Headington history: People

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Morrell / Wharton / Tawney families

Headington remembers these three families in Morrell Avenue, Wharton Road, and Tawney Street; but there are also physical reminders of them all still standing in Headington:

  • The Morrells are responsible for Headington Hill Hall, and the existence of Headington Hill Park and South Park;
  • The Whartons built Headington Lodge, a mansion in Osler Road, Headington;
  • Charles Tawney gave the land for Headington’s first church school (now St Andrew’s School) in 1848.

These three families are so inextricably linked to the history of Headington and to each other that it is impossible to disentangle them.

The origin of Morrell’s Brewery
(Tawneys and Morrells)

The first connection between the Tawneys and the Morrells was purely commercial. In 1743 Richard Tawney the elder (1684–1756), a 60-year-old former boatmaster of Upper Fisher Row, founded what was to become Morrell’s Brewery in St Thomas’s, Oxford. It passed to his elder son Richard Tawney the younger (Sir Richard from the early 1770s) (1721–1791), and as he left no male heir, it then passed to his younger brother Edward Tawney (1735–1800). In 1797 Edward Tawney, who had no children, entered into an agreement with Mark and James Morrell, nephews of Oxford’s most promising solicitor James Morrell, to take them into partnership while they began to buy out his interest in the brewery.

Headington Lodge and Wick Farm
Tawneys, Whartons, and Morrells)

The first important link between Morrell’s Brewery and Headington began not, as might be expected, with Headington Hill Hall but with another house in Headington. Edward Tawney the brewer had built himself a gentleman’s farmhouse facing on to the Croft in Old Headington, and on his death in 1800 he bequeathed it to Mrs Ann Wharton, née Tawney for her lifetime, and to her eldest son Theophilus Wharton junior after her death. (Ann, the wife of a High Street apothecary Theophilus Wharton, was the daughter of Edward Tawney’s much older half-sister Jane, who had married her first cousin Robert Tawney, a carpenter.)

Theophilus Wharton junior, his younger brother Brian Wharton (born 1782), and their sister Jane Wharton had been granted over 300 acres of Headington land under the Enclosure Award of 1804. in addition in 1813 Theophilus and Brian bought Headington’s Wick Farm for the then huge sum of £9,900 and probably lived at the farmhouse there.

On 17 December 1807 at St Andrew’s Church in Headington, the Tawney and Wharton families were linked to the Morrells when Jane Wharton (1790–1814), the younger sister of Theophilus junior and Brian, married James Morrell senior (1773–1855), the joint owner of Morrell's Brewery: she was 17 and he was 34.

The Wharton brothers' mother Ann Wharton died at her farmhouse in Osler Road at the age of 69 on 24 December 1823, and the brothers inherited her property: it was probably around this time that they converted that farmhouse into the regency villa it is today: it was then called Headington Lodge, but has now been been split into two houses, White Lodge and Sandy Lodge.

On 2 July 1829 at St Andrew's Church in Pershore, Worcester Brian Wharton married Catharine Grape (the sister of Mary Grape who had married the current Lord of the Manor of Headington, Thomas Henry Whorwood, in 1807). They appear to have moved into Wick Farmhouse in Barton, but according to W. Henry Jewitt they moved out because it was haunted and came back to Headington, presumably to Headington Lodge.

Theophilus Wharton junior died at the age of 52 on 21 October 1831. A month later on 26 November 1831 the furniture of Brian Wharton was advertised for auction by Mallam's in Jackson's Oxford Journal, but this could be the furniture at Headington Lodge that he had just inherited from his brother. .

Brian Wharton died at the age of 57 on 7 August 1839 (after “a long and severe illness, born with the greatest patience”) and was buried in St Andrew's Church. His wife Catharine moved back to her home at Henwick in Worcestershire, where she died aged 67 on 16 December 1852: her body was brought back to Headington for burial with her husband:

Wharton memorial

Theophilus Wharton junior who had died in 1831 lleft Headington Lodge to his nephew Mark Theophilus Morrell (born 1813). Mark died in 1842 at the age of 29.

Then the mansion went to Mark Theophilus Morrell's cousin, Charles Tawney (1780–1853), who was the son of Henry Tawney (the brother of Mrs Ann Wharton). In 1847 Charles gave St Andrew’s Church half an acre of land (now the front part of the St Andrew’s School site) so that Headington National School could be built.

Wick Farm was owned by just two female members of the Morrell family for nearly a century: Theophilus and Brian Wharton left it to Mrs Emily Stone (1811–1891), the daughter of James Morrell and their sister Jane. She held it from 1839 to 1891, leaving it to her niece Emily Alicia Morrell, who owned it from 1891 to 1938.

Headington Hill Hall (the Morrells)
James Morrell senior (1773–1855)

James Morrell senior was born on 27 July 1773. He was a widower when on the last day of 1817 he bought some grazing land near the top of Headington Hill from the Savage family to build himself a country estate.

He was no stranger to Headington: James’s uncle, another James Morrell, had acted as Steward of the Manor of Heddington from 1781, and James himself continued in the post until 1812.

On 17 December 1807 at Headington, James Morrell senior married Jane Wharton (1790–1814), who had been living in the farmhouse that formerly stood on the site of Headington Lodge. Jane had died in 1814 at the age of 24, leaving him with three surviving children: James junior (aged 4), Emily (aged 3) and Mark Theophilus (aged 1). No doubt James was keen to move them from the damp unhealthy atmosphere of Fisher Road to the renowned good air of Headington.

The house that he commissioned was not completed until 1824, and was relatively modest: today it is just a wing of the much larger hall; but he did continue buying land to increase the size of his estate, so that when he died at the age of 82 on 10 November 1855 it stretched from Pullen’s Lane right down to the Marston Road.

