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William Orchard (d.1504)


William Orchard (also William Archard or William Mason) was a master mason and architect who had land at Barton in Headington as well as a nearby quarry. He was also the chief architect of Oxford between 1460 and 1500.

From 1468, Orchard was in charge of the building of Magdalen College for William Waynflete: its foundation stone was laid on 5 May 1474, and its buildings were occupied in 1480.

Orchard supplied stone to the colleges of Oxford from a 2½ acre quarry that he held in Headington.

By the early 1470s William Orchard had married his first wife, Agnes, and they had a son, John Orchard the younger, and a daughter Anne (both named in his draft will of 1490). .

In 1472 Orchard (“aliter Mason de Oxonia”) and Agnes his wife were granted a lease of the Pike Inn in Oxford by Balliol College.

In 1478 Magdalen College leased to him for 59 years lands at Barton in the parish of Headington. (in 1486 this was changed to one for life or twenty years at a nominal rent.

In 1479 Orchard supplied stone from the quarry in Headington that he leased from the King for the building of Eton College.

It is believed that Orchard was did some work on Oxford's Divinity School, completed in 1483, as five of the vault-bosses in the roof have the initials “WO” carved on them.

On 24 April 1484 Orchard’s lands, “arable and inarable, in the field of Berton [Barton] in the demesne of Hydyngton” were granted to John Atkyns of Hedyngton and his assigns for ten years; and on 21 August 1490 he leased to William Fermour “a mese [house] lying in the town of Hedyngton”, in the west end of the same, late in the hands of John Jenyns, with all the lands, pastures and meadows, excepting the grove called “Hasyll Grove” for five years. Jenyns was also to have the carriage of the stone from the Quarry at a rent of 13s 4d.

From about 1486 Orchard lived in Barton in “a lyttel house with an orchard called the Pale and three acres of land” which was granted to his use by Magdalen College for a rent of one red rose per year. This house is likely to have been on the site of Barton End at the end of Barton Road (within easy reach of the Magdalen Pit in the days when Headington was not bisected by the London Road).

His son John Orchard, who had been a chorister at Magdalen College, studied there from 1485 to 1487, taking a BCL degree, and he is named as John Orchard the younger in William Orchard's draft will of 1490. This mentions two properties in Headington: Jenyns Place (see above), and Hills House (possibly his house in Barton Road):

I will, gyfe & grant after my dissese & Agnes my wif that my ferme place of Edyngton, named sumtyme Jenyns Place be charged to pay oute of the same unto the feliship of Magdallyn College of Oxford foresayd to pray for my soull vis. viiid. ons in the yere…. Item I gef & grant that my sone John the younger have after my dicese & Agnes my wif my place at Hedyngton named ther Jenyns Place with 11 acres & a dim. of Querri of ston ther, to have & to hold the forsaid place with the 11 acres & a dim. of querry to the forsaid John & his heirs for evermore…. Item I will, gief & grant unto my doughter Anne my house with the appertinance in Hedyngton named Hils house, to have & to hold the house with the appertinance unto the said Anne to her heirs for evermore.

In the event, his wife Agnes predeceased him, and Orchard married again: his new wife was Katherine.

In 1502 Orchard started work on St Bernard's (now St John's) College.

In his final will dated 21 January 1503/4, Orchard left his second wife Katherine “a grove lying at Heddyngton townys end”. (Grove here does not mean a wood, but a piece of enclosed land, possibly his quarry, and the town’s end of Headington would have been to the east.) He died soon after making his will, which was proved in the Vice-Chancellor's Court on 14 March. He was named in it as “William Archard, alias Mason”.

By his request Orchard was buried in in the church of the Augustinian priory of St Frideswide (now Christ Church Cathedral), where he had probably been responsible for the building of the vault of the choir and the cloisters.

William Orchard Close in Old Headington was named after him in the 1960s.


There is a much fuller entry on William Orchard 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

See also Victoria County History: Magdalen College: HIstory

© Stephanie Jenkins

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