Bryan Brown, chairman of the Friends of Abingdon Abbey Buildings Trust, sets the scene
The Abingdon Beer Festival will be held on April 14, 15 and 16 in the atmospheric Abbey Buildings, the surviving remains of the great Abbey of Abingdon. There are not many drinking establishments that can claim a thousand-year history but the home of this revival festival, now in its sixth year, can.
The medieval monks here were no strangers to a good drop of beer as the monastery’s brewhouse aimed to produce an allowance of eight pints per monk, per day, a challenge some festival goers might like to emulate. To be fair it was safer than drinking water at the time. Rivers and streams could be easily contaminated upstream, putting a variety of bacteria, viruses and unpleasant substances into the drinking water. The monk’s long occupation came to an end in 1538 when Henry VIII targeted the monastery’s wealth at the Reformation, when he also created the Church of England taking power from the Pope in Rome so he could divorce his first wife Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn.
Abingdon Abbey’s grand church was almost the size of Westminster Abbey. The main buildings were demolished but the commercial buildings by the Millstream were sold off as going businesses; a corn store and the milling, baking and brewing tradition lived on. For over 300 years the Abbey Brewery operated in the same buildings, helping to create an Abingdon industry in malting and brewing until it was finally merged with Morlands in the 1860s.
By the 1940s the buildings were in poor order although some 30 families lived there in wretched conditions, and demolition was planned. However a charity was formed to save them and to this day the Friends of Abingdon work constantly to raise enough money to keep the ancient timbers and stones in reasonable repair and keep the beautiful buildings at the heart of the community.
They include the only theatre in the town centre, the converted grain store, which was made into the charming, Elizabethan style Unicorn Theatre in 1953. The charity, by organising new traditions such as several music and drama events and festivals, Abingdon Craft Fair and the Abingdon Beer Festival have created a community asset. The Trust works extensively with schools and charities to engage the whole community, old and young alike.
The buildings including the Unicorn Theatre are a wonderful venue for private events which are a crucial source of income to maintain them, and we have a wedding licence and host up to 20 weddings a year. In the summer it is a memorable, romantic venue; the ceremony can take place in a variety of locations including the Unicorn Theatre, the wedding breakfast in the historic Long Gallery, dancing in the Lower Hall and drinks on the South Lawn, facing the Millstream. It is a unique venue for a wedding or a family celebration, an anniversary or birthday party.
The Abingdon Beer Festival is a tradition revived and organised with the support of the Loose Cannon Brewery, which revived the Abingdon brewing tradition. The Abbey Buildings are now a nationally scheduled monument and architecturally, Grade1 listed. So, although they are so important historically, representing the core and reason for Abingdon’s existence, there is much to do to make them more accessible and functional.
So, do come and join us in these unique buildings for a memorable experience whilst enjoying a fabulous selection of locally sourced quality ales in a variety of styles including IPAs, some lagers, ciders and wines or soft drinks, with great music from local bands and top-class festival food. Remember that Abingdon is the longest inhabited settlement in the country so, as I say to my Oxford friends, it is far more important! Stand in the footsteps of English royalty as several kings and queens stayed here and Henry VIII came at least four times visiting Abingdon for hunting on nearby Andersey Island.
The Abbey Buildings need to pay for themselves, so all profits go towards supporting them. The Friends are undertaking a project, partly supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Town Council and several local heritage funds, to make them secure for generations to come, useable for 12 months of the year and fully accessible, to enhance their purpose at the heart of the community. We also aim to create a visitor attraction, animating over 1,000 years of history for the benefit of local people, their families and visitors, and those from further afield.
So make the monks proud and contribute to supporting Abingdon’s oldest and most important buildings by drinking beer! What a good way to help a charity, as we can’t think of a better reason to raise a glass than joining us at the Abingdon Beer Festival.
Friday April 14, 6-11pm
Saturday April 15, 6-11pm
Sunday April 16, 1-4pm
The Buildings including the Unicorn Theatre are a wonderful venue for private events which are a crucial source of income to maintain the Buildings. We have a wedding licence and host up to 20 weddings a year. In the summer it is a memorable, romantic venue; the ceremony can take place in a variety of locations including the Unicorn Theatre, the wedding breakfast in the historic Long Gallery, dancing in the Lower Hall and drinks on the South Lawn, facing the Millstream. It is a unique venue for a wedding or a family celebration, an anniversary or birthday party.