Over 500 years ago in 1481 local benefactor Jankyn Smyth provided money for the citizens of Bury St Edmunds, and this morning his generous gesture was toasted in a traditional cakes and ale ceremony in the building he provided for the town, the Guildhall.
The Jankyn Smyth service, which takes place at St Mary's Church before the cakes and ale ceremony, is believed to be the oldest endowed charities service in the country and commemorates the many benefactors of the town. Among the guests at the service and Guildhall reception were residents from the almshouses in College Square, Northgate Street and Southgate Street. With his portrait looking down on us in the banqueting hall we toasted Jankyn Smyth, and the town's other benefactors, with glasses of ale and enjoyed a piece of cake, made from a special recipe. I hasten to add I declined the cake (nutty as one but don't like them) and stuck to orange juice.
Jankyn Smyth's original bequest was to help pay the large sum the people of the town had to give each new Abbot elected to the abbey, but over the years, as the abbey declined, other benefactors added to the total and adapted the charity to their own times. In the 16th century the Guildhall Feoffees took over running the charity and appointed a town surgeon. In later years grants helped young people get apprenticeships and in more modern times helped with holidays for people with disabilities and grants to local gifted young people.
Jankyn Smyth was originally a Yorkshire man and white roses are worn in his honour. The service was conducted by the Vicar of St Mary's, the Rev Malcolm Rogers and a hilarious sermon was be given by the Very Revd Neil Collings, Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral. As well as the Mayor of St Edmundsbury and almshouse residents, guests welcomed by the Guildhall Feoffment Trust included borough and town councillors, Guildhall Feoffment School staff and pupils, and other local charities.