Stoke House, Stoke Place
Stoke House was built in 1883, but its core is probably a seventeenth-century cottage. The lane in which it stands, which leads down to the footpath to Elsfield, was known in the nineteenth century as Love Lane, but in 1929 it was officially named Stoke Place after this house. The four neighbouring cottages to the south were built in 1885 and were originally known as “Rookery Cottages”.
The house was described thus by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, published in 1939:
(275) Stoke, house 130 yards N. of the church, is of two storeys with attics; the walls are of rubble. It is largely modern but incorporates a 17th-century cottage. Condition—Good.
The Revd John William Augustus Taylor who lived in the Rookery (now Ruskin Hall) also owned the land this side of the lane (which had been awarded to the Finch family of the Rookery under the Headington Enclosure Award of 1804), and in 1883 he built this smaller house for his retirement. He probably named the house Stoke after Stoke near Plymouth, Devon, where his late wife, Jane Mould, had been born and where they had married. He only lived in this house for three years, as he died in 1886.
Taylor’s daughter Sarah and her husband Robert Henry Dockray then inherited this house. (The 1881 census showed Dockray as a bachelor teacher of 37, working under his future father-in-law at the Rookery School and lodging with a gardener and his family in Rookery Cottages; soon afterwards he married Miss Sarah Mary Louisa Taylor, also aged 37.) In the 1881 census and thereafter, Sarah is described as a painter in oils, and she exhibited her work at the Royal Academy (as her grandmother, Maria Spilsbury Taylor, had done before her). In 1891 Dockray is described as a private tutor; and in 1911 when he was 67 as having no occupation. The Dockrays lived at the house until about 1914; they had no children.
From 1915 to 1955 the house was occupied by Major William Lauriston Melville Lee (1865–1955). He was the author of A History of the Police in England (published in 1901), and was the brother of Lord Lee of Fareham, who donated Chequers to the nation. Dr Nicholas Hiley of the University of Kent reveals that he had been a secret agent in a branch of PMS2 (a very secret branch of MI5 set up in 1916 to spy on the British labour movement) which in 1917 claimed to have discovered a plot to murder the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Three people tried for this plot in the Central Criminal Court were imprisoned – even though it had been fabricated by one of Major Melville Lee’s agents…. When PMS2 was closed down in 1917 (its undercover methods being considered too provocative), Lee was sent into retirement at Stoke House, Headington, where he remained for the rest of his life. He seems to have maintained his links with MI5 while in Headington, and in 1917 he established and edited a journal called Industrial Peace, which circulated information on left-wing political organizations and individuals: this was printed in Oxford, and ran until 1928.
Major Melville-Lee’s son, Lt-Col. Rupert H. Melville Lee, married and remained at Stoke with his father, continuing to live there until he moved to Malta in 1965. The Melville-Lees sold much of its land, and 8, 9, and 10 Stoke Place. were built in its garden in about 1959.
Stoke House was sold to Ruskin College in 1965, and the postcard below dates from shortly afterwards.