Memorial to James Morrell
The above memorial to James Morrell senior was put up in St Clement’s Church
by his daughter Mrs Emily Stone, the sister of James Morrell junior

James Morrell junior (1810–1863)

James Morrell junior (born 22 March 1810) married Alicia Everett in 1851, and their only child, Emily Alicia, was born in 1854. James junior inherited his father’s house on Headington Hill in 1855, and immediately set to work to create a new and grander house, the present Headington Hill Hall, designed by John Thomas and built by Joseph Castle. At a party for 250 guests held in 1856 to celebrated the erection of its roof, Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 8 November reports that the local rector proclaimed that the new mansion “heralded the coming among them of one who was generous in heart and purse, and most anxious to advance and extend the welfare and happiness of all around him”, and that Castle proposed the heath of James Morrell, “who, he remarked, was not only a rich man, but, what was a great deal better, knew how too use his riches in a proper and prudent manner…. He was not only noted for his liberality to the rich, but for his consideration for the poor; and he could not show it better than he had by building a home for himself, where they all sincerely hoped he would live in happiness for many years, and his family enjoy it for generations to come.”

In fact, James and Alicia only had another eight years of life, which they spent stylishly in the new Headington Hill Hall. They did not forget the local community, however, and in 1858, Alicia founded an independent free school for girls in St Clement’s to provide an alternative to the overcrowded church school which had been founded in 1839: she paid for both the schoolmistress’s salary and the running costs. A party to celebrate the opening of the school was held for the girls at Headington Hill Hall, where they were fed on roast beef and plum pudding. It was particularly important to her and to her husband that this school was kept free from the interference of the clergy.

James Morrell junior died on 12 September 1863 at the age of 53 and was buried in the family vault in St Clement’s churchyard, with his funeral was attended by over 2000 people. His obituary appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 19 September 1863.

His wife Alicia Harriet Morrell died at Headington Hill Hall just five months later on 10 February 1864 at the age of 42. Their only child and sole heir, Emily Alicia Morrell, was thus orphaned at the age of ten.

Morrell grave
Grave of James Morrell junior at St Clement’s Church

Emily Alicia Morrell (1854–1938) and her husband George Herbert Morrell (1845–1906)

Emily was a very wealthy heiress, and the Morrell Trustees took over responsibility for the brewery, for Headington Hill Hall, and for Emily herself until she came of age. She went to live in Streatley House with Mrs Emily Stone, the sister of her father James Morrell, and the Hall was let out until she reached the age of 18, when she moved back to the Hall with her aunt. Having just come out, grand parties were held at the Hall, including one in 1873 attended by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the Dean of Christ Church and his daughters (including Alice Liddell of Alice in Wonderland fame, who was just a little older than herself).

Emily became unofficially engaged to her third cousin, George Herbert Morrell (always known as Herbert), a graduate of Exeter College, when she was only 14 and he was 23. They were allowed to marry on 4 February 1874, just after Emily’s twentieth birthday, and after the honeymoon they settled in Headington Hill Hall together. Herbert and Emily embarked immediately on improvements: they had the interior of the house extensively remodelled, and doubled the size of their estate by purchasing South Park in 1876.

Herbert and Emily Morrell were both very interested in education. Herbert was on the Committee of Management of Headington National School by 1877, and was Chairman of the Technical Education Sub-Committee appointed by Oxfordshire County Council for the area by 1892. Mrs Emily Morrell looked after poor and orphaned girls: in about 1878 she founded a training school for servants on Headington Hill. In 1885, when Herbert was High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, he performed many charitable acts, including a school treat in the grounds of Headington Hill Hall for 2,500 children, with merry-go-rounds, swing boats, and races, and a “capital tea” at 4.15 p.m. In 1895, Herbert became MP for Mid-Oxfordshire.

Herbert and Emily had two sons: James Herbert Morrell (1882–1965) and George Mark Morrell (1884–1939).

Their aunt Emily Stone died in 1891, and Herbert & Emily Morrell thenceforth kept up two households, one at Headington Hill Hall and the other at Streatley Park. Herbert Morrell died in 1906, and his wife Emily outlived him by 32 years: she would not use motor-cars, but travelled everywhere in a carriage drawn by chestnut horses until her death at the age of 84 in September 1938. A year later the government requisitioned Headington Hill Hall for military use, and the house’s contents were sold.

James Herbert Morrell (1882–1965)

James Herbert Morrell, the elder son of George Herbert and Emily became a barrister, but was later the Managing Director of Morrell's Brewery. He married Julia Maud Mary (Lulu) Denton in Torquay in 1913, and they had four children, all born in Oxford: Mary Alicia Morrell (1914), Herbert William James Morrell (Bill) (1915), George James (c.1918) and Margaret (1921). He lived at The Rise in Cheney Lane on the corner of Headington Hill from 1926 until his death in 1965, and his wife remained there until her own death in 1970. The house was demolished by a speculative builder and Granville Court stands on its five-acre site.

In 1953 James Herbert Morrell sold Headington Hill Hall and its vast grounds to the city council. In 1997 his grandchildren sold Morrell’s Brewery and it closed down.

There is a much fuller entry on the Morrell family in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The ODNB online is available free to many public library users, including those in Oxfordshire:
enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box

For a full history of the Morrell family and a great deal of information about the Tawneys
and Whartons, see Brigid Allen’s, Morrells of Oxford: The Family and their Brewery
(Oxfordshire Books / Alan Sutton Publishing, 1994)

For Morrell genealogy, see Thomas Payne’s website

© Stephanie Jenkins

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