The Charity of Thomas Oken and Nicholas Eyffler has a rich and interesting history.
Thomas 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.
A mercer, who made a comfortable fortune, he devoted his talents to the service of his town and his fellow citizens. He was a public-spirited man, heavily involved in local government and of deep religious conviction. He was the last Master of the Guild of Holy Trinity and St George, which was dissolved in 1546.
Between Michaelmas 1544 and May 15th 1545, the date of the grant of the municipal charter to Warwick, he conducted the difficult negotiations with Henry VIII’s Commissioners which secured for the people of Warwick a substantial part of the Church and Guild endowments, thereby preventing the worst effects of subsequent legislation by the Crown.
He was one of the principal Burgesses named in the Charter and was Bailiff from 1557 – 1558 remaining a member of the Corporation until his death on July 29th 1573.
In his will, from his personal fortune, 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 for six people. Such provisions as are applicable today are carried out by Oken’s Charity including the building and maintenance of the almshouses.
He also provided for the spending of £1 annually on a feast which, perhaps, he meant to be continuance of the Guild Feast, preceded as that had been by a service at St. Mary’s. The tradition is continued on the last Friday in January each year.
Nicholas Eyffler was a German immigrant from Osnabruck in West Phalia. He was born in about 1512, and settled in London probably for economic reasons rather than religious persecution. He is believed to have come to Warwick under the patronage of Sir Thomas Lucy who was building Charlecote and supplied glass both for Lucy and for the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth Castle. He carried on a very successful business as a glazier at a time when glass for windows was becoming increasingly common. He became a denizen of this country (not quite a naturalised English man) in March 1562 and lived first in or near the market place and later in two houses in Jury Street.
By his will Eyffler instructed that on a close on the Back Hills (now Castle Hill) two timber framed barns should be converted and extended into four almshouses.
When the great fire of Warwick destroyed three of the almshouses belonging to Oken’s Charity in Pebble Lane, that Charity built six additional almshouses for twelve inmates in 1696 on the southern end of the almshouses at Castle Hill.
The management of Nicolas Eyffler’s Charity was transferred to the Oken Trustees in 1956 and the two Charities were completely amalgamated in 1988.
Oken trustees with The Revd Vaughan Roberts at St Mary’s Church, Warwick
In 1996, 390 years after the rebuilding of the Castle Hill Almshouses, the charity’s Trustees carried on the proud tradition by opening the newly built Guild Cottages in Bowling Green Street.