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Mather’s Farmhouse, Barton Lane


Mather’s Farmhouse

List entry for Mather's Farmhouse: 1047367
List entry for wall of Mather's Farmhouse fronting Larkin's Lane: 1185015

Mather’s Farmhouse, which stands opposite the Black Boy at the start of Barton Lane, dates from the seventeenth century. It has an external chimney stack on each side and a stone-tile roof. It was described thus by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, published in 1939:

(278) Mather's Farm, house on the E. corner of Larkins Lane is of two storeys; the walls are of rubble and the roofs are slate-covered. It was built in the 17th century and the S. front and W. end retain a number of original two light windows. Inside the building is some 18th-century panelling and there is some earlier panelling in a room on the first floor. Condition—Good.

This farmhouse and it land was owned by Magdalen College until the late 1960s, and was sometimes known as Magdalen Farm. In 1673 Robert Pawling (an Oxford mercer who was Mayor of Oxford in 1679/80) was the tenant of this farm. He attended St Andrew’s Church, and became involved in a dispute about a pew which traditionally belonged to the farm. He was a Parliamentarian, and by June 1685 had moved permanently up to Headington, then a Puritan stronghold. Anthony Wood records how on Monday 22 June 1685 (during Monmouth’s rebellion):

… about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, Robert Pawling, late of Oxon, mercer, was brought under guard from his house at Hedington by command from the earl of Abendon, lord leivtenant of the county of Oxon, and committed prisoner to the Castle.

Pawling was still living here in 1707 at the time of the death of his wife Christian.

During the eighteenth century, the Revd Dr John Mather (President of Corpus Christi College from 1714 to 1748) and his wife and six surviving children are known to have lived in Headington, and it seems very likely that they lived here at Mather’s Farm. Dr Mather took out a lease of Magdalen College property described in 1721 as “The Chief Farm in Headington” in 1732, 1739, and 1746.

John Mather died on 15 April 1748, and his will was proved at Oxford on 24 June. His widow Rebecca continued to live in Headington with her three unmarried daughters Henrietta, Elizabeth, and Catherine until her own death in Headington on 3 May 1767, renewing the lease on the farm there in 1753 and 1760.

The three Mather daughters, now middle-aged, continued to live in Headington, and the “Mrs Mather” named on the Magdalen College leases of 1767, 1774, 1781, 1788, and 1795 is probably Miss Henrietta Mather.

Henrietta died at Headington on 4 June 1800 and Elizabeth on 24 June 1801. Catherine Mather, the last of the unmarried sisters, remained in Headington (although probably not at the farm), and died there on 12 March 1807.

By the time of the Headington Enclosure Award of 1805 this farmhouse (not named) and its land was let out to Theophilus Wharton by Magdalen College. The following land was awarded to Wharton, and it seems likely that this was the extent of the farm, two-thirds of which was to the south of Barton Lane:

  • Plot 90 (20 acres to the immediate east of the farmhouse)
  • Plot 53 (26 acres of Between Towns Field, now the area occupied by Ash Grove and adjacent roads)
  • Plot 38 (22 acres on the other side of the London Road immediately opposite Between Towns Field, which would of course have been part of the same field before the London Road was cut through it in the late eighteenth century).

In 1850, the Headington Rate-Book of December shows that Mather’s Farmhouse (named thus) was occupied by William Scarlett, with the owner given as “the executors of Thomas Burrows”, who was presumably a lessee of the college. The rateable value of the farm was then £166.13s.4d, and the size of the farm just over 112 acres (plus another 22 acres “in the Meadow” that Scarlett leased from William Graham). In the 1851 census William Scarlett is described as a farmer employing six men and farming 140 acres. This land covered the present Chestnut and Hawthorn Avenues and ran over towards Wick Farm. He was still there farming the land at the time of the 1861 census.

On 5 May 1866 the forthcoming auction of Mather's Farm was advertised thus in Jackson's Oxford Journal:

HEADINGTON, NEAR OXFORD,
A very desirable and valuable FARM, Situate in the Parish of Headington;
Consisting of 141A, 0R. 34P. of excellent Arable, Pasture and Meadow Land, with Farm House and Agricultural Buildings….
The Property consists of a capital Stone-built and Slated FARM HOUSE, situate in the village, with suitable Buildings, Garden, and Premises, together with 10 Enclosures of excellent ARABLE, PASTURE, and MEADOW LAND, the whole being together 141A 0R. 34P., or thereabouts, and in the several occupations of Messrs. Scarlett, Coppock, and the Trustees of the late Jas. Morrell, Esq.
The Lands are of very productive quality, and the House and Farm Premises are in good repair; whether for occupation or investment the Property is very desirable.–The Estate is held under Lease from Magdalen College, Oxford, for 20 years from the 6th of August, 1858, and the outgoings are—Land Tax £7 7s. 10d., Reserved Rent £1 12s., 624 Gallons of Wheat, 785½ Gallons of Malt, and 2 Loads of Wheat Straw, or the money value thereof annually.

William Scarlett, who lived in Mather's farmhouse, died just three months later at the age of 44 in August 1866, and by 1871 he was dead, and his widow and children were living in Woodman’s Villa in New High Street.

The next occupant was Islip-born William Berry. From May 1855 to early 1862 he had been the landlord of the White Hart, He moved to Mather’s Farmhouse with his first wife, Ann, and ran a bakery here. Ann died the following year, and the 1871 census shows him as a widower living at the farmhouse with his 12-year-old niece, who was presumably keeping house for him: he was described as a Master Baker and the occupier of 20 acres, employing one man in each capacity, which implies that the farmhouse had been separated from the bulk of its lands.

In 1873 William Berry remarried, and he and his new wife Sarah had twelve children between 1874 and 1886: two boys — William John (1874) and Henry Edward (1875) — followed by nine girls in a row: Sarah Alice (1876), Elizabeth (1877), Mary (1878), Fanny Rosetta (1879), Alice Louise (1880), Edith Octavia (1882), Florence (1883), Mildred Eveline (1884), and Josephine (1885). Their last child was another boy: James Wilkins (1886).

William Berry died in 1888, and his wife Mrs Sarah Berry was left to look after the bakery as well as twelve children ranging in age from two to fourteen. From 1898 she is described as “baker & butcher”, and she would have been in charge of the bakery when a well-known postcard was made showing the farmhouse in about 1904. Mrs Berry retired in 1907 at the age of 60, and her eldest son William John Berry took over the bakery, while her second son, Harry Edward, became a butcher in Old High Street.

The 1911 census shows William John Berry (37) described as a baker & flour dealer and living at Mather’s Farmhouse with his wife Edith (34) and his son William Ewart (3). Early in the First World War the family had to leave Mather’s Farm, and took themselves and their business to 1 St Andrew’s Road, just the other side of Larkin’s Lane. The redoubtable Mrs Berry senior survived until 1926, when she died at the age of 82.

Early in the First World War the Berry family moved across Larkin’s Lane to 1 St Andrew’s Road, where they built a new bakery in the back garden. Jim Wheeler, who was already farming Mather’s Farm, moved into the farmhouse, reuniting it with its lands.

Kelly's Directory lists Walter James Wheeler as the occupant of Mather's Farmhouse in the mid 1930s, and William Kimber & Sons farmers in the mid-1940s.

Magdalen College then let out Mather's Farmhouse its Fellows. John Austin is listed there in 1949 and 1952, and the Revd Arthur White Adams (Grinfield lecturer on the Septuagint and Fellow & Dean of Magdalen College) from 1954 to 1970.

The college then sold the farmhouse.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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