There’s enough information to write a book on the development of the Trust. This section simply sets out a brief synopsis.
By 1545 King Henry VIII had been on the throne for 39 years. No longer the youthful prince, he had now become more of an overweight tyrant. He had already beheaded two wives, divorced one, lost another through death and was on to wife number six; Catherine Parr. He was at war with France and Scotland and in serious financial trouble.
Warwick at the time was a town of around 2,500 inhabitants. Partly surrounded by walls and a ditch, dominated by the Castle and with two churches: St Mary’s and St Nicholas. The Church at the time was one of the wealthiest institutions in the country and owned much property. It was also in the King’s sights. Warwick had already had its Priory confiscated by the King in 1538.
The town also had the United Guilds of Warwick. This was a powerful body that represented the interest of its members and had many privileges that had been granted by the Crown and the Earls of Warwick. It was also wealthy, owning many properties as well as the Guild Hall (which today is part of the Lord Leycester Hospital).
In 1545 the Chantries Act was passed that would have allowed the King to simply confiscate the property of the Church. However, before this happened Thomas Oken, local businessman and Master of the Guilds, had initiated negotiations with the Crown that led to the Trust being set up. In exchange for surrendering the Church lands and payments to the King (possibly financed by the sale of some of the Guild’s land) a charter was given by the King that gave back some of the church lands and privileges.
On 15th May 1545 the charter was signed to set up “The Charity of King Henry VIII”. Under the management of the Burgesses of the Town of Warwick the Trust was granted the churches and rectories (i.e. rights to tithes and profits from glebe lands) of St Mary’s, St Nicholas, St Michael’s Budbrooke and St Cassion’s in Chaddesley Corbett along with the school that was attached to St Mary’s. In addition there were various other properties and land holdings.
The charter specifically required stipend payments to the vicar of St Mary’s along with stipends for the school master and for various chaplains, clerk and Sexton at St Mary’s. As Lay Rector it would have had the liability to repair the Chancels of the four churches and, for St Nicholas and St Michaels, to pay the stipends.
So in its original incorporation the Trust had been established for the benefit of the churches and the school.
The original Burgesses of the Trust were the Common Council of the Guilds.
The Trust was soon to gain further wealth and responsibilities. King Henry also had his eyes on the wealth of the Guilds, which led to them being abolished in 1548. Thomas Oken and the United Guilds of Warwick could see this coming so on 20th June 1545, shortly after the charter had been signed, they voluntarily transferred into the charity their remaining properties (including the Guild Hall and the rest of what is now Lord Leycester’s Hospital, various properties in Warwick and many parcels of land) and responsibilities. These responsibilities included maintaining the roads and, in particular, the Great Bridge across the Avon that was at the end of Mill Street. The Trust’s income rose from £80 to £97.
The Town of Warwick did not obtain its own charter until 12th November 1554, when it was incorporated as “The Bailiff and Burgesses of the Borough of Warwick” and was granted the rights to market tolls. Amongst its responsibilities were the overseeing of markets and presiding over law and order.
In 1571 the charity lost the Guild Hall and the Westgate to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leycester, for his new hospital for old soldiers. Lord Leycester’s Hospital still operates today as almshouses for retired service men and women.
In the 1637 decree the general upkeep of the remainder St Mary’s, in addition to the chancel, became the Trust’s responsibility. At the same time it lost responsibility for St Cassian, Chaddesley Corbett.
Following the damage to St Mary’s in the Great Fire of 1694 the Trust contributed £50 to the repair of the chancel with the remainder coming from the Warwick Fire Fund.
Also following the Great Fire a new home was required the Grammar School, which had been run by St Mary’s until 1545 when it became the responsibility of the Trust. The Trust acquired premises in what is now College Garden in The Butts and the school remained there for the next 180 years. At that time tuition was free to boys born in Warwick and whose parents had lived in the town for 7 years or more.
In practical terms, the running of the Trust and the Town was done by the same people from 1545; a position that persisted for much of the next 300 years. The funds available to the Trust (and other charities in a similar position) would have been easily confused with those available to the Town Corporation. This conflict of interest led to inevitable problems over this period as personal and political matters added to the mix.
