First World War in Headington and Marston, Oxford

Reginald Harry Neville PRIOR (1894/5–1917)

Robin and Rex Prior
Reginald Prior (left) and older brother Robin

Reginald Harry Neville Prior (known as Rex) was born at Highfield Park (now the Park Hospital building) on Old Road, Headington in 1894/5. He was the youngest child of Nehemiah Harry Neville Prior, known as Harry (born at Great Coggeshall, Essex on 21 January 1842) and Martha Wallis Williams (born in Summertown near Oxford in 1850).

His parents were married at Summertown Congregational Church on 20 July 1870 and had six children:

  • Sydney Herbert Prior (born at Faringdon in 1874 and baptised there on 26 April)
  • Cordelia Mary Prior (born at Faringdon in 1878 and baptised there on 2 February)
  • Percy Neville Prior (born at Faringdon in 1880 and baptised there on 29 August)
  • Gladys Mary Prior (born at Highfield House, Old Road, Headington Quarry in 1887 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church on 29 May)
  • Robin Sylvio Prior (born at Highfield House on 19 March 1892 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church on 29 May)
  • Reginald Harry Neville Prior (born at Highfield House in 1894/5).


At the time of the 1871 census Rex’s parents Harry (29), a successful master cabinet maker who employed 15 men and one boy, and Martha (20) were living at 9 Marlborough Street in Faringdon with their 16-year-old servant girl.

Rex's parents were still living there in 1881 with their first three children Sydney (8), Cordelia (3) and Percy (nine months), and his paternal grandfather Robert Prior (65) and his maternal grandmother Eliza Williams (70), the widow of the Oxford tailor Adin Williams, were living with them. Rex's father was now employing eight men and four boys, and the family had three servants: a cook, housemaid, and nursemaid.

By the 1880s Rex’s father had a large shop at 17 Queen Street in Oxford, and later acquired another at 200 Cowley Road. In about 1886 the Prior family moved into a new mansion on Old Road in Headington (below) called Highfield Park or House (now the Park Hospital). Its massive park stretched as far as the Warneford Hospital grounds, and is now occupied by the University of Oxford Old Road campus.

Highfield House

In 1891 Rex’s parents were home in Highfield Park with their first four children: Sydney (18) was now a student of Natural Sciences at Exeter College, Oxford, and Cordelia (13), Percy (10), and Gladys (3) were at school. Rather surprisingly, they now had just one servant (a cook).

Rex was born at Highfield Park near the beginning of 1895 and spent the first 14 years of his life there.

At the time of the 1901 census Rex (6) was living at Highfield Park with his father Harry (59), his mother Martha (50), and his five older siblings: Sydney (28) was now a cycle maker and mechanical engineer (his was the “Highfield Cycle”); Cordelia (22) was an Oxford Home Student; Percy (20) was an undergraduate at Oxford; and Gladys (13) and Robin (9) were at school. Again they had just one general servant.

Harry Neville Prior


The Prior family appear to have suffered a financial loss in the early twentieth century, and In 1908 they moved to a smaller house in The Ridings at the foot of Shotover, which was also in Quarry parish.

At the time of the 1911 census, Rex (16), described as a student, was home at The Ridings with his father Harry (69), his mother Martha (60), and all five of his siblings: Sydney (38) was a motor and cycle maker, Cordelia (33) had no occupation; Percy (30) was a solicitor’s managing clerk; Gladys (23) was a farmer; and Robin (19) was a student.

Rex Prior did not follow his two older brothers to the University of Oxford.



Left: Rex’s father, (Nehemiah) Harry Neville Prior

Poppy In the First World War Reginald Harry Neville Prior (Rex) served as an airman (2nd class) in the 2nd Aircraft Depot of the Royal Flying Corps (Service No. 65874). He died of pneumonia at the age of 22 in France on 1 May 1917.

Prior is buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery (Extension No.1, V. E.45). His war grave there has the added words “REX, YOUNGEST SON OF MR. & MRS. H. N. PRIOR. OF HEADINGTON, OXFORD. ALSO SERVED 2/1. Q.O.O.H.”. (Only 40% of war headstones bear an inscription such as this near their base: the main inscription was free, but families had to pay 3½d per letter for a personal message.)

He is remembered on the stone plaque in the porch of Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry.


