Anthony Roper left a legacy for “charitable purposes” when he died in 1597. Over the years the Anthony Roper Trust became known informally as Roper’s Charity and is still going strong, over four hundred years later. Within its specific geographical area, Roper’s Charity supports the education and wellbeing of children and young people, the elderly, and anyone else in need of support which the state is unable or unwilling to provide.
THE 21st CENTURY
Today, the Charity is administered by a Chairman, a Clerk and a Board of Trustees, four representing Farningham, three for Horton Kirby & South Darenth and one each for Eynsford and Crockenhill. We meet twice a year, although each parish disposes of its money independently.
The income is distributed annually as gifts or pensions, and educational and social assistance to individuals and societies. For example, in recent years we have helped with the setting up of a children's chess club, assisted with transport costs for hospital visits, funded a coach trip for elderly local residents and enabled children to attend residential school trips. The amounts involved are not large, and recipients must be based in one of the above-named parishes, but if you think Roper’s Charity could help you or your society, please get in touch.
OUR CLAIM TO FAME
Anthony Roper was the son of William Roper and Margaret More, the daughter of Sir Thomas More, who was famously executed by Henry VIII for his refusal to accept Henry’s claim to supremacy of the Church of England.
Margaret More was known as the cleverest woman in England and William Roper is remembered as the biographer of his famous father-in-law. All three are featured in the film and play A Man for All Seasons.
The Ropers were a wealthy Catholic family, living mainly in Chelsea but also owning land in Eltham and Canterbury. In 1555 William bought an estate in Farningham from the heirs of Sir Henry Islay, who was executed for treason against the Catholic Mary Tudor. Along with his elder brother Thomas, Anthony joined his father’s chambers in 1565 and is described in the Recusancy Lists of 1575 as ‘Clerk of the Papers’.
On William’s death in 1577 the Eltham and Canterbury lands went to Thomas while Anthony received “all my landes, tenements and hereditaments in ffarningham, Horton Kirby, Kingesdowne, mayplescombe, ffawkhame, Eynsford, Sutton-at-Home, Cherendge and Estgrenewich”. The will directed these last – East Greenwich – assets to be conveyed “in perpetuity to some charitable uses with as much speed as conveniently maie be after my decease.”
This clause is the origin of Roper’s Charity.
Anthony married Anne Cotton in about 1570 and they had five children. It is not known at what point the move from London to Farningham took place, but an image of the family can be found on the wall monument in Farningham Church.
THE TRUST AND INVESTMENTS
In 1614 Anthony's widow Anne drew up a Deed of Trust, apportioning the rental income “to the relief of the poor” in the division of £6 to Farningham, £2 to Eynsford and Crockenhill and £2 to Horton Kirby, a ratio that persists to this day. In 1881 the Greenwich properties were compulsorily purchased for a sum of £11,827 and, over the years, further properties were purchased in Hammersmith, Golders Green, Wembley and Hendon. By 1993 all properties were sold and the capital invested.
OVER THE YEARS
The Charity appears in various records from time to time. In 1729 the remit was widened to include books, instruction and apprenticeships for parish children. In 1756 the administration passed to Farningham’s churchwardens and records of recipients have been kept from that day to this, for example this list from 1889:
Pyke, 10s, mechanical boot; Old Helvie, 11/6, distress, lost his purse, laid up; Widow Wellard, 1/6, ill, decrepit, needy; Thos Laws, 11s, broken leg; W Bates, 5s, railway to hospital; Mary O’Brian, 5s, finger amputation; Hoadley, 4s, decrepitude.
Also listed were six cases of illness, one confinement and seven “in great trouble and distress”. There are clearly many sad stories behind this list of recipients.
These days the state plays a much greater part in welfare and educational assistance than through most years of the charity’s life, but we would like to think we can still make small improvements to people’s lives in the 21st century.
With thanks to Hilary and Wilfrid Harding whose Local History Society Paper No 9 The Charities of Farningham and Eynsford with Crockenhill and Lullingstone was the secondary source for the historical information presented above.
Registered Charity No. 206817