In 1737 the Court of Chancery surcharged the Town Corporation over £4,000 (over £825,000 in today’s money) for not applying the income from the charity for the purposes set out in its charter. The Corporation couldn’t pay this fine and Sequestration Commissioners were appointed. Management of the Trust was removed from the Town Corporation for the next 30 years.
In 1779 a Decree of the Court of Chancery was passed that surplus funds available at the time should be used for rebuilding the Great Bridge, rebuilding the Chancel of St Nicholas and then the ongoing repairs of St Mary’s and St Nicholas, apprenticing poor children, relief of the poor, repair of the bridge, lighting of public streets and other such good and charitable uses as the Mayor Aldermen and Burgesses should think proper for the general advantage and convenience of the inhabitants of the Borough.
In 1788 an Act of Parliament was passed to allow the Earl of Warwick to build a new replacement bridge and for the Corporation and any of the charity estates within the Borough to be also liable to support this bridge as they had done for the Great Bridge.
Increases in stipends to the various vicars and other roles were made by the Court of Chancery, as were other petitions. These included the payments of stipends to the town officers in 1818.
In 1834 the charity applied to the Court to have the stipends increased. This legal case dragged on for 5 years and used most of the Trust’s income for the period.
The 1832 Reform Act and the 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act lead to a major change in local government. The Town Corporation would now be elected by ratepayers. And this first election gave the Whigs control; overturning the Tories who used to control the Corporation. Then the 1836 Municipal Charities Act placed the responsibility of the running of the municipal charities (of which King Henry’s was one and Oken’s Charity another) into the hands of independent trustees who had been nominated by the Lord Chancellor. Various petitions were made to the Lord Chancellor who eventually selected 21 predominantly Whig trustees. For the next few years various court battles took a large slice of the Trust’s income.
From the late 1830s the balance of the Trust’s income (after paying all necessary expenses for the churches and the Grammar School) was passed to the new Borough Fund, which effectively subsidised the Rates. In today’s money it represented about £200,000. In 1836 the Trust also handed over the Court House to the Town Council, although it retained the obligation to repair it for many years.
In 1840 the Trust decided it would no longer be responsible for the costs of the gas lighting of streets or the Watch Committee that had responsibility for the police, fire brigade and prisoners. The payment for the Watch Committee was taken over by Oken’s Charity.
For much of the rest of the 1800s the charity’s net profits continued to go to the Town Council to help fund support the infrastructure for a town that doubled in size. This included a waterworks system, better road, drains and sewers, libraries and the such like.
In 1860 the Trust came under the control of the newly formed Charity Commission, which took over many of the legal responsibilities for charities from the Court of Chancery.
The end of the 19th century was a major turning point for King Henry’s and many of the other charities in Warwick. Education was the issue of the time and it was undergoing big changes across the country. The Grammar School urgently needed extra funds for new buildings. All the charities in Warwick were asked to contribute to the King’s School Scheme following the setting up of the King’s Schools Foundation in 1875.
The Trust gave the new Foundation the 12 acres of land at Myton Road along with the existing buildings in The Butts. It also gave an annual grant of £460. Most charities contributed and the largest contributor was The Charity of Sir Thomas White, which transferred £25,000 to the scheme (£2.6 million in today’s money) and a further sum of £1,900 every 5 years.
Three new schools were opened in 1879. The King’s School for 250 boys at the new site on Myton Road, The King’s Middle school for 100 boys at new premises in The Butts and The King’s High School for Girls in Landor House, Smith Street for 80 girls. The Middle school moved to the Myton site in 1906 and the combined school eventually changed its name to Warwick School.
At this time the Trust got Charity Commission approval to sell off 20 properties which raised £23,235 in 1877. This was reinvested into Consols (Government Securities) following advice from the Charity Commission. At the time it might have seemed a sensible and safe decision but, in hindsight, reinvesting so much into a single asset class that was ill equipped to either cope with inflation or to benefit from a growing economy would have cost the Trust (and ultimately its beneficiaries) very dearly.
