THE LIFE life and times of Warwick’s greatest benefactor Thomas Oken is told in a new film.
Scripted by former BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime producer Jane Marshall, the film was commissioned by The Charity of Thomas Oken and Nicholas Eyffler which was founded in 1571.
Actor David Troughton, who is a member of the RSC and lives in Stratford, presents the film which features local buildings connected with the 16th century benefactor and interviews members of the charity, Master of the Lord Leycester Hospital Heidi Meyer, and town historian Dr Christine Hodgetts.
Mrs Marshall, a trustee of the charity and a former chairman of governors at King’s High School for Girls, said very few people had ever heard of Thomas Oken, even though his legacy still supports good causes in the town – including Myton Hospice, the Lord Leycester Hospital, a local hospital trust and Warwick Apprenticing Charity, which funds students and sponsors outward bound courses.
Mrs Marshall said: “The charity’s trustees decided that the best way of informing people about this amazing man and the exciting and daunting times in which he lived, was to make this 20 minute video.
“I had worked with David Troughton before at the BBC and asked him if he would be prepared to present it and, being the man he is, he readily agreed and gave his time for free.”
Visitors to the Lord Leycester can see the video free of charge as part of the tour around the buildings. Eventually it will also be made available for local schools and other groups.
Thomas Oken, who had already helped to establish the King Henry VIII charity in Warwick, and his friend and fellow philanthropist Nicholas Eyffler, lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth.
“It was a dangerous world to live in and surely no lifetimes have spanned a period of more sustained or violent change, time of sudden terror, torture, executions and burnings,” added Mrs Marshall.
“Much of what we know about this poor boy made good is gleaned from the Black Book of Warwick, which is a wonderfully gossipy eyewitness account of the goings on in16th century Warwick. Thomas gained an apprenticeship into the cloth industry, became a wealthy merchant and rose to being the Master of the Guild and the first Chief Burgess, effectively the first ever Mayor of Warwick.
“But he never forgot his roots and, dying childless, left his considerable fortune to the town.
“The fact that this new film of his life is the first to be shown in the Lord Leycester’s brand new audio visual room could not be more perfect as the room is situated off the Guild Hall, which was where Thomas would have presided over meetings when he was Master of the Guild, the very guild that owned the buildings that are now known as the Lord Leycester Hospital.
“But as the video shows, there are clues to Thomas’s life all around the town.”
Each January the charity holds the annual Oken Feast, which begins with a procession from the Court House to a service in memory of the founder at St Mary’s Church – where a plaque commemorates his life – followed by a dinner in the Lord Leycester Hospital.