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Mystery gifts

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Monday, April 1, 2019

Document of the Month - April 2019

Christ Church Archives the Careswell 'atlas' (shelfmark viii.a.53) and the three pages of the Bostock indenture (shelfmark lv.b.1).

On 1 April 1633, Mrs Joan Bostock granted to the Dean and Canons of Christ Church three messages – or properties – in her home town of Windsor, on Peascod Street, today one of the main shopping streets in the town leading down the hill from the gates of the castle.

The profits of the properties, after repairs and ‘re-edifying’, were to be distributed to four students. This had to be done every year on the 18th December after dinner between the hours of 1 and 3pm in the Chapter House. Those fortunate enough to receive the exhibitions were to be chosen by the Dean and Canons (or at least five of them) at a meeting in the Audit House and were to be selected from those who had most need and ‘be of the towardliest hope for learning and conversation.’ The income from the estate was not huge but the chosen students – usually graduates in the early days - received an additional income of £4 a year (about £700 today).

The documentation surrounding the gift does not indicate why Joan decided to give her houses to Christ Church. There was an undergraduate here from 1624 who received his Bachelor of Medicine degree in 1633; perhaps he was related to Joan and she wanted to express some gratitude to his college for his education.

But the properties in Windsor were not the only bequest that was a bit of a mystery. Later in the seventeenth century, a wealthy Shropshire farmer called Edward Careswell who, as far as we can tell, had no connection at all with Christ Church or even Oxford, bequeathed to the college five farms in Shropshire and Staffordshire the income from which was to maintain eighteen scholars from local grammar schools.

The instructions to the Dean and Canons were specific: eighteen men were each to receive £18 every year for four years while they were undergraduates, then £21 a year for three years as graduates, and then £27 a year for three years after they had earned their MAs.

Unfortunately, the estate did not yield sufficient income to pay such generous exhibitions so the number to be supported was set at ten. In order to increase the income, Christ Church commissioned a land surveyor to cast his eye over the estate and see what could be done to improve the land and so the profits. The results of the surveyor’s work were turned into a beautiful ‘atlas’ with elegant ink drawings of the individual farms with tables of recommended improvements.