The consequence of investing so much into Consols meant that during the 20th century the Trust’s income and influence was on a slow downward decline. For much of the 20th Century the Trust’s net income, after repairing the few properties it still retained, was barely sufficient to pay the church ministers’ stipends and those of various Town officials.
In May 1934 the Trust finally relinquished responsibility for the bridge across the Avon and passed this to the County Council, who already managed the road part.
In 1938 the Trust handed over the Market Hall (built in 1692) to the County Council on the condition that it was used as a museum or library. A covenant that the charity has regularly reminded the County Council about.
In the 1970s the Rector at St Mary’s complained that the funds going to the Church were not in line with the intentions of the Trust. At this time they were getting the £750 p.a. approved by the Court of Chancery in 1839 and the Schools received the £490 p.a. approved when they were set up in 1875. The balance was spent by the Town Council, who were running the Trust, on municipal expenses. This triggered a review by the Charity Commission who took evidence from all interested parties as well as doing their own research into the history and original purposes of the Trust. The Church, the School and the Town Council all made their representations to the Charity Commission, often after taking their own legal advice from barristers on what the Trust could and couldn’t be expected to do.
This review resulted in 1978 in the first comprehensive change to the Trust’s Governing Documents since the original charter in 1545. It removed the management of the Trust from the Town Council and set up an independent Board of Trustees; some of whom were nominated by the beneficiaries but most of whom were to be co-opted. It clarified the distribution allocation of the Trust’s net income based on the historical precedent and applied the legal concept of cy-près: “as closely as possible to the original intention”. This took account of the original sources of funds and the impact of the transfers made to the Council following the changes in the 1830s.
The wealth of the Trust at this time was still very low; reflecting the long term impact of investing in Consols and also because further property had been sold off. In 1977 the Trust’s gross income was £16,429 and after costs there was net income of £9,880 available to distribute to the beneficiaries. Its assets were worth £340,000, around £1.9m at today’s prices.
Fortunately, the Trust’s assets included some considerable land holdings close to the town, which have proved to be its saviour. In the 1980s land was sold to build the Shires Retail Park and the houses on Saumur Way/Aragon Drive and the Moorings. This transformed the Trust’s fortunes and by the end of the 1980s the Trust’s assets were worth over £16 million. This new wealth was 75% invested in commercial property and land with the balance in equities, gilts and cash.
The increase in wealth meant a change in the way that the Trust was managed. The scale of its investments and the complexity in managing the properties and particularly the potential developments of land meant that it became more business-like. With limited discretion in what Trustees can do with the net income their most important responsibility became managing the assets and maximising returns generated within an acceptable level of risk. This has inevitably required more from the Trustees and the requirement for relevant financial and property skills.
The major practical developments over the past two decades have been the sale of two land holdings for residential development. The largest and most complex was 63 acres of land south of Myton School/Saumur Way and bordering onto Europe Way. The Trust, along with other land owners, the Charity of Thomas Oken and Nicholas Eyffler and a private family trust set up the Europa Way Consortium in 2000. The total site of 97 acres finally obtained a useable planning permission in 2015. Because of complications of the planning permission and the market conditions at the time the consortium teamed up with Catesby Property Group to put in the necessary infrastructure to enable the site to be sold in serviced parcels of the size that housebuilder most valued. The 4 parcels were sold between 2018 and 2020. The work for the infrastructure on the site, and the major road work widening part of Europa Way, commenced in 2018 and finished in 2023. As part of the overall development 18 acres was given to Warwickshire County Council for education purposes and over 20 acres of park, play areas and allotments was given to Warwick Districted Council.
The second holding was the much simpler sale of 15 acres of land bordering the south of Hampton Magna in 2018.
The money raised from the two sales had to remain in the endowment fund for reinvestment – it couldn’t be distributed to beneficiaries – but it helps to grow the income that can be distributed.
In anticipation of the extra cash the land sales would add to the Trust’s endowment, financial advice was taken to ensure that the Trust’s Investment Policy was best prepared to meet the investment objectives. At the end of 2023 the extra money from the land sales and the subsequent investment returns have increased the investment assets to over £74 million.