Abingdon County Hall Museum
Abingdon County Hall has dominated the Market Place, in the heart of Abingdon, since the late 17th century.
The town of Abingdon, initially formed as a settlement around its powerful abbey (founded in AD 675), developed into a prosperous market town owing to its flourishing wool trade.
Formerly in Berkshire, Abingdon vied with Reading as the county town, and the County Hall stands today as testimony to the town’s bid for this honour.
Constructed between 1678 and 1682, the old town hall has the typical combination for the period of a market space sheltering under a courtroom. Examples of this type of building that are earlier in date survive elsewhere as timber-framed free-standing town halls.
Abingdon gains architectural distinction, however, from being built in Oxfordshire limestone; it is a monumental presence despite its compact site.
At the time that the County Hall was built, architecture in England was rapidly absorbing a number of different design influences from the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy. These can be grouped under the umbrella term of baroque architecture. Architects working in England in the later 17th century produced individual responses to adapt elements of this European style to the existing English taste for Dutch-influenced, rather delicate, architectural form and detailing.
Sir Christopher Wren is the most celebrated architect of this period working in this idiom, and in the 1670s he was busy on the designs for rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral. It has been suggested that Abingdon County Hall was one of his designs, and it was certainly constructed by two men he respected and worked with closely: Christopher Kempster, master mason, and John Scarborough, clerk of works.
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