Portrait of Sir Thomas White, Founder of St John's College, Oxford,
Portrait of Sir Thomas White, Founder of St John's College, Oxford, by Sampson Strong (c. 1550–1611), Image: Wikipedia

Thomas White, best known for the founding of St. Johns College Oxford, was born in Hertfordshire in 1495 to a wealthy clothier. At the age of 9, he was sent into an apprenticeship under Hugh Acton of the Merchant Taylor’s company in London.

Thomas excelled in his apprenticeship and Acton saw enough intelligence and capability in him to fund his own venture. In 1523 Acton provided £100 and this allowed Thomas to establish himself in the cloth trade. Cloth at this time was a major component of the English economy and Thomas was incredibly successful. By the time of his death he had risen to be the Senior Warden of the Merchant Taylors, Alderman of St. Michael Cornhill, and one of the richest men in the country. His wealth was so great that by 1544 he provided loans to the royal family, including £300 to fund a war against Scotland.

With no apparent heirs, Thomas decided to use his will to distribute his wealth across the country. This included the establishment of St. Johns College, one of the most successful colleges in Oxford, named after the patron saint of tailors. Inspired by Hugh Acton’s generosity towards his first venture, Thomas was passionate about providing start-up finance to young entrepreneurs. To this end, the ‘Sir Thomas White Loan Charity’ was established in Leicester. The charity has worked since 1542 to provide business and education loans to young entrepreneurs.

In Newcastle White’s endowment supported the Freemen Charities. A fund was established in 1566 to provide loans to Freemen under 25 years wishing to establish a business in Newcastle. Today, the fund still exists to provide financial support for young Freeman and their decedents. Although decedents of Freeman are prioritised, any inhabitant of the city of Newcastle can apply. Loans are available up to a maximum value of £7,000 and are interest-free for 10 years.


Freemen of Newcastle, Available here (Accessed: 13/06/2018).

Shepard, A. (2004). White, Sir Thomas. Available here (Accessed: 13/06/2018).

Sir Thomas White Charity. Available here (Accessed: 13/06/2018).

St Johns College. Available here (Accessed: 13/06/2018).

Warwick STWC. Available here (Accessed: 13/06/2018).