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Events | Lore & Legend | Rather Interesting | Cultural Britain

Jankyn Smith's Endowment, Suffolk

The oldest endowed church service still in existence, the celebration of Jankyn Smith's endowment was but one of the gifts of the long lived Alderman. Jankyn, or John Smith, was elected an Alderman of the then very important town of Bury St Edmunds in 1423, and he did not die until 1481, though his date of birth is not known. Smith gave money to St Mary's Church in the town, and a brass of him, and his wife can still be seen there. But it was his bequest "for relief of the Alderman, co-burgesses, and the whole community and poor inhabitants of the said town of Bury St Edmunds in support of the burthens daily falling upon them," as his will, drafted in 1473, has it. He had already conveyed properties to the burgesses in 1470 to a similar end.
Smith originally intended his money to go towards the too frequently imposed demands of the abbot of Bury St Edmunds, and the trustees of his will, or Foeffees as they are known, were all drawn from a local religious organisation (or ostensibly religious), which was a cover for lay people who ran the town as best they could, which meant if the abbot let them.
Over the years the Smith charity has paid for the appointment of a surgeon in the town, for three schools to be endowed, for the Guildhall itself, for the building of almhouses, and for the continuing relief of the poor of the place in other ways including contributions to the rates, perhaps the closest to his original desire. What has been a constant though is the way in which Smith's generosity is remembered by the people of Bury on the anniversary of his death, June 29, or these days on the Thursday before that date: while England was Catholic masses were said for him, with almshouse residents and local dignitaries in attendance (later changed to sermons recalling him when the church became Protestant). Perhaps more enjoyably, after the service cakes and ale are always served (hopefully since the 19th century this has meant Greene King ale, brewed in the town).
The phrase Cakes and Ale has a wonderful ring to it - Shakespeare has Sir Toby Belch ask the miserably puritanical Malvolio: "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" Jankyn Smith's memorial then is not just for the death of the benefactor, but for the pleasure of his town's residents, which is a fine memorial indeed.

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1 Response to Jankyn Smith's Endowment

From Sarah on 14th February 2013
Thanks for this. I was in cineworld carpark and jankyn place opposite. We never learnt this at school!

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