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Richard Cloudesley Charity: 500 years in Islington

PUBLISHED: 15:27 06 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:27 06 July 2017

Trustees of Richard Cloudesley Charity by his grave in the St Mary's churchyard. Picture: Janie Airey

Trustees of Richard Cloudesley Charity by his grave in the St Mary's churchyard. Picture: Janie Airey

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Not many people still have a legacy 500 years after they die. But thanks to his generous will, Richard Cloudesley does. The Gazette learns about five centuries of an Islington charity founded in his name.

Richard Cloudesley's grave in the St Mary's churchyard. Picture: Janie AireyRichard Cloudesley's grave in the St Mary's churchyard. Picture: Janie Airey

It’s hard to imagine today, but 500 years ago Islington was a rural haven of fields, farms and meadows.

Holloway man Richard Cloudesley did well in life, owning two 14-acre patches in Barnsbury known as Stony Fields – what is now the picturesque Cloudesley Road, Cloudesley Street and Cloudesley Square.

But though Mr Cloudesley was wealthy, he was unlucky. He died two months after he got married in 1517.

As was custom in those days, people would write their wills when they got married. Little did Mr Cloudesley know at the time, his decision to give Stony Fields to St Mary’s Church would still be having an impact in Islington in 2017.

The earliest document in Richard Cloudesley Chariety's archive. Dated 1623, it is a lease of the two Stony Fields in Barnsbury to innkeeper Richard Atkinson. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe earliest document in Richard Cloudesley Chariety's archive. Dated 1623, it is a lease of the two Stony Fields in Barnsbury to innkeeper Richard Atkinson. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Handing the fields to the church, so it could make money by grazing cattle, marked the beginning of what is today the Richard Cloudesley Charity, which is based in Holloway Road.

The charity has undergone various transformations over five centuries. It built the Cloudesley Estate on the fields in the 1820s. In the early 1900s, it shifted its focus to grants to hospitals and charities.

Today, it provides grants to people from Islington with health problems who are in financial need, and the borough’s Church of England churches.

It celebrated its 500th anniversary with a special service at St Mary’s Church last week, where Mr Cloudesley’s grave still stands in the courtyard.

Melanie Griffiths, director of Richard Cloudesley Charity. Picture: Janie AireyMelanie Griffiths, director of Richard Cloudesley Charity. Picture: Janie Airey

Little is known about Mr Cloudesley, but his motives for donating the land were probably less clean cut than it initially appears.

Melanie Griffiths, the charity’s director, says: “We know, as an Islington constable, that he killed someone in the line of duty [he claimed self-defence]. So putting St Mary’s in his will could have been something to do with cleansing his soul.

“Most people at this time believed the soul would go to purgatory after death, from which it would to heaven once all the sins had been cleansed. So leaving the land may have been his way of ensuring he was in people’s prayers.”

Five hundred years is astonishing longevity, and Melanie reckons there are a number of factors behind this.

An 1890 document produced by Richard Cloudesley Charity's first clerk, Frank Brinsley-Harper, outlining its governance. Picture: Islington Local History CentreAn 1890 document produced by Richard Cloudesley Charity's first clerk, Frank Brinsley-Harper, outlining its governance. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

“Because it is rooted with St Mary’s Church,” she says, “it had a strong local vision from the very start.

“The fact we have a patch of land that is very clearly defined helps, too. We still get half our income from 100 properties in Cloudesley Mansions, Cloudesley Street and Cloudesley Road, as well as The Crown pub. Many other properties were sold off in the 1930s, with the money being reinvested.”

The charity’s history is entwined with disputes about what it should spend its money on. The late 19th century, for example, was defined by rows over the interpretation of Richard Cloudesley’s will. Vestrymen claimed the money should go to the poor, rather than the church.

And Melanie adds: “Our historian, Cathy Ross, believes that is another key reason why it has lasted for 500 years. Because different generations have interpreted Richard Cloudesley’s intentions in different ways, the charity has always been fit for the purpose of that time.

“Five hundred years is quite remarkable. One charity serving one local is area for that amount of time is amazing. And part of what we do today – supporting Islington’s Church of England churches – is actually reminiscent of Richard Cloudesley’s original will.”

But the charity, and Islington as a whole, still has plenty to do. Melanie stresses: “Islington has high rates of poverty and many people have poor health. But hopefully we can be around for another 500 years to help our community.”

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