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Abingdon Buildings and People Glossary



Technical term for the group of allies, associates and followers that a medieval magnate can call upon for support. These normally include but are not limited to his relatives by blood or marriage.


Amyce's survey


A survey produced by Roger Amyce in 1554 which listed all landed properties in Abingdon with their current owners or lessees, and their rental values. It was one of a series that covered all of Berkshire.




The religious doctrine embraced by extreme Calvinists that rejects the need to obey the Old Testament moral law in order to gain salvation. It follows from their views of predestination. If the elect are free of the guilt of sin, their salvation does not depend on personal behaviour. Equally, the non-elect cannot gain salvation through good deeds.


Having the right to bear heraldic arms. A sign of belonging to the gentry class, implying a readiness to accept various social and civic duties.


Ashlar stone


Stone blocks with smooth faces and square edges laid in horizontal courses.


Assize of Bread


A regular meeting of local magistrates to control the price of bread sold in the local market. Generally obsolete by 1800, but still in use in Abingdon (and Oxford).


A title of honour (but not of nobility) introduced by James I in 1611 as a money-raising device. A baronet would have all the advantages of knighthood, but would take precedence over simple knights and the title could descend to his heirs. Originally valued at the cost of thirty soldiers for three years, the price soon dropped sharply.


Style of architecture adopted in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in England and characterised by three-dimensional large-scale decoration and the use of classical elements. It took a different form in other European countries, where the use of curved surfaces was particularly characteristic of the style.




In general, a freeman of a town; in relation to Parliament, a member sitting for a borough, not for a county.


Soldiers armed with a long-handled battle-axe, used for guarding the regimental standard and in pursuit of a fleeing enemy.


an index to a series of historical documents, with a summary of each item.

Canon Law  

The body of law dealing with ecclesiastical causes. It was usually practised as a branch of civil law, distinct from common law and equity.




A religious institution whose purpose was chanting masses for the dead.  Also the building, part of a church, or an altar endowed and dedicated for this use.




A legal document that creates a corporation, in the general sense of a legal entity that can make contracts.


Christ’s Hospital of Abingdon


A charity set up under government auspices in 1553. It took on most of the functions of the Fraternity of the Holy Cross that had been dissolved five years earlier, and was given properties as endowment. It still exists.


Collar purlin


A horizontal timber in a crown-post roof running beneath the collars of the roof trusses to prevent racking (qv). The collars can be pegged to the collar purlin or rest on it so that movement is prevented by friction. Also known as a crown plate.

Commission of the Peace  

The body of magistrates (justices of the peace) for a particular place and time. When sitting, also known as ‘the Bench’.


Common-rafter roof 



An early type of medieval timber roof structure comprising pairs of identically-sized rafters held in place only by the weight of the roof covering (slates, tiles, thatch). The lack of any horizontal timbers meant that the rafter pairs were prone to tipping over (racking), a problem later solved by the use of a collar purlin (qv).


(as in Abingdon Corporation)Corporation was an earlier name for what is now called a town council.

Court of Augmentations  

An institution set up in 1536 to administer the properties that came to the Crown by the dissolution of the monasteries and guilds. In modern terms, it was both a government ministry and a court of law.


Wing of a building at right angles to the main structure.


Crown-post roof


A type of medieval roof structure in which the earlier common-rafter roof (qv) was improved by the introduction of a collar purlin (qv) supported at intervals by crown posts standing on tie-beams (qv).


Underground water channel.




Also known as nonconformists. They were (and are) Protestants outside the Church of England. ‘Old Dissent’ includes Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers; ‘New Dissent’ the various varieties of Methodism.




The monasteries and abbeys, including Abingdon Abbey, were dissolved in the late 1530s, and their properties taken over by Henry VIII. Chantries and guilds, including the Fraternity of the Holy Cross in Abingdon, followed a decade later in the reign of Edward VI.


In feudal practice, to grant someone a landed estate from which he could provide soldiers whenever required to do so.


A trustee, holding property on behalf of an unchartered institution.


– see Guild.


Fraternity of the Holy Cross


The Fraternity of the Holy Cross was one of the two medieval guilds or fraternities in Abingdon for which we have documentary evidence.  It was already well-established by 1441 when it was granted a royal charter which imposed on it certain civic duties, such as bridge maintenance and the care for the poor, but also enabled it to assume some of the more general functions of a town council.




