Dame Alice Owen
Dame Alice Owen was born at Islington in 1547. She was the daughter of a rich landowner named Wilkes. "In the reign of Queen Mary it was an exercise for archers to shoot with their bows and arrows at butts: this part of Islington at that time being all open fields and pasture land. The Lady Owen, then a maiden gentlewoman, was one day walking abroad in the fields attended by her maid-servant, when she observed a woman milking, and had a mind to try the cows' paps, whether she could milk, which she did; at her withdrawing from the cow, an arrow shot through the crown of her hat (then worn very tall), which so startled her that she then declared, if she lived to be a lady, she would erect something on that spot of ground in commemoration of the great mercy shown by the Almighty in that astonishing deliverance. Time passed on until she became a widow, when her servant, who had been present on the occasion of the accident, being still living with her Lady, reminded her Lady of her former words. She answered that she remembered the affair and intended to fulfill her promise." She thereupon purchased the Hermitage Estate (being "land from the Welsh Harp to the Turk's Head,") and erected thereon almshouses in the year 1609, and a free Grammar School in the year 1613. The School was for 30 Scholars, 24 from Islington and 6 from Clerkenwell.
This remarkable episode in the life of Dame Alice Owen is related in Stow as follows—"This worthy woman, being born at Islington, in the time of her childhood she happened there to escape a great danger, by means of an arrow shot at random in the field where she was then sporting among her children. The arrow, missing all others, quite pierced through the hat on her head, and (God be praised for it) did not come with any other harm: whereupon, in the town of her birth, she made choice to express her thankfulness to God upon the altar of her charitable almshouses and school. At the time of her death, of children and children's children she had no less than two-and-twenty, a motive very able to hinder charity, especially in a worldly and covetous mind."
Rules and Orders for the School and Almshouses were drawn up on 20th September, 1613, by Dame Alice Owen, by which the question of the selection of the master and of the scholars and the general governing and supervision of the School was left in trust to "My trusty and well-beloved friends the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Company of Brewers of London for the time being."
She died in 1613, and was buried in the Old Church of St. Mary, Islington. The Tomb was placed near the end of the South Aisle.
"It was a very spacious and costly monument of white and veined marble, enriched with cherubim, fruit and foliage, and with two columns and an entablature of the Corinthian order : the whole enclosed by an iron railing. It contained the effigy of Lady Owen reclining on her left side, as reading a book, with smaller figures, in relief, of eleven of her children and grandchildren, all kneeling. The inscription, in gilt letters, was the following :—
"Under the hope of Resurrection, "Here lyeth the body of ALICE OWEN, widowe, the daughter "of Thomas Wilkes. She was first married to Henry Robinson, "by whom she had six sonnes—John, William, Henry, John, Thomas, "and Henry; which said Henry the younger was married unto Mary, "the daughter of Sir William Glover, Knt, Alderman of London: "and five daughters—Margaret, married to Sir John Bret, of "Edmonton, in the County of Middlesex, Knight; Susan, Ann, "and Anne the younger, married to Robert Rich, of Horndon-on"the- Hill, County of Essex, Esq.; and Alice, married to John "Washborne, of Wichingford, in the County of Worcester, Esq. "The second husband was William Elkin, Esq., Alderman of the "City of London, by whom she had issue only of Ursula Elkin, "married to Sir Roger Owen, of Condover, in the County of Salopp, "Knight. The third husband was Thomas Owen, one of the Judges "of the Court of Common Pleas to Queen Elizabeth. The matron "having advaunced and enriched all her children, kept greate "hospitalitie; shee also in her lifetime so furthered the publique "weale of this State, as her charitable deedes to the Cittie of London, "both Universities, Oxford and Cambridge, especiallie this towne "of Islington, can testifie : a monument of her pietie to future ages "beinge extant in the S. end of this towne, more worthie and largelie "expressing her pietie than these gowlden letters, as much as deedes "are above words. She having lived religiouslie to God sufFicientlie "for nature, but not for her children and friends, her just soulle is in "the hands of the Almightie, when her body departed on the 26th day "of November, anno domini 1613."
When the Old. Church was pulled down in 1751, the monument had fallen into such decay that it was found impossible to remove the principal figure, but the figures of several of the children were taken to the School and placed in a niche in the wall.
OWEN'S SCHOOL, October 21st, 1897.
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