The life and times of one of Warwick’s greatest benefactors will be the subject of a one-man show during the Warwick Words History Festival in October.
Thomas Oken was a wealthy cloth merchant whose legacy today provides grants for ‘relief in need’ and almshouses in Warwick. As part of the festival there will be an educational project called Warwick Revisited, featuring talks, walks, workshops, music and songs. This will include an interactive, illustrated one-man show entitled Thomas Oken Explains, written and performed by Warwick teacher and local history enthusiast Trevor Langley.
More than 440 years after his death at his house in Castle Street (now the Oken Tearooms) the Thomas Oken character, in period costume, will share his own thoughts on what actually took place in Warwick during his lifetime and indeed following his death in July 1573.
Trevor Langley as Thomas Oken in front of the historic Oken’s House in Warwick.
Based entirely on documents of the time, including The Black Book of Warwick, this wealthy but modest statesman will explain how he stood up to the commissioners of King Henry VIII as he tried to confiscate all the lands, wealth and property of St Mary’s Church and The Guild, of which Oken was The Master.
Oken was also Chief Burgess and a life-long member of The Corporation he helped to create. In writing two separate wills he also exposed the greed and underhand dishonesty of his colleagues who he appointed as his executors.
Festival executive director Helen Meeke said: “So much has happened in the town over the centuries – and not just of local interest – which is why we decided to showcase its fascinating history in the Festival in October.”
Clive Mason, chairman of the Charity of Thomas Oken and Nicholas Eyffler, said that Oken lived in Warwick during the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, a period of great religious change with all the social upheaval that this brought in its wake.
“After making his fortune, Oken devoted his talents to the service of his town. He was a public-spirited man, heavily involved in local government and of deep religious conviction.
In his will he arranged, amongst other things, for the payment of the salary of the schoolmaster, annual payments to the poor, the paving of certain streets, the repairing of the bridge, the wages of the herdsmen and the beadle, the repairing of the wells, and the provision of the almshouses. Such provisions as are applicable today are carried out by Oken`s Charity,” he said.
Oken formed his charity in 1571, having already helped establish the King Henry VIII charity – which makes grants to schools and churches in Warwick, and to the town itself.
His friend, Nicholas Eyffler, was another prominent and wealthy citizen and established a similar charity. The two charities were eventually amalgamated.
“Throughout their lives they were beset by dangers and disturbed by great upheavals. It was a dangerous world to live in and surely no lifetimes have spanned a period of more sustained or violent change, time of sudden terror, torture, executions and burnings,” said Mr Mason.
Thomas Oken Explains will be performed in a specially re-written format to over 1200 8-11 year olds in Warwick Primary Schools during September, involving pupils and staff in the presentation. A special Thomas Oken Trail has been devised in conjunction with The Oken Trust and Warwick Town Council for all pupils and their families to take part in. Pupils are invited to take ‘selfie’ photos at various locations connected with Thomas Oken, including his house in Castle Street, the Oken chest on display in The Court House, his memorial in St Mary’s Church, The Lord Leycester Hospital where Oken was Master of The Guild, the Oken Almshouses in Castle Hill, the Guild Cottages in Bowling Green Street and Oken Court in Theatre Street which are named after the great man. Completed trails presented at the Visitor Information Centre will be checked and rewarded with specially commissioned awards.
The legacy of Thomas Oken, Warwick’s Most Famous Son, lives on!
The Thomas Oken Explains… project has been generously funded by the Charity of Thomas Oken and Nicholas Eyffler.