Abingdon, Berkshire

The town of Abingdon is historically in Berkshire, though now administered by Oxfordshire County Council. It is a strong candidate for the title of the oldest town in Britain, having started life as an Iron Age 'oppida' - the lowland equivalent of a hillfort. It was later a small Roman town and claims to have been the home of the Emperor Constantine's mother, St. Helen. She found the cross of the crucification and sent one of its nails back to the abbey in Abingdon. This monastery was later famous as the home of St. Aethelwold and the school of King Edgar and, later, Henry I. Abingdon School, its successor, is the oldest in the country. St. Edmund of Abingdon was also a native of the town. The Guild of the Holy Cross ran Abingdon in the Middle Ages, but there were several clashes with the monks. After the Dissolution, they became Christ's Hospital and built fine almshouses in St. Helen's churchyard. They also erected the great Market Cross but this was destroyed by Parliamentary soldiers during the Civil War. The town hall is a masterpiece of Restoration architecture and was built by a colleague of Christopher Wren.

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