Headington history: People

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William Matthison (1853–1926)

William Matthison was a Victorian watercolourist, many of whose pictures were made into chocolate-box-style postcards. He lived in Headington from 1915 until his death in 1926, and his widow remained there until 1939. They are both buried in Headington Cemetery.

Matthison was born in 1853 in Harborne (a parish that was transferred from Staffordshire to Warwickshire in 1891 and is now part of Birmingham). He was the son of a house agent, William Matthison senior, and attended King Edward’s School in Birmingham. At the age of 15 he took evening classes in advanced drawing at Birmingham’s Central School of Art and then became a pupil of the Birmingham artist Edward Watson.

In 1875 Matthison decided to become a professional artist. He spent the summer of 1877 sketching in south Warwickshire, and settled in the village of Tysoe, where on 6 August 1878 at mthe age of 24 he married (Mary) Hannah Fessey (30).

At the time of the 1881 census Matthison was living in Tysoe, Warwickshire with his wife with their three-month-old baby daughter Kate Pauline Matthison and his mother-in-law Ann Fessey. He was described in that census as a Landscape Painter.

In 1883 the Matthison family moved to Oxfordshire and their first proper home was at Broughton Road in Banbury. He was forced to supplement his income from painting by taking private pupils, but spent his summer holidays painting in other parts of the country, particularly Whitby.

By the time of the 1891 census Matthison was living at 2 Dashwood Terrace, Neithrop with his wife and daughter, plus one servant. They were still at this house in 1901, and Matthison sold his work directly from his studio here.

Matthison was having to travel to Oxford three or four times a week to give lessons, and so in 1902 he and his wife moved to Park Town in Oxford. The picture postcard industry was just beginning, and Matthison was commissioned by Robert Peel to paint over 70 views of the University and City of Oxford. The cards were sold exclusively by E. Cross of Pembroke Street, at seven for a shilling. He was also commissioned to paint scenes of the Lake District, Whitby, and Looe, and painted scenes of London and Cambridge for postcards produced by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

In about 1905 Matthison was commissioned by Salter Brothers of Folly Bridge to produce a set of six postcards depicting their Thames steamers Windsor, Henley, Kingston, Nuneham, Oxford, and Reading, each passing through the place after which it was named.

In 1907 Matthison was commissioned to paint a view of Oxford’s High Street for the front cover of the souvenir guide of Oxford’s Historical Pageant.

By 1910 the postcard boom was coming to an end and Robert Peel gave up postcard publishing. The plates of Matthison’s Oxford postcards were sold to Alden & Co., who continued to sell them and also published a book entitled Fifty Watercolour Drawings of Oxford, for the most part comprising his pictures.

The 1911 census shows William Matthison (56) and his wife Hannah (63) living in Park Town with their daughter Kate Pauline (30) who was a private governess, and one general servant. In that year there was an exhibition in Oxford of 95 of Matthison’s paintings, and one reviewer wrote:

Mr Matthison’s work is full of sunshine and colour. Even the rain in St Giles or the High Street does not depress him: he sees it through rose-coloured spectacles, and paints it so we can see it too. His mists are never a hopeless grey, they have a rosy lining.

They appear to have been living at Bardwell Road when on 2 September 1915 at St Andrew's Church in north Oxford, their only daughter Kate Pauline Matthison (34) married Wilfrid Evans (32), a landscape gardener of the Hardy Plant Nursery, Llanishen, Glamorgan and the son of the schoolmaster Josiah Evans.

4 (formerly 2) Old High Street

Later in n 1915 the Matthisons moved up to Headington to rent a smaller house in Old High Street, then numbered 2 but now renumbered 4 (right).


Matthison continued to accept commissions when he lived at Headington, including paintings for Lady Rhondda of Llanwern Park near Newport.

At the end of the First World War Mrs Kate Stone of Headington (who ran a shop in Pitts Road while her husband was away fighting) was left £50, with which she purchased a double building plot in Old High Street, where her husband William Stone built a pair of new houses.

12 (formerly 10) Old High Street


The Stones moved into the house to the north themselves and let the one to the south (left) to the Matthisons. These two houses were originally numbered 10 and 12 High Street, Old Headington, but were renumbered 8A and 10 in the 1930s, and are numbered 12 and 14 Old High Street today. Matthison is listed in Kelly’s Directory at the present 12 Old High Street from 1919.

On 25 January 1926 Matthison died at 12 Old High Street at the age of 71. His funeral was at St Andrew's Church on 28 January, and he was buried in Headington Cemetery. His effects came to £3804 19s. 6d., and his executors were his wife and daughter.

His wife Mary Hannah Matthison was still living in Old High Street in 1930. She moved to 58 Stanway Road in Risinghurst, where she died at the age of 91. She was buried with her husband on 21 January 1939.


Right: The Matthisons’ grave in Headington Cemetery (Grave 8 in Section C), photographed in 2005. It is a simple grave with lead lettering around the inside of the four edges, some of which has fallen off. It reads as follows:

  • BORN 1853 – DIED 1926
  • BORN 1847– DIED 1939

William Matthison


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Postcards of Oxford signed “W. Matthison”
  • Streets and general views High Street and Carfax • The High • Untitled (the High near University College) • The High by Queen’s • Broad Street east • Broad Street middle • Broad Street west • Parks Road • St Mary’s Entry & Brasenose College • St Giles • Oriel Street • Oxford from Headington Hill • Spires of Oxford
  • Buildings and monuments • Radcliffe Library, Schools & All Souls • The Martyrs’ Memorial • Balliol College, Martyrs’ Memorial and S. Mary Magdalene Church • War Memorial • The New Schools  • Carfax Church from the High • The porch of St Mary the Virgin • Saxon Tower of St Michael’s Church
  • The River Summer Eights • The River & barges • The barges, Oxford • Salter’s Oxford and Kingston Steamer (1) leaving Oxford, (2) passing Nuneham, (3) passing Windsor, (4) leaving Henley, and (5) leaving Kingston
  • Colleges A–H All Souls College and St Mary’s Church • All Souls College & part of High Street • All Souls College chapel: reredos • Balliol College quad • Balliol College, part of • Brasenose College inner quad • Brasenose College old quad • Corpus Christi quad • Exeter College quad • Exeter College chapel • Hertford College • Jesus College
  • Colleges: Christ Church Christ Church • Christ Church and new city buildings • Christ Church Cathedral and refectory from Canon’s garden • Christ Church hall and staircase • Christ Church Tom Quad • Back of Christ Church Hall • Untitled (Christ Church from the Meadow) • Canterbury Gate • The Tom Tower
  • Colleges K–N Keble College gate • Lincoln & Exeter Colleges • Lady Margaret Hall • Magdalen Tower & Bridge • Magdalen Tower from Addison’s Walk • Merton Tower & Corpus Gateway • Merton Street • Merton College quad • New College • New College: View from Cloisters  • New College: City Wall • New College from Holywell Street
  • Colleges O–W Oriel College inside• Oriel College outside • Pembroke College gateway • The Queen’s College • St Edmund Hall • St Edmund Hall, Queen’s, and St Peter’s in the East • St John’s College entrance • Part of St John’s College from garden • St John’s College from the garden • St John’s College gateway • Trinity College chapel • Trinity College gate & chapel • University College • Wadham College • Wadham College from the garden • Worcester College • Worcester College garden: Cottages
Paintings by Matthison in private collections

An unfashionable artist at the time, prices for Matthison’s work are now rising, according to the Guardian. One of his paintings, Fishing Boats in Whitby Harbour (1891–2) is owned by Oxford City Council.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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