Originally, one who has the right to carry on a business in a town, and the duty to take on a civic function if asked.


The triangular upper part of the wall at the end of a pitched roof. 


Gauged (of bricks)


Bricks that have been cut or rubbed to an accurate size and shape, as in, for example, fine brickwork using slightly wedge-shaped bricks at the tops of rectangular or rounded window or door openings.


Style characterised by pointed arches and ribbed vaults allowing larger windows and doors than were possible with round-arched Norman openings. Used in England from the late twelfth century and developed into the sixteenth.  Revived in the nineteenth century as the Victorian Gothic style.


An eighteenth century architectural and decorative style employing pointed arches and other features of medieval Gothic, as well as elements of Chinoiserie and other exotic fashions.  Architects often copied these from pattern books and deployed them individualistically for effect.  The style is sometimes called Strawberry Hill Gothic after perhaps its most famous English exemplar.


Guild of Our Lady


The Guild of Our Lady was one of the two medieval guilds or fraternities in Abingdon for which we have documentary evidence.  It built the Lady Chapel in St Helen’s Church and commissioned its painted ceiling. 


Guild or Fraternity


Guilds or fraternities were medieval associations which existed in all towns and many villages. They were all dissolved by Act of Parliament in 1547 and any property they had was taken over by the Crown. We know of two such associations in Abingdon, the Fraternity of the Holy Cross and the Guild of Our Lady.


Hearth Tax


A tax levied on occupiers, whether owners or tenants of their houses, from 1662 to 1689. It was assessed on the number of stoves or hearths. In Abingdon, the median number of hearths was three.  A number of hearths above six indicates either an unusually rich resident, or an inn.

High Steward  

Originally, an influential nobleman who would help the town in any problems it might have with the political authorities. Since the nineteenth century, the position has been purely ceremonial.

Hipped roof  

A pitched roof which has sloping ends that come down to wall height.


Of a master or doctor in a medieval university, to go through a formal ceremony at the start of a teaching career. 




A grant of exemption from the pains of purgatory either for a specified time or completely. This was usually in the form of a document which would be sold to provide income for the church. 


In the eighteenth century, a believer in the right of the Stuart dynasty, descendants of James II, to the British throne as against the Hanoverians who actually held it.


In a timber-framed building, the projection of an upper storey over the storey below.


A year proclaimed by the pope in which pilgrims coming to Rome would gain indulgences.


Knight of the Shire

  A member of parliament representing a county, as against a burgess representing a borough or a university  
Legate de latere  

A high-ranking envoy of the pope, whose decisions within his terms of reference are to be taken as those of the pope himself.


A heretical sect of the 15th and early 16th centuries, which followed the teaching of John Wycliffe (1320-84). Lollards rejected priesthood and the sacraments. They saw the Church as a fellowship of believers, and emphasized the Bible as the true basis of Christianity.

Lord Keeper  

A legal official who, in the absence for any reason of a Lord Chancellor, held the seals that authenticated government documents. Unlike the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Keeper did not have to be a peer of the realm, but nonetheless sat ex officio in the House of Lords.


A roof opening to let out the smoke from an open hearth. It could be enclosed by slanting boards to keep out the rain.




A lawyer concerned with recording events and transactions.


A papal ambassador.

Nuncupative will  

An oral will made by a person who is too ill to organise and sign a written will. It is dictated in the presence of witnesses and later written out.

Oriel window  

A projecting window on an upper floor, often supported by brackets.


A line of descent through the male parents. In England, this normally implies that a family is defined and limited by its surname.


Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Wills registered there were generally those of relatively wealthy people.


In classical architecture, a low-pitched, ornamental triangular form above a portico, doorway or window opening.




Type of Gothic architecture characterised straight verticals and horizontals and large, tall windows with slender supports. Prevalent in England during the fifteenth century.


Pitched roof


Roof with two slopes that meet at a ridge. The walls at both ends finish in triangular gables that enclose the roof space.

Plat band  

A flat projecting band of brick or stone running across the facade of a building between the storeys.

