George Abbot and Abbot’s Hospital

George Abbot was Archbishop of Canterbury. The King James Bible and Abbot’s Hospital (an almshouse in Guildord) were his lasting legacy.

George Abbot (1562-1633) was born in Guildford, his father a local clothier (maker of cloth). When she was carrying George, his mother Alice had a dream (or so the legend goes). She was to eat a pike, and if she did, her boy (the dream told her it was a boy she was carrying), would grow up to be a great man. The next norning, she dropped her bucket in the river (they lived alongside the River Wey by the medieval bridge) and in popped a pike. When this became known, important benefactors offered to sponsor George through school and university.

George was baptised in St Nicolas Church. He attended the Royal Grammar School, then Oxford, where he became Master of one of the Colleges and eventually vice-chancellor.

But did the dream refer to George? His brother Robert became Bishop of Salisbury. His brother Maurice, named after his father, was one of the founding directors of the East India Company, Alderman of London, Sherrif of London, Lord Mayor of London.

This was a strange time for Guildford. Five people of Guildford who were born or grew up there went on to become Bishops. It has never happened before or since.

George Abbot was an academic, a prolific writer. He gave 30 sermons on Jonah, which he published. He also wrote A Brief Description of the Whole World, the Master of Abbot’s Hospital has recently edited.

George Abbot, Earl of Dunbar, was patron of George Abbot. It was through his patronage that James I appointed George Abbot as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was neither the expected choice or a popular choice and became increasingly unpopular as Archbishop.

George Abbot had strong Calvinist views (with links to Protestants abroad), was very anti-Catholic. He spied on Catholics, had his own network of infomers and spies, had Catholic priests arrested and executed, heretics were burnt at the stake.

In his final years he was Archbishop in name only. He lies entombed in Holy Trinity Church in Guildford. His two greatest achievments were his contribution to the King James Bible and Abbot’s Hospital in Guildford.

Abbot’s Hospital (1619) is a Tudor-style building, built in the style of an Oxford college, with gatehouse, quadrangle and a Master’s Lodge. It is for the poor of Guildford, over 60 and single. Ajacent was a building for the manufacture of cloth to try and aid the ailing wool trade. As well as building Abbot’s Hospital he gifted five farms for its support, plus four five farms to support the manufacturing of cloth.

Inside Abbot’s Hospital is a small chapel. The stained glass windows are regarded as the finest of their type in the country. Beyond the hospital is a walled garden. Originally used for growing food for those who lived there. The walls have cavities for bee hives. The bees pollinated the fruit trees and provided beeswax and honey. The common room has the original tables and chairs.

Based on an excellent talk by Catherine Ferguson in the wonderful surroundings of Abbot’s Hospital, followed by a guided tour by the Master of Abbot’s Hospital.

In the beginning was the word. 400th anniversary of King James Bible. Talk by Catherine Ferguson. St Nicolas Church, Guildford. 7-30pm Tuesday 12 July 2011.

An unwanted Archbishop. A persepctive on George Abbot. Talk by Catherine Ferguson. St Nicolas Church, Guildford. 7-30pm Tuesday 19 July 2011.

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