Quarry memorial

Rex’s parents
  • Mrs Martha Wallis Prior died at The Ridings the age of 69 on 8 July 1920, but she is not recorded as having been buried in Headington. Her effects came to £467 15s., and her son Percy was her executor.
  • Nehemiah Harry Neville Prior died at The Ridings at the age of 89 on 14 March 1931 and is buried in Holy Trinity churchyard. His effects came to £12,213 1s. 4d., and his three surviving sons were his executors.
Rex’s siblings
  • Cordelia Mary Prior (born 1878) died in the Oxford district at the age of 89 (reg. first quarter of 1968).
  • Percy Neville Prior (born 1880) was the Deputy Superintendant Registrar of Marriages for the Headington Registration District from 1911 to 1915, operating from the office of Thomas William Mallam at 126 High Street, Oxford. He was living at the Hazels, Old Road, Headington when he died on 16 January 1956 at the age of 75, but appears to have died in the Ploughley district.
  • Robin Sylvio Prior (born 1892) was the only one of Rex’s siblings who married. His wife was Emily V. Sharpley, and they were married in the Maidenhead district in the first quarter of 1920. The birth of their daughter Christine V. Prior was registered there in the first quarter of 1921. Emily (34) died in Maidenhead in the third quarter of that year. On 7 November 1929 at Maidenhead Methodist Chapel Robin married Pauline Ruth Symmons, who was his first wife's niece, and they had four children together: Helen, Mary, Richard, and Peter. Robin Sylvio Prior died at Crete, Ray Mill Road East in Maidenhead at the age of 86 on 25 January 1978.

Adin Williams
Rex’s maternal grandfather,
Adin Williams

Rex’s mother’s family

Rex’s mother Martha Wallis Williams (born 1850), was the daughter of Adin Williams (born in Oxford in 1803/4). Her father had started off as a mercer’s assistant at 136 High Street, Oxford and by 1861 had taken over the shop.

Martha had married Harry Prior in 1870, so had already left home by the time of the 1871 census, which shows her father, Adin Williams (67) living in Summertown, at Church House in Church Street (now Rogers Street), with his wife Eliza Ruth Williams, née Bolton (60) and their three unmarried sons:

  • George St Swithin Williams (38), a solicitor (born in Oxford in 1833/4)
  • Daniel Williams (34), no occupation (born in 1837/8)
  • John Horatio Williams (22), master tailor and mercer (born in 1849/50).

The family had just one servant in 1871: seventeen-year-old Emma Ewers (sometimes written as Hewers), born in Summertown in 1854. (Emma was the daughter of Harriet Ewers, née Hawkins, who before her marriage had herself been the servant of the Williams family in Rogers Street: she can be seen with them in the 1841 census, when she was fifteen and George was eight.)

Soon after the 1871 census George St Swithin Williams and Emma Ewers appear to have been married (possibly in Scotland or abroad, as Emma was still a minor). In any event, they had two children:

  • Winter Williams (born on 17 September 1875 in Ryde, Isle of Wight)
  • Ivy Williams (born on 7 September 1877 in Newton Abbot, Devon).

George St Swithin Williams had a solicitor’s office over his father’s shop at 136 High Street, Oxford in 1866; but in 1875 following his elopement he appears to have moved away from Oxford. His father, Adin Williams, died in 1876, and by 1880 George was back in his father’s old office at 136 High Street. Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 14 October 1882 reports: “Alterations have been made to No. 9, King Edward-street, consisting of new front, strong room, fittings, &c. for Mr. St. Swithin Williams. Messrs Symm and Co. are the builders, and Mr. Codd, architect.”

George's mother Mrs Eliza Ruth Williams died at King Edward Street, Oxford at the age of 73 in 1884 and her funeral was held at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 21 February.

George and his young wife appear to be missing from the 1881 and 1891 censuses for England & Wales, but may have been in Warwickshire in 1897. By the time of the 1901 census, however, they were back in Oxford and listed at 12 King Edward Street: George (67), described as a banker & solicitor, was living there with his wife Emma (46), his son Winter (25), who was a barrister, and his daughter Ivy (23), who was a law student. They had two servants.

George's son Winter Williams died on 14 July 1903 after an accident; George St Swithin Williams himself died in Oxford in 1904; and his widow Mrs Emma Williams, née Ewers died London in 1921.

George's daughter Ivy Williams, the niece of the Priors of Highfield House, became the first woman barrister in England (see Wikipedia and her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). She lived at Sunnyside in Hollow Way, Cowley until 1921, when she gave that estate to the Radcliffe Infirmary. She then lived at 30 Staverton Road, and died there on 18 February 1966 at the age of 88. Her effects came to £30,366, and her executor was Miss Mary Banbury.

Back to War Memorials page on Headington Community Website