The Hermitage, 69 Old High Street
69 Old High Street (formerly numbered 29) was known as The Hermitage in the nineteenth century. It was built between 1697 and 1706, although it was extensively altered in about 1910. It was owned by Magdalen College until 1880.
The Hermitage was built by William Absolon, and escaped the fire of 1718 which destroyed many houses in Headington.
The following advertisement on 4 July 1801 may refer to this house, which is known to have a malthouse:
TO BE SOLD, or LETT for a term of Year.—A large Stone-built HOUSE, situate in the pleasant Village of HEADINGTON, near Oxford, fit for the Reception of a genteel Family, with a delightful Garden, walled in and well planted; Yards, Stable, Coach House, and all other Conveniences; an exceeding good large Malt House, in good Repair; and with or without Land. Great Part of the Purchase Money may remain on the Premisses, if required.
For further Particulars apply to Mr. E. Barton, at Headington [an agent]; or Mr. John Owen, on the Premisses.
The following advertisement appeared on 18 September 1802:
TO be SOLD by PRIVATE CONTRACT,—A large and convenient Stone-built DWELLING HOUSE, with an extensive Garden, walled round, a Malt-House, capable of making Thirty Quarters of Malt per week, Barn, Stable, Coach-House, and other convenient Out-Offices, situate at Headington, in the County of Oxford, late in the Occupation of the Rev. Mr. ELLIS; also, Twenty Acres, more or less, of Arable and Pasture Land, Twelve Acres whereof are planted with Turnips, which may be taken at a fair Valuation.
The Estate is held by Lease under Magdalen College, for the Term of Twenty Years, commencing the 6th of December, 1797.
For a View of the Premisses, and to treat for the Purchase, apply to Mr. Roberson, Attorney at Law, Oxford.
Immediate Possession may be had, and Half the Purchase Money may remain on Mortgage, if required.
In 1802 the lease was renewed by George Fortnam, yeoman of Headington.
In 1809 the coach-house and stables attached to this house were leased by Sir Joseph Lock of Bury Knowle House, and later became part of that property.
The house was advertised for sale in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 3 June 1820:
TO BE DISPOSED OF by PRIVATE CONTRACT,—A very valuable ESTATE, consisting of a Dwelling House, Malt-house, and other outbuildings, and about 18 Acres of Land, situate at Headington, the property of the late Mr. Fortnam, and Leasehold under Magdalen College.—Part of the purchase money may remain on mortgage.
Further particulars may be known by applying on the premises.
In 1828 Thomas Mott was described as a brewer and maltster of Headington, and may have lived at this house. (There was another house in the village of Headington at this time that had a malt house, copyhold of the Manor of Headington, occupied by Henry Carr.) Mott, who was described as a brewer, maltster, and farmer, died at the age of 53 on 29 January 1830.
The sale by auction of this house (which was now described as Leasehold under Magdalen College for 20 years from 6 December 1830) was advertised in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 2 April 1836:
A large and commodious Stone-built DWELLING HOUSE, with barn, stabling, and convenient offices and farm yard; also a Ten-quarter Malt-house, adjoining the house, situate in the village of Headington.
The occupant of this house was then described as being Mr [William] Knowles.
From 1869 to 1874 Knowles let this house out to the physician Charles Thompson and his family. It was advertised for sale thus on 20 May 1865:
VALUABLE PROPERTY AT HEADINGTON NEAR OXFORD;
Comprising a large HOUSE, with suitable Offices, Malt house, and about 18 Acres of excellent LAND.
MR. FISHER begs to announce that he is instructed by Mr. Thomas Knowles, and Mrs. Knowles, the Executrix of the late Mr. Wm. Knowles, to SELL by AUCTION, on Tuesday the 6th of June, 1865, at the Golden Cross Hotel, Corn Market-street, Oxford, at Six o'clock,—A very commodious RESIDENCE, in the village of Headington, with extensive Offices and large enclosed Garden, now in the occupation of Dr. Thompson; also a large Malt-house and Granary, Barn, two Stables, Coach-house, Cow-house, and Cart Shed, and 18A. 1R. 15P. of excellent Arable Land, in Long Furlong and Little Close.... This Property is held by lease from Magdalen College for 20 years, from December 6th, 1858, subject to a reserved rent of about £16.
Dr Charles Thompson continued to lease this house, and was living there at the time of the 1871 census. Born in Calcutta and aged 58, he was still practising as a physician despite being blind, and with him were his wife Hannah (48) and their daughters Emma (26), Ada (10), and Mabel (4), and their two servants. He continues to be listed here in directories until 1874.
The following advertisement in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 5 September 1874 suggests that by that date the malt house was being let separately from the dwelling:
TO LET, at Headington, from the 29th day of September,—A Ten-quarter MALT-HOUSE —For particulars apply to Mr. Thomas Knowles, The Farm, Headington Hill.
From 1876 to 1879 this was the home of Alleyn Ward Pearson, Vicar of St Andrew’s Church, and it is listed in a directory for 1877 as “The Vicarage”.
On 28 January 1880, Magdalen College put the freehold of the house up for sale, without its farmland, at an auction in the Mitre Hotel . It was described by Pike & Messenger as a “spacious family residence … lately in the occupation of the Rev. Mr. Pearson”, with an “extensive 2-storey building (recently used as a malt house), about 95 ft. by 20 ft. with adjoining Shed and Loft over, about 50 ft. by 20 ft.” Mrs Maria Ballachey of Bury Knowle House bought some of the grounds of the property, namely the stables and barn, and part of the front yard, which she donated as a site for a British Workman Temperance building.
The house itself, however, remained unsold, and soon after the auction Thomas Richard Knowles made the college an offer of £650, which it accepted. Knowles let the Hermitage out for about £50 a year for twelve years. At the time of the 1891 census he is described as a retired farmer of 71, living in another house in Old High Street with his second wife Jane and his two youngest children, Eva (a 21-year-old schoolteacher and Mary Ann (16-year old scholar). The next year the family moved into the Hermitage, but Thomas died very soon afterwards, aged 72.
His wife and two sons continued to look after the building firm he had owned, and the firm T. R. Knowles & Son is listed at the Hermitage in directories from 1895 to 1908, although the house itself was let out during this period: in 1907 it was occupied by Major-General Astley Fellowes Terry.
In about 1908 it was sold to Alfred Fuller for £775, and he appears to have let the house out, as Miss Courtenay-Bell is listed in directories as the occupant from 1909. The 1911 census shows Miss Margaret Bell (with no mention of the “Courtenay” part of her name), as the head of the household here. She was a lady of private means aged 49, and her younger brother Charles Francis Bell (39), the first Keeper of Fine Art at the Ashmolean Museum, was living with her. They had two servants.
Charles Francis Bell bought the house in 1912, but it continued to be listed in directories under the name of his sister until 1921. From 1922 to 1925, it is listed under the name Charles Courtenay-Bell. According to Jack Stow in Within Living Memory, Bell disliked his windows overlooking the backs of two or three old stone cottages by his house, and head them pulled down, in 1920, apparently without warning: the land is now part of the garden.
Professor Edward G. T. Liddell rented the house from Charles Bell in 1924, and eighteen months later bought it. His widow was still living there in the early 1980s.
Below is a plan showing the land which belonged to the Hermitage at the time of the 1880 sale. The house itself is in the bottom left-hand corner.