Leaden Porch House - House and History

J E Eames

Introduction

The history of a building, perhaps particularly of a house, is much more than a catalogue of materials and construction techniques. The history of a building is inextricably bound up with the stories of the people who caused it to be built and of those who have lived in it since, altering it over time to meet changing needs and fashions.

The Leaden Porch House in the redlands of North Oxfordshire is a village house with a long history and, as its most recent owner, I find the people who have been my predecessors as interesting as the architectural mysteries of the house they have handed on to me.

I would like to know who built the house, probably in the first quarter of the 14th century. Did they (or their prosperity) survive the Black Death when it passed across Europe 25 years later? I'd like to know who remodelled it in the years after the Civil War, interposing a first floor between the flagstones and the mediaeval raised cruck roof, digging a cellar out of bedrock and adding a parlour at the house's northern end. I'd like to know who took over the lease of the house when it was "a complete state of dilapidation"[i] in the 1830s and caused it to be "neatly repaired" by 1843. Was the person who added the Gothick french window and ornate plasterwork to make a smart parlour in the original service bay (a gift for a young wife perhaps) the same person who built the kitchen and breakfast room with their plainish segmental arched windows? And which plantsman sowed the seed of the mighty Wellingtonia tree that now stands over one hundred feet high in the centre of the lawn?

Title deeds, the County Records Service and village legend all throw up names from the past. It is said that the house was the birthplace of Sir Thomas Pope, who later founded Trinity College in Oxford.[ii] It is said that Field Marshall Montgomery once slept here,[iii] and since the house's war-time owner, General Sir Percy Hobart,[iv] was Montgomery's brother-in-law[v] as well as the brains behind the mechanised armour used to storm the Normandy beaches on D-day it seems not unlikely.

It is inevitable that most of the people who have lived and died and given birth in the house over the last seven hundred years will remain obscure, but an attempt to decipher the ways in which the house has changed since its original construction is also an attempt to understand the lives that have been lived within these walls.

Architectural History

Because of its age, rarity and relative completeness the Leaden Porch House has attracted a considerable amount of interest from architects and historians. The most complete survey of the building is to be found in "The Domestic Architecture of the Banbury Region" by R A Wood-Jones. It is to him that we owe the best estimate of the original date of construction of the house. Wood-Jones uses the evidence of the original arched doorway and the details of a hall window (now blocked) of two pointed heads and a heavy flat-splay mullion and transom to suggest a date at the beginning of the 14th century. The existence of a kingpost in the roof structure also makes him think that the date of the house must be early in the 14th century at the latest. He considers the possibility that there was a solar at upper floor level at one end of the hall. There is no evidence of such a room at the higher end of the hall and the indications at the lower end are ambiguous. From his analysis it seems that if there were a solar at the lower end of the hall this would tend to suggest the house was slightly earlier, falling at the end of the 13th century rather than the beginning of the 14th. However, he found no evidence from the trusses at the lower end to suggest the existence of an upper floor. He did however believe that the partitioning (of wattle and daub, part of which is still evident) on the line of the truss marking the upper end of the service passage continued the full height of the house and was an original spere truss dividing the main hall from the cross passage and the service quarters. The roof trusses beyond the passage screen are certainly less smoke-blackened than those over the main hall. He could not explain the size of the service bay (which is larger than usual) as the kitchen would probably have been in an adjoining timber building but concludes that in the absence of evidence of a solar at the lower end the date of construction is likely to have been in the early years of the 14th century.

Interestingly, Wood-Jones does not explore the significance of the partial stone buttress on the exterior of the service bay near the front corner of the house, which the listing notes describe as "the chamfered jamb of an opening or arch". Perhaps the partial buttress was part of the doorway that led from the service bay (which likely held the buttery and pantry) to a wooden kitchen building. But perhaps it is the remainder of an external stair that led to an upper chamber.

These are the question marks over the original building. What seems to be settled is that the house was a mediaeval hall house built from the local lias limestone with a raised-cruck roof. In his book "Oxfordshire Houses" John Pilling suggests that it was:

"clearly once the hall of a mediaeval yeoman farmer or merchant who was keen to copy, on a small scale, the life style of the great lords of the day and the large window with its transom and traceried head together with the stout roof must have added style to a relatively modest hall."

The hall itself comprises three bays of 8 feet wide, while the hall passage and service unit occupy two bays of 10 feet 3 inches each. Full details are set out in Chapter III of "Domestic Architecture in the Banbury Region" (full details are set out in Chapter III of "Domestic Architecture of the Banbury Region" by R A Wood-Jones). It is not known whether originally there was just one pair of tall windows or two, as at Cogges Manor built near Witney in the mid-13th century.

