Poppy

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 on 12 October 1872 and baptised there on 26 April 1874)
  • Cordelia Mary Prior (born at Faringdon on 18 January 1879 and baptised there on 2 February)
  • Percy Neville Prior (born at Faringdon on 2 July 1880 and baptised there on 29 August)
  • Gladys May Prior (born at Highfield House, Old Road, Headington Quarry on 1 May 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 (later the Park Hospital, and now Boundary Brook House). 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.

The Prior family appear to have suffered a financial loss in the early twentieth century, and In 1908 they moved to a smaller detached house called “The Ridings”, at the north-west end of the road that now has this name. The house is probably the one that is now called "Old House" (below):

Old House

Harry Neville Prior

 

 

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. There were no servants living in the house.

Rex Prior did not follow his brothers Sydney and Percy and sister Cordelia to the University of Oxford.

 

 

Right: 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.


Postscript

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
  • Sydney Herbert Prior (born 1872) was described as a retired motor cycle engineer at the time of the 1939 register, living at Hazels at the Shotover end of Old Road (on the SW corner of The Ridings) with his brother Percy and sister Cordelia. He died at Hazels on 27 November 1952.
  • Cordelia Mary Prior (born 1878) is probably the Miss Prior listed at “The Ridings” in Kelly's Directory for 1935. The 1939 register shows her living with her brothers Percy and Sydney at Hazels. She died there on 11 January 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 still living at “The Ridings” in 1936, but at the time of the 1939 Register was living at the Hazels with his sister Cordelia and brother Sydney. He was still living there when he died on 16 January 1956 at the age of 75, but appears to have died in the Ploughley district.
  • Gladys May Prior (born 1887) was living on her own at Conway, Old Road, Headington (very near her other three unmarried siblings) at the time of the 1939 Register, running a pig and poultry smallholding. She died in Oxford in 1962.
  • 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.

Rex’s mother’s family: Her parents Adin & Eliza Williams,
her brother George St Swithin Williams, and her niece Ivy Williams

For more about the family of Rex's mother Martha Wallis Prior, née Williams, see this biography of her parents Adin and Eliza Williams and of her brother George St Swithin Williams, who was the father of Ivy Williams, the first woman in England to be called to the bar.

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