Headington history: People

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Robert Walter Townson, later Wilson (1864–1945)

Robert Walter Townson, known as Bertie, was born at Grayrigg, Westmorland in 1864 and baptised there on 31 August. He was the third son of the Revd Robert Townson, Curate of Grayrigg, and his wife Margaret Cowper. For more on his parents and his nine siblings, see The Townsons of Lyth by John Townson.

From 1866 to 1882 Bertie's father was Curate of Allithwaite in the parish of Cartmel, Lancashire. In the 1871 census Bertie (6) can be seen at Allithwaite Vicarage with his parents and his siblings Mary (11), Charles (8), Charlotte (5), Emily (4), John (2), Leonard (1), and Frederick (six months). The children were looked after by a nurse and under-nurse, and the family also had a cook and nursemaid.

At the time of the 1881 census Bertie (16) and his brother John Henry Townson (12) were boarding at Rossall School in Lancashire.

After leaving school, Bertie spent a year at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, and then appears to have gone to America: John Townson states: “One thing that is remembered in the family is that Bertie had to go to America as a young man to extract one of his brothers from some sort of trouble there; which brother it was is not known.” This probably explains why he was matriculated at the relatively late age of 22, on 16 October 1886, at the University of Oxford by St John's College.

Bertie obtained a Third in Theology in Trinity Term 1889, and was ordained Deacon at Chelmsford in December 1889. He then served as Curate of St James, Forest Gate until 1891.

In the 1891 census (where he is recorded by the name of Bertie), he was a visitor at "Aucklands" in Littlehampton, East Preston, the home of Charles Poland and his wife Mariann, who had one son, Eustace, who was a curate, and four unmarried daughters: Mariann (35), Agnes Madeleine (30), Beatrice Elizabeth (28), and Gertrude Annie (27). The youngest daughter, Gertrude (born in Bloomsbury in 1863/4), was to become Townson's wife.

Townson was ordained Priest at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1891, and served as Curate of Warwick in Northumberland from 1891 to 1893.

In the first quarter of 1893 in Littlehampton, Robert Walter Townson married Gertrude Annie Poland, and they had three daughters:

  • Dorothy Margaret Townson (born at Bartley Green, Birmingham in 1893/4 and baptised by her own father there on 4 March 1894)
  • Millicent Mary Joyce Townson, known as Joyce (born in Plymouth in 1895/6, reg. first quarter of 1896 without forenames)
  • Violet Gertrude Maris Stella Townson, known as Stella (born at the Vicarage in St Andrew's Road in Headington on 17 August 1903 and baptised by her own father at St Andrew's Church on 27 September).

Townson served as Curate of Northfield near Birmingham (where his first daughter was born) from November 1893 to 1895; of Sutton-on-Plym, Plymouth (where his second daughter was born) from 1895; and of Dean, Kimbolton from December 1897.

In 1899 the Revd Scott-Tucker of St Andrew's Church in Headington resigned under a cloud, and on 23 October 1899 the following announcement appeared in The Times:

The Rev. Robert Walter Townson has been instituted to the vicarage of Headington, Oxon. — patron, Mrs. M. A. C. Rawlinson, of Eltham, Kent.

It appears, however, that Townson, who was the brother of the Revd Scott-Tucker's curate, had already taken over some duties at the church, as he had performed a marriage at the church on 28 May 1899, when Scott-Tucker was embroiled in a court case.

The Revd Townson was immediately appointed by Headington Parish Council to fill the vacancy on the Burial Board caused by the resignation of the Revd Scott-Tucker.

Townson in about 1914

Townson moved with his family into St Andrew's House on the corner of St Andrew's Road and Osler Road (below).


Robert Walter Townson was Vicar of St Andrew's from 1899 to 1915, and was an extreme Anglo-Catholic.

Left: This postcard shows what must be Robert Walter Townson standing outside St Andrew's Church in about 1914. It was produced by the photographer John Hugh Holmes, who lived in Westbourne Terrace, Headington, at what is now 127 London Road (Shanghai House takeaway). The door of the church (which matches that shown on p. 12 of Within Living Memory: Recollections of Old Headington, Oxford) has since been replaced.

Townson's predecessor at the church, the Revd Scott-Tucker, had co-founded the Headington United Cricket Club and Football Club, and at the cricket club annual dinner held at the Britannia Inn in October 1900, the Revd Townson occupied the chair, proposing the toast to the Queen and presenting the prizes. Jackson's Oxford Journal reported:

Mr. E. SMITH proposed [a toast to] “The Chairman.” They all knew the Vicar to be a man of wide learning and deep religious convictions. He had met with some opposition in the parish, and some of his views had been severely criticised, but he worked perseveringly on in the face of such opposition, and would, no doubt, ultimately convince those who now differed from him that he had their welfare at heart and was working in the interests of the parish — (applause).

The VICAR, in response, said that he was deeply sensible of his inability to satisfactory [sic] fill the chair that evening. — (“No, no”). He felt very deeply what the last speaker had said. He was only too pleased to assist in the affairs of the parish, and would willingly do what he could to help forward such many pursuits as cricket and football, as he thought that the success of the Empire was in a great measure due to the cultivation of such sports. He wished to be the friend of all in the parish. — (applause).

This suggests that his high Anglo-Catholicism was already being criticized in 1900, but that none the less the people of Headington liked him.

Townson (36) can be seen living at Headington vicarage at the time of the 1901 census: he described himself as "Catholic Priest, Anglican Communion". With him were his wife Gertrude Annie (36) and his first two daughters Dorothy Margaret (7) and Joyce (5), as well as his sister-in-law Miss Agnes Wareham Poland. The family had a cook and a housemaid. His third daughter was born in this house in 1903.

