Owen, Alice (DNB00)
OWEN, ALICE (d. 1613), philanthropist, and wife of Thomas Owen (d. 1598) [q. v.], the judge, was daughter of Thomas Wilkes, a landowner, of Islington, near London. His name occurs in a deed, dated 3 Nov. 1556, as tenant or occupier of a field within the manor of Barnsbury (Tomlins, Perambulation of Islington, p. 148 n.; Keepe, Monumenta Westmonasteriensia, 1683, p. 197). In her childhood, when in the fields at Islington, ‘sporting with other children,’ she had a narrow escape of being killed by an arrow, shot by some unskilful archer, which ‘pierced quite thorow the hat on her head.’ For this providential escape she recorded her gratitude in later life by the erection of a school and almshouses on the spot. The story appeared in this form within five years of her death, in the second edition of Stow's 'Survay,' published in 1618. Later on it received many embellishments.
Alice Wilkes was three times married : (1) to Henry Robinson, a member of the Brewers' Company, by whom she had six sons and five daughters ; (2) to William Elkin, an alderman of London, by whom she had one daughter, Ursula, married to Sir Roger Owen of Condover, Shropshire ; (3) to the judge Thomas Owen. It is as the widow of Mr. Justice Owen that she is often styled Dame Alice Owen, or even Lady Owen ; but Owen was never knighted (Neale and Brayley, History and Antiquities, &c, ii. 246).
By the death of her third husband, 21 Dec. 1598, Mistress Owen was left free to carry out her long-cherished plans. On 6 June 1608 she obtained license to purchase at Islington and Clerkenwell eleven acres of ground, whereon to erect a hospital for ten poor widows, and to vest the same and other lands, to the value of 40l. a year, in the Brewers' Company (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1603–10, p. 438). The site had previously been known as the 'Ermytage' field. Here she erected a school, free chapel, and almshouses, on the east side of St. John Street Road, which stood till 1841. In one of the gables three iron arrows were fixed, as a memorial of the event above described (Lewis, History of St. Mary, Islington, p. 418 ; Gent. Mag. vol. lxxxii. pt. ii. p. 130). By indentures dated in 1609, she gave to the Brewers' Company a yearly rent-charge of 25l., in support of her almshouses. On 20 Sept. 1613 she made rules and orders for her new school. She had previously, by her will, dated 10 June 1613, directed the purchase of land to the amount of 20l. a year for the maintenance of its master (Report of the . . . Livery Companies' Commission, 1884, v. 33). She made many other bequests, especially to Christ's Hospital and the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge (cf. Stow, Survay, ed. 1618, p. 212).
Alice Owen died 26 Oct. 1613, and was buried in the parish church of St. Mary, Islington, where a monument preserved her effigy and those of her children (Cole MSS. vol. xi. f. 175) till 1751, when, on the pulling down of the old fabric, part of the monument was removed to the school, and a fresh one erected to her memory in the new church (Nelson, History of Islington, p. 320).
By 1830 the value of the trust estates in Islington and Clerkenwell had grown to 900l. a year (Report, ubi supra). In 1841 the school and almshouses were rebuilt, at a cost of about 6,000l., on a new site in Owen Street, Islington, a little distance from the old (Literary World, 11 Jan. 1840). On 14 Aug. 1878 a new scheme obtained the royal assent, by which the school of Alice Owen was expanded into two—one for about three hundred boys, and the other for the like number of girls (City Press, 18 Sept. 1875 ; Livery Companies' Commission Report, v. 38).
[Historical Dictionary of England and Wales, 1692; Fuller's Worthies, 1662 ; Tomlins's Yseldon : a Perambulation of Islington, 1858 ; Nelson's History of Islington, 1811 (the copy numbered 10349 h in the Brit Mus. Library has many additional notes by Sir Henry Ellis) ; Pinks's History of Clerkenwell, 1865.]