Headington history: People

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Sir Joseph Lock (1760–1844)

Joseph Lock was born on 13 April 1760 at 135 High Street, Oxford (the first shop of his father, the goldsmith Edward Lock) and was baptised at All Saints Church four days later. Parson Woodforde mentions that when he visited Edward Lock's shop he gave money to Joseph when he was a child.

On 13 April 1774 Joseph, then aged 14, was apprenticed to his father for seven years, and followed him into the goldsmith and banking business.

In 1781 Lock married Elizabeth Watson, daughter of the grocer Benjamin Watson who lived in the parish of St Peter-in-the-East. The next year Lock was admitted free, and went into partnership with his father: Bailey’s Western & Midland Directory for 1783 lists “Lock, Edward, and Son” as goldsmiths and jewellers.

Both Joseph Lock and his wife Elizabeth were both loathed by the people of Headington from the moment that they built their country house there in around 1805.

The Locks lost at least five children in infancy when they lived at 6 & 7 High Street in All Saints parish, and it seems likely that they decided to move to the country so that their three surviving children (Edward, born in 1785; Elizabeth, born in 1793; and Maria, born in 1797) could enjoy fresher air. They built their first country house at Iffley between 1794 and 1800 (now Denton House, on the high ground above Iffley Turn). But they did not remain there for long, as the enclosure award of 1801 gave Joseph Lock a large parcel of land in Headington, where he built Bury Knowle House as his country retreat.

In 1805 Lock erected a wall across the coffin route from Headington Quarry (which then had no church of its own) to St Andrew’s Church. (This is the footpath that runs behind the present Old High Street car-park.) Three times the doughty Quarry men smashed down the wall, and three times Lock rebuilt it, taking three of the men involved to court.

The then vicar of St Andrew’s Church, Thomas Whorwood, was financially dependent on his older brother, Henry Mayne Whorwood, Lord of the Manor of Headington and lay rector; and the latter, though despising Lock, had to tread carefully because he owed him money. But James Palmer, the curate of St Andrew’s, did not see why the people of Quarry should have to carry their coffins further than was necessary to get to their church. In 1805 he wrote to the Bishop of Oxford, not mincing his words on the subject of Joseph Lock:

Mr Lock, whose improper conduct has made no inconsiderable disturbance in this parish, is a person in whose estimation the possession of money is a compensation for the absence of almost everything else, and although Mr Whorwood to my certain knowledge most heartily despises him, yet he finds it convenient to show him some civilities and attentions, for it is said that he has borrowed money of him. Mr Lock would not be so much disliked as he is, if he did not permit his wife, who is a busy meddling woman, to interfere as much as she does in everything in which he is concerned. He suffers her to make a fool of him, therefore he is a fool.

In the end, St Andrew’s Church lost out; the people of Quarry turned their backs on Old Headington and arranged to have a Methodist preacher come to them; they never came back to St Andrew’s, and their own parish church was built for them in 1849.

On 12 October 1805 the death of Lock's infant son in Headington two days earlier was announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal.

Joseph Lock continued to run his shop in the High Street, and probably spent much of his time down there. His son Edward was apprenticed to his father for seven years in April 1799 at the age of 14; was admitted a Freeman of Oxford in 1806 at the age of 21; and just six years later in 1812 was described in the City Poll Book as a gentleman.

Joseph Lock was Mayor of Oxford in 1813/14, and was knighted by the Prince Regent when he visited Oxford in 1814. J. R. Green in Oxford Stories states that Lock was knighted in error:

The knighting by mistake was a true story. William Elias Taunton was Town Clerk; his son of the same name, the Recorder, was absent when the Prince drove up, and the father read the address, but instead of handing it to the Mayor for presentation, handed it in himself. The Regent took a sword from one of his attendants, asked his name, and knighted him. He was reminded that it was an error. Bid the Mayor stand forward and he rose Sir Joseph Locke [sic].

Lady Lock died in 1822 at the age of 62, leaving Sir Joseph a widower for 22 years. Perhaps he mellowed in his old age, for in 1827 he gave some land in Nacklingcroft Meadow off Marston Road to be the site of the present St Clement’s Church.

In 1829 Lock served a second term as Mayor of Oxford and was elected Alderman. There was no seat for him on the new Corporation of 1835, but he was selected to be a magistrate.

On 21 August 1831 at St Andrew's Church, Headington his elder daughter Elizabeth Lock was married by the Warden of Wadham College to John Wilson, a Captain in the Royal Marines.

In 1842 Lock was still listed in Pigot’s Directory as a banker at 6 & 7 High Street.

When Lock died on 16 January 1844 at the age of 83, of his numerous children only Edward and one daughter, Mrs Maria Ballachey, were still alive. Edward was bequeathed the Oxford property and Maria the land in Headington, including Bury Knowle House. She moved in immediately with her husband, George Baker Ballachey from Edgefield in Norfolk.

Perhaps significantly, Sir Joseph and Lady Lock were buried at All Saints Church in Oxford, not at St Andrew’s Church. His obituary, published in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 20 January 1844, makes no mention whatsoever of Headington, and suggests that he was more popular down in Oxford:

Obituary of Sir Joseph Lock

Lock's Court near Bury Knowle Park is named after Sir Joseph Lock.

For more information about Sir Joseph Lock, see:

  • Obituary (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 20 January 1844, p. 3b)
  • Anne Natalie Hansen, Oxford Goldsmiths before 1800 (Columbus, Ohio: At the Sign of the Cock, 1996), pp. 103–10
  • Carl Boardman, Oxfordshire Sinners and Villains (Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994), pp. 53–4.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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