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William Orchard (d.1504)


William Orchard was a master mason who lived in Barton in Headington. He was also the chief (possibly the only) architect of Oxford between 1460 and 1500.

Orchard owned a quarry at Headington and supplied stone to the colleges of Oxford, and lived in Barton in “a lyttel house with an orchard called the Pale and three acres of land”. This house, which was owned by Magdalen College, was probably 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).

From 1468, Orchard was in charge of the building of Magdalen College, and he is also believed to have built the roof of the Divinity School, where five of the vault-bosses have the initials “WO” carved on them.

By the early 1470s William Orchard had married his first wife, Agnes, and they had a son, John Orchard the Younger, and also a daughter Anne. John became a chorister at Magdalen College and studied there in 1485–7, taking a BCL degree.

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

The foundation stone of Magdalen was laid on 5 May 1474, and its buildings were occupied in 1480.

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.

Orchard’s draft will of 1490 mentions two properties in Headington: Jenyns Place (which the above lease identifies as lying to the west of Headington, near Hazel Grove), 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 it appears that their children may have done so as well..

Orchard married again: his new wife was Katherine, but he does not appear to have had any children by her.

In his final will dated 21 January 1503/4, Orchard left his second wife “a grove lying at Heddyngton townys end”. (Grove here does not mean a wood, but a piece of enclosed land, possibly his quarry; 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’s (now Christ Church Cathedral), where he had probably been responsible for the building of the vault of the choir and the cloisters.

William Orchard’s name was given to a new Close in Old Headington in the 1960s.


There is a much fuller entry on William Orchard in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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© Stephanie Jenkins

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