Warwick Benefactor Celebrated on 450th Birthday

The life of Thomas Oken, one of Warwick’s greatest benefactors, was celebrated with a feast at Warwick Castle on Saturday, the very date on which he died 450 years ago.

Held in the Great Hall, the event was organised by the Charity of Thomas Oken and Nicholas Eyffler, which was founded in 1571 to aid the people of Warwick, and which this year will distribute more than £300,000 to local causes.

Guests included civic dignitaries, together with representatives of local charities, schools and other organisations, together with members of Court Leet.

Charity chairman Clive Mason opened the evening and guest speakers included Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire Tim Cox, Mayor of Warwick Oliver Jacques, local historian Graham Sutherland and Thomas Oken trustees Terry Brown, Terry Morris and Anita White.

Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire Tim Cox (left) and his wife Penny, with Thomas Oken charity chairman Clive Mason (centre) and Mayor of Warwick, Coun Oliver Jacques. Picture supplied.

Mr Mason said that Thomas Oken died on July 29 1573 at his home in Castle Street, Warwick, which is currently a tea room. In his will, he stipulated there be an annual feast and a church service at St. Mary’s – traditions which have been upheld ever since.

He said the charity gave significant grants every year (normally for three years), the most recent being to Homestart, The Parenting Project, MIND, Citizens Advice, Woodside Care Village, the Myton Hospice at Home service, Warwickshire College Group and the Lord Leycester Hospital.

Guests heard that Thomas Oken was a wealthy merchant who survived the turbulent reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. He was a public-spirited man who left much of his significant fortune to the town, including almshouses – and today the charity administers 12 almshouses in Castle Hill and Bowling Green Street.

He 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.

A public-spirited man, he devoted his talents to the service of his town and his fellow citizens and was heavily involved in local government. He was the last master of the Guild of Holy Trinity and St George, which was dissolved in 1546.

In his speech, Mr Mason said that the charity had experienced many highs and lows through the years but that today, with the substantial grants and excellent almshouses that “he would be very proud of his legacy.”

August 2023