Pounds, shillings and pence (£ s d) – ‘old money’  

The current pounds and pence decimal currency was introduced in 1971. For over a thousand years before that the units of money had been pounds, shillings and pence, written as £ s d. There were twelve pence to a shilling and twenty shillings to a pound. There is no easy way to say what a sum of money mentioned in an old document would be worth today because of the inflation in the value of money and the increase in the standard of living over time. For more information, and some different conversion schemes, see


An estate or other source of income which supports a member of a cathedral chapter.




The religious doctrine that people are saved or damned by divine decisions taken once and for all, and their personal behaviour cannot influence their fate. ‘Double predestination’ emphasizes that this affects both the elect, who are to be saved, and the non-elect, who are to be damned.




A type of church organisation with congregations led by their minister and elders and joining in regional assemblies called presbyteries or classes. In seventeenth century politics, Presbyterians worked for a weak monarchy under their own control.


To be appointed a county sheriff. The method, still in use, has been traditional since the time of Elizabeth I who is said to have used a bodkin to mark her preferred candidates on a short list.


Principal burgess            


Member of the 12-man ruling council of Abingdon from the charter of 1556 to the reorganisation of 1835.


A place where a sinful soul would be punished for a long but finite time, before being admitted to spend the rest of eternity in heaven.


A range of religious principles and lifestyle choices that was prevalent in the late 16th to 17th centuries. Puritans were against ceremonial in religion and for self-discipline and a bible-based morality in behaviour. Puritanism was politically dominant after the Civil War and until the Restoration.


 A longitudinal horizontal timber in a roof structure that links the roof trusses and supports the common rafters.


Dressed stone or brickwork at the corner of a building.




See common-rafter roof




An inclined roof timber, usually one of a pair, which carries the laths supporting the roof covering.




Originally the legal advisor to a municipal corporation, who would also officiate at its court sessions.

Relieving arch  

An arch built into a wall above an opening to take the weight of the wall above.


Riparian rights are those that go with ownership or leasing of land along a river bank. These would normally include fishing, fowling, lopping of trees and powering mills.

Secondary burgess  

One of sixteen or more members of a lower tier of the ruling council of Abingdon from the charter of 1556 to the reorganisation of 1835, from among whom principal burgesses would normally be selected.


In the Civil War, the Parliamentarian authorities ‘sequestrated’ landed estates belonging to Royalists, appropriating the rents and other income from them. To lift this, the owner was expected to ‘compound’, paying a proportion of the value of the estate calculated according to his perceived degree of opposition to Parliament.

Sheriff (or High Sheriff)  

In the early modern period, an administrative official for the county, serving for one year only, and responsible for the smooth running of the assize courts and of parliamentary elections.


The office of sheriff.

Spine beam  

Ceiling beam across the length of a room carrying floor joists on each side.


A market through which specific goods for export would have to pass. ‘The Staple’ if not otherwise specified was the one for raw wool at Calais. ‘Merchants of the Staple’ had lucrative monopoly rights there.

Stonesfield slates  

Limestone roofing slates mined in and around the village of Stonesfield near Woodstock  in Oxfordshire.  They were split by frost action and are thinner than the more common Cotswold stone slates that were split by a pick. They were widely used as a roofing material in the Abingdon area.

Sunken-featured building

A type of small early to mid-Anglo-Saxon building consisting of a pit dug into the ground, thought to have been covered by a tent-like superstructure of wood and thatch.




An estate survey showing landholding and rentals.


A horizontal timber linking the side walls of a building.

Tie-beam trusses  

Tie beams are the main horizontal transverse beams that link the tops of opposite walls of a building and carry the roof timbers. They support trusses which are frameworks that carry the roof structure and covering.


After about 1680, the political party of the landed as against the moneyed interest, favouring a powerful monarchy and a monopoly for the Church of England in religion.


Ornamental intersecting stonework in Gothic architecture used principally in windows.




In a timber-framed building, a frame that bridges a space and carries other timbers. In a stone or brick building, a frame that supports the roof.

Union (Administrative)  

A grouping of parishes in an area, initially for administration of the Poor Laws but later taking on wider responsibilities. They were managed by Boards of Guardians.

Venetian window  

Symmetrical window with three openings, the outer two flat headed and the inner taller, wider and with an arched head.


After about 1680, the political party of the moneyed as against the landed interest, favouring limited monarchy and toleration for Protestant dissenters, and fanatically anti-Catholic.




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