The house's first major re-fit appears to have taken place in the second half of the 17th century. By this time the open hearth had been superseded in new buildings by enclosed fireplaces and the traditional communal style of living that had endured until the 16th century was giving way to a fashion for private apartments. The occupants of the Leaden Porch House made major alterations, sacrificing the original tall two light window for the modern convenience of a massive fireplace backing onto the original cross-passage. The lower portion of the wattle and daub screen was torn down and the roof skewered with a rectangular chimney. Renovation did not stop there. An upper floor was inserted over the whole building. Beyond the original northern end of the hall a cellar was cut from bedrock, fitted with stone steps and a dining room with an elm floor built above it. Further chambers were added above and new windows inserted throughout. On the front of the house these are all in stone, an extravagance when stone was often reserved for the ground floor only. The windows to the rear elevation, from the evidence of those that remain, were in oak, though still with ovolo mullions.

It may have been at this time that the building housing stables, a hayloft and implement store was built to the east of the house. This building is thought to date from the 17th century. The stables remain thatched today although the house is now roofed in a mixture of Stonesfield slate (front elevation) and welsh slate (rear elevation). Wood-Jones was of the view that the closeness of the roof trusses suggested that the house had always had a slate roof, although its pitch is steep enough to be consistent with thatch. A plan of the village in 1808 reproduced in HM Colvin's "A History of Deddington" shows a second building in the grounds to the rear of the house by the 18th century, thought to be a barn but this building (if accurately depicted) had been removed by the time of the 1881 ordnance survey drawing.

The second major remodelling of the house is believed to have occurred around 1840. Both Wood-Jones and Pevsner (see "Buildings of England - Oxfordshire (1974)" by J Sherwood and Niklaus Pevsner) date the Gothick French window with its internal wooden shutters in the southern elevation of the house to this date. The listing notes also date the marble fireplace in the parlour to the same period although the grand-daughter of a post-war resident, Admiral Charles Berthon, has suggested that the fireplace was brought into the house during his ownership in the 1950s.

The kitchen and breakfast room are both thought to date from the same period although the kitchen appears to have been an after-thought, both the quoins and the construction of the wall between the breakfast room and the kitchen suggesting that this was the outer wall of the building at some point. These two rooms are altogether plainer in style than the ornamental plasterwork in the new parlour. Perhaps this simply reflects that the domestic offices were for use by servants and the parlour by the lady of the house. Today there is a significant difference in ceiling level between the breakfast room and the kitchen, which is much higher. The current kitchen ceiling bisects a two light window set high in the eastern elevation. This window has one opening light and it is therefore open to question whether there were originally sleeping quarters, perhaps for a maid, above the kitchen. Examination of the roof space above the kitchen suggests that at least the common rafters have been replaced in the 20th century and it is not now possible to tell (at least on a cursory inspection) whether there was a room here before the ceiling was raised. Some of the tie beams in this section of the roof appear to be much older than 19th century and may have been reused from an earlier structure. Perhaps the barn shown on the 1808 plan sacrificed its materials to the rebuilding.

The 1808 plan is also intriguing in that it shows the house and barn as a continuous L-shaped block, when the evidence suggests that the kitchen and breakfast room post-date the plan. This may mean that the current domestic rooms replace earlier building, which would explain the very poor state of the Hornton flagstones in the kitchen.

The last part of the building to be mentioned is a single storey utility room of coursed stone. This now links the house and stables although it is accessed only through an external door. This humble addition may be contemporary with the kitchen or is perhaps later.

Social History

It is interesting to check whether the known history of the people who have lived in the Leaden Porch House ties in with the speculations of the architectural historians.

First, there is no known corroboration for Wood-Jones's dating to the early 14th Century. The first references to the Leaden Porch House (which already bore that name) date from the mid-15th century. The Deddington Town Gild was formed in 1455 and one of its original members, Sir William Colles was described as part-owner of Leaden Porch House in New Street.[vi] The house and four yardlands in the common fields of Deddington are believed to have been acquired by the Dean and Canons of Windsor during the reign of Edward IV in the 1460s.[vii] The Dean and Canons of Windsor were one of three manorial landlords of the village. The fact that it is recorded that ground rents continued to be paid to the other two manorial landlords[viii] after the acquisition suggests that the original lease of the land was granted prior to the division of the manorial rights in 1190. The Leaden Porch estate may have been an identifiable entity when New Street was laid out (with burgage tenements on the east side) in the 13th century.

All histories of the village assert that Sir Thomas Pope was probably born in the house in around 1508, although there seems to be no definite evidence of this.

The next recorded inhabitant of the house is Cary Hunt, who was certainly paying rent in 1728[ix] and was a descendant of Thomas Appletree, who rebuilt Castle House in Deddington in 1654 and was the lessee of the whole of the Windsor manor.

In the second half of the 18th century one of the most prominent families in Deddington was the Churchills. Samuel Churchill the elder and his eldest son, also Samuel, apparently respectively occupied the Leaden Porch House and Deddington House opposite (now Deddington Manor). They were both lawyers and Samuel the younger practised from The Hermitage in Deddington Market Place. Samuel the elder died a prosperous man in 1808, leaving land and property to two of his four sons (his own property being described as copyhold, presumably a grant from the manorial lessee of the day, Robert Marriott) and legacies of £8,000 each to the other two, along with a mass of lesser bequests to friends and servants.[x] Samuel the younger, however, was declared bankrupt with debts of £77,000 in 1827[xi] and died in obscurity in 1840. This may explain why the house was dilapidated and falling down in the 1830s.