It was said of Townson that “he raised the churchmanship to unknown levels and alienated most of the congregation in the process”, bringing him into conflict with the Bishop of Oxford, and hastening the creation of the separate parish and church of All Saints, Highfield, in 1910, as many of the churchgoers went off to the chapel of ease in Perrin Street. The detail below (taken from a postcard by the Headington photographer John Holmes) shows part of the interior of St Andrew's Church in the days of Townson. In this area alone there are at least three images of the Virgin Mary:

Interior of St Andrew's

The 1911 census again shows the Townson family in Headington Vicarage. They now had a governess as well as a cook and housemaid, and Gladys Harrison, a cousin aged 17 born in Guildford and described as a student, was living with them.

The Oxford Chronicle of 9 April 1915 published an article (p. 9) entitled “Headington Church Troubles”, explaining why the Vicar might have to leave because of the reservation of the Holy Sacrament at the church. This may, however, have been a cover-up for the real reason he had to leave not only St Andrew's, but also the priesthood later that year, after falling in love with a young woman called Daisy.

Evelyn Daisy Clarke Wallace (known as Daisy)

Evelyn Daisy Clarke Margaret Wallace, known as Daisy, was born at Aldershot on 25 January 1881 and baptised at St Peter's Church, Farnborough on 5 March. In 1891, when she was ten years old, she was living at a house called St John's in Bishopstoke, Hampshire with her parents Nesbit Willoughby Wallace (51) a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army born in Nova Scotia, and his first wife Mrs Susan Copley Wallace (50), born in Montreal. Four of Daisy's older siblings were at home, the first three born in Canada, and the last in Winchester: Beatrice (20), Edith (18), Ella (14), and Alymer (11). The family had five servants.

On 6 July 1894 Daisy's mother died at St John's, Bishopstoke. Her effects at death were just £187 12s. 9d.

At the time of the 1901 census Daisy was aged 20 and living with her older sister Beatrice (29) at Highfield, Mount View, Bishopstoke, Hampshire. The two unmarried women lived alone with one servant.

Daisy's father Nesbit Willoughby Wallace married his second wife, Agatha Constance Hodgson, at West Kensington on 9 June 1903.

In 1911 Daisy Wallace was still unmarried and had moved on her own to Headington, living on private means. She was then 30 (but gave her age in the census as 27) and was boarding at Rookery Cottage (now 1 Stoke Place, a short distance from the vicarage) in the home of the prosperous Headington builder Charles Morris. According to John Townson, she worked at the SPCK (the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) bookshop, and met Townson through this work. He had evidently fallen in love with Daisy by 1915, when he was 51 and she was 34.

“Mr & Mrs Wilson”

Townson resigned as Vicar of St Andrew's in 1915 and left his wife and went off to live in a common-law marriage with Daisy in Gloucestershire, where he returned to his original career of farming. It is probably at this point that Daisy changed her surname from Wallace to Wilson, and it is likely they passed themselves off as Mr & Mrs Wilson, the surname that Townson was later legally to adopt legally. The couple could not marry for fifteen years, as Townson's wife was still alive.

From May 1915 St Andrew's Church had various priests in charge, until Alexander Nenon Armstrong was appointed Vicar in 1916.

On 30 August 1930 Townson's legal wife Gertrude Annie Townson died at Beach House Nursing Home, Streatham, Surrey. Her home address at the time of her death was given as 48 Knollys Road, Streatham, Surrey, and she was not only still described as the wife of the Reverend Robert Walter Townson, but he was also her executor. Her effects came to £735 9s. 6d.

Townson was now free, and on 20 October 1930 (less than two months after the death of Gertrude), he officially changed his surname to Wilson, prior to his marriage to his common-law wife Daisy. He was then living at the same address as that given for his wife. The following notice appeared in the London Gazette:

I, ROBERT WALTER WILSON, of 48, Knollys-road, Streatham, in the county of Surrey, heretobefore called and known by the name of Robert Walter Townson, of 48, Knolly-road [sic], Streatham, in the county of Surrey, hereby give notice that on the twentieth day of October 1930, I renounced and abandoned the use of my said surname of Townson and assumed in lieu thereof the surname of Wilson; and further that such change of name is evidenced by a deed dated the twentieth day of October, 1930, duly executed by me, and attested and enrolled in the Enrolment Department of the Central Office of the Royal Courts of Justice on the twenty-first day of October, 1930.

When, however, a couple of months later, near the beginning of 1931 in the Brentford district, Robert Walter Townson married Evelyn Daisy Clarke Wilson, the marriage was registered with the groom's former surname of Townson (possibly because his wife was already called Wilson). Legally they were both henceforth surnamed Wilson.

Daisy's father Nesbit Willoughby Wallace died at Leaholme, 15 Waterden Road on 31 July 1931, and his effects came to £346 2s. 4d.

Robert Walter Wilson, formerly Townson, died at the age of 80 at St Peter's Court, Great Bricett, Suffolk on 19 February 1945. His effects came to £1,714 13s., and his executors were his second wife Evelyn Daisy Clarke Wilson and his daughter Violet Gertrude Maria Stella Saker (wife of Harold John Saker).

His second wife Mrs Evelyn Daisy Clarke Wilson died at Cirencester in February 1976.

Daughters of Robert Walter Townson by his first wife

His three daughters were all married in the Alverstoke district of Hampshire, as follows:

  • His second daughter Millicent Mary Joyce Townson married George E. Middleditch in 1917
  • His eldest daughter Dorothy Margaret Townson married Christopher P Worsfold in 1921
  • His youngest daughter Violet Gertrude Maris Stella Townson married Harold John Saker in 1922.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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