In 1652 Christopher Elderfield bequeathed to Harwell parish a sum for the purchase of lands in Harwell and Hagbourne; their rents were to be used for the relief of the poor, help in schooling, clothing the aged, repairs and upkeep of the church, and
"To buy in every spring two milch cows for two of the poorest persons, man or widow, that had children; with fields on common lands to keep the cows."
Over the years this charity bought or was awarded various other lands.
In 1837 the records show that the outgoings remained in accordance with the original wishes of Christopher Elderfield. Two cows were bought (£27). Cloth (£20) was bought and made up (£7) into thirty-two coats for distribution to the poor at Christmas, and small amounts of money to the needy; some money also for church ornaments and furniture, including fire buckets.
In 1904 part of this charity was renamed the Christopher Elderfield Education Foundation, a separate trust which, with other funds, eventually established the Technical Institute, and later the Village Hall quota.
Other payments were also made, including personal sickness benefits and donations to hospitals, the Nursing Association and the like. Since the advent of the welfare state, the commitments are limited to the "Cow" Charity, the Village Hall quota and almshouses.
The conditions and directions of the Cow Charity, to purchase every spring two milch cows to be given to two of the poorest men in the parish burdened with children, were followed for many years. At one time, however, it became the custom to kill two cows and distribute the meat to the poor at Christmas. How long this practice continued is not stated, but it stopped on publication of the facts.
The clause "with fields on common lands to keep the cows" also became void, presumably after the enclosures: poor men had no shelter or pasture for a cow, so they sold the animal they were awarded. The report of 1837 records that this was the general practice, and one can imagine a local cattle dealer hovering on the doorstep of potential recipients, awaiting the results of the trustees' deliberations. The value of a cow in those days was about £9 - £10, no mean sum.
The "Cow" Charity lives on, both in name and in the continuance of two annual grants.