The history of the Charities is closely linked to that of the Church of St Michael at the North Gate. Dating from about 1050, the Church tower is probably the oldest surviving building in Oxford, rivalled only by the Castle tower: the Church is situated just within the original North Gate of the city, protected by the city wall.
Connection with Lincoln College:
Oxford was for centuries in the very large Diocese of Lincoln. In 1427, the Bishop of Lincoln, Richard Fleming, founded Lincoln College to fight the heresy of the Lollards.
The Bishop was Patron of three parishes:
- St Mildred’s which was destroyed to make way for the new College.
- All Saints on The High, which remained a Church until 1971, and is now the Library of Lincoln College.
- St Michael at the North Gate, now the “City Church” – a title which started at St Martin’s on Carfax, moved to All Saints when St Martin’s was closed in the 1890s, and then moved to St Michael’s in 1971.
From 1427 until 1849, St Michael’s was a Collegiate Church of Lincoln College, which provided the Priests to serve there. In that connection, John Wesley preached in St Michael’s. In 1849, Bishop Wilberforce (of the now formed Diocese of Oxford), made St Michael’s a parish in his jurisdiction, and the Rector of Lincoln College was made the Patron – a position which continues to the present day. The assets of the Charities include those which came from the parish of All Saints, which was closed in 1971 and sold to Lincoln College to be its Library. Other properties in Turl Street were also sold by the Charities to the College.
Connection with Jesus College:
Jesus College was founded in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth I, at the request of a Welsh lawyer and clergyman, Hugh Price. Jesus College is most accurately described as the ‘major Welsh college’ at Oxford. Its founding charter contains no provision that the majority of its students, or indeed any of them, should be Welsh. However, between 1571 and 1915, an almost unbroken succession of 24 Principals of Jesus came from Wales or were of Welsh descent. Jesus College was intended for the education of future clergymen. The 1571 charter stated that it would be a ‘college of learning in the sciences of philosophy, the moral arts, and knowledge of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin languages, with the eventual aim of professing sacred Theology’. The College, however, had no chapel until 1621 and the scholars were allowed to worship in the South Aisle of St Michael at the North Gate. This aisle became known as the Welsh Aisle.
Information is still needed as to why the Principal of Jesus is an ex officio Feoffee.
A historical document shows:
A Charter of 1612 under the Great Seal of James I (now on display in the Tower) requires the Feoffees of the Parish of St. Michael at the North Gate to employ the money resulting from the letting of various properties in Oxford for the care and upkeep of St. Michael’s Church. The five properties mentioned were let at rents totaling just over £6 per annum.
St. Michael’s, Oxford, Parochial Charity was regulated by a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 24th July 1885, which was amended by a Scheme dated 3rd July 1961 when the Charity was renamed “St. Michael’s Ecclesiastical Charity”.
The Church of St. Martin at Carfax was closed in accordance with The Oxford Corporation Act 1890, and subsequently demolished, except for the tower. The Benefice was united with All Saints in 1890 and all charitable funds vested in the Feoffees of All Saints. That Charity was regulated by a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 2nd May 1941 under the name of The Church Houses Charity. It was administered in two branches called respectively the Church Branch and the Poor’s Branch.
When the Church of All Saints was closed and transferred to Lincoln College for use as the College Library, the Benefice was united with St. Michael at the North Gate. The two Charities were then regulated by a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 7th May 1980 and were referred to together in the Scheme as ‘The Church Houses and St. Michael’s Ecclesiastical Charities’.
The Church Lands or Parish Houses Charity belonged to St Martin’s Church and was set up to maintain that church (demolished in 1896), any money not required for that purpose was to be given to the poor of the parish.
All the above charities (except for The Church Houses Relief in Need Charity, administered as the Relief Branch, which is still regulated by the 1980 Scheme) are now regulated by the Scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 18th February 1991 and are referred to together as the “St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charity”. They are administered as the Church Branch.