grade II* for which English Heritage financial support has been obtained.