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The Edmund Godson Charity

The Godson Charity was originally established under the will of Edmund Probyn Godson who was born in 1853 and died in 1918 in internment in Brussels which was then under German occupation. Two of his brothers were members of parliament and his great grandfather was Chief Baron of the Exchequer in the early eighteenth century.

The home of the Godson family between 1790 and 1962 was Tenbury Court which used to stand in the middle of the town of Tenbury Wells on the borders of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire: this was where Edmund was born and spent the early years of his life. He became a barrister and lived in Shinfield in Berkshire for a time before moving to a house in Castle Wood on the crown of Shooters Hill near Woolwich. Towards the turn of the century he started dividing his time between London and Brussels where he was unfortunately staying in 1914 when the Germans invaded. His advancing years, the living conditions in internment and conditions of near starvation on the German side of the battle lines resulted in his death just before the end of the war.

Under his will the Castlewood Estate was offered to the London County Council at a discounted price and was eventually purchased by public subscription. The proceeds of the sale of the house then formed part of the residual estate whose income went to various relatives until 1950 when the last Belgian beneficiary died. The house proceeds were then available to be applied under the terms of a will which he had written during a time of economic recession in 1907. His two specific purposes were to build almshouses and to assist poor people to move from overpopulated parts of the designated parishes to less populated parts of those parishes.

By 1950 the funds were inadequate to build almshouses and the idea of encouraging people to move within the designated parishes had become absurd. The trustees (who then included Lord Baden-Powell, the son of the founder of the scout movement) applied to the court for a redefinition of the purposes of the trust and the High Court decided that the funds should be used for the purpose of encouraging young poor inhabitants of the designated parishes to start new lives in foreign countries. During the 1950s and 1960s the assisted passage scheme for emigration to Australia and some other countries brought many applications for assistance but more recently increased affluence and the end of virtually unrestricted immigration into countries such as Australia led to a tailing-off in applications: a further approach to the Charity Commissioners has resulted in the Trustees now being able to apply surplus funds for general charitable purposes involving the relief of hardship for inhabitants of the designated parishes.

The designated parishes include several in the Woolwich area where Edmund lived, Shinfield and Tenbury where he was born and certain nearby parishes in Herefordshire where his family owned land.

The trust was worth about £5,000 in 1950 when it was established. The investments are now worth about £180,000 and it is the income of approximately £7,000 accruing from these that the trustees are responsible for distributing. The county or borough councils for each of the four eligible areas nominate one trustee and there are two coopted trustees, one of whom is still a member of the Godson family and acts as chairman. The nominating authorities are Hereford County Council, Worcestershire County Council, the London Borough of Greenwich and the District Council of Wokingham. The trustees of the Charity normally meet annually in London on the second Thursday in May.