The identity of the rebuilder of 1840 may be revealed in the journals of Samuel the younger's successor at Deddington House. The Reverend William Cotton Risley, sometime vicar of Deddington, made several references in his diary[xii] to "our opposite neighbour Pritchett" and "Pritchetts orchard" in 1840 and another referring to a sale at Tomwell Farm (which was often farmed in conjunction with Leaden Porch Farm) in 1842.

Pritchett was Benjamin Pritchett. There were three of them, grandfather, father and son. Grandfather acquired small pieces of freehold property adjacent to Leaden Porch house in the eighteenth century, eventually consolidating them into a property comprising house, bakery, orchard and outbuildings. He left this property to Benjamin Pritchett, the father, who had at least six children. In the 1841 census there were two adjoining households on New Street headed by Benjamin Pritchetts. Benjamin Pritchett senior, 46, was said to be a farmer and Benjamin Pritchett junior, 21, was said to be a baker. It seems likely that Benjamin Pritchett, senior, rented Leaden Porch Farm with his large family, whilst his son ran the bakery next door at the property now known as The Stile House.

Pritchett's successor may have been Thomas Gulliver of Bloxham, whose will, made in 1850, shows that he left Leaden Porch Farm to his son Frederick and Tomwell Farm to his son Edward. Thomas died in 1853, by which time Frederick at least was already in possession of his inheritance (and had bought the adjoining freehold property from Benjamin Pritchett, junior, who had moved away). In 1851 the census[xiii] identifies the occupant of Leaden Porch as Frederick Gulliver, a farmer aged 25, and the census records show that by 1861 he had been joined by a wife, Martha. Together, they lived in the house (with, at the time of each census, visitors and servants but no children) until at least 1895. By 1901, the census shows the occupant to have been Bryan Millington, a farmer then 39 years old. It is believed that he continued to farm from the house until 1939. The boards in the Town Hall show that he served two terms as Chairman of the Parish Council and I am told he habitually rode a white cob with a docked tail.

The next resident, taking his lease from the Church Commissioners in September 1940, was General Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart. A small amount of correspondence has survived that suggests the house was once again quite dilapidated. The taking of the lease was conditional on certain works to be carried out by the landlords, including redecoration, the replacement of broken grates, connection to mains electricity and the conversion of a pantry into a downstairs cloakroom. Eight momentous years later General Hobart, by now retired from the army, acquired the Church Commissioners' reversionary interest and the house became freehold for the first time in seven hundred years.

In the same year, 1948, a deed of grant covering rights of light relating to a new bathroom window was entered into, from which it seems clear that General Hobart carried out some works of modernisation. Shortly afterwards (having been appointed Secretary-General of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea) he sold the house. The new owner was Rear Admiral Charles Berthon, who lived in the house until his sudden death (from mumps on a visit to his grandchildren) in 1965.

The Leaden Porch House keeps many secrets about its past. Some of them will never be revealed. But I hope that, over the years, we shall be able to answer some of them.

Perhaps the most obvious unanswered question concerns the house's name. There is no leaden porch. The pointed arch of the front door and the relatively steep steps leading up to it do not lend themselves easily to the incorporation of a porch. Was it even this house that had a porch, or did the porch belong to a predecessor on the same site? Was the porch made from lead, or is "leaden" a corruption of something else? If there was a porch on this house perhaps it sheltered not the front door but the door to the rear of the cross-passage. Lifting the concrete path to clear it of bindweed I found older flagstones adjoining the doorway. And to either side, just wider than the width of the door, were two shallow rectangular holes set into the stone. Could they be post holes? For a porch?


Bibliography

R A Wood-Jones: Domestic Architecture of the Banbury Region(1961)

Oxfordshire Houses: John Pilling (1993 Oxfordshire Books)

J Sherwood and Niklaus Pevsner: Buildings of England - Oxfordshire (1974)

Houses and Cottages of England: R W Brunskill (1997 Victor Gollancz)

Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings: Richard Harris (2001 Shire)

The Traditional Buildings of England: Anthony Quiney (1990 Thames and Hudson)

H M Colvin: A History of Deddington, Oxfordshire (1963 SPCK)

The Victoria History of the County of Oxford, Vol. XI (1983)

Discovering Deddington (2000 Deddington Map Group)

Kelly's Directory 1895

Appendices

A. Extract from "Domestic Architecture in the Banbury Region"

B. Extract from "Buildings of England - Oxfordshire"

C. Extract from Register of Listed Buildings

References

[i] From the records of the Church Commissioners, who became manorial landlords in succession to the Dean and Canons of Windsor in 1866, as recorded in the Victoria County History.

[ii] Victoria County History

[iii] Source: Miss Betty Hill, owner of Leaden Porch House 1965-1998

[iv] Deed of Grant dated15 October 1948 made between Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart (1) and Sir Henry George Massy Dashwood (2)

[v] The Little Known Story of Percy Hobart by Trevor J Constable in Journal for Historical Review (Jan/Feb 1999)

[vi] H M Colvin - A History of Deddington

[vii] Ditto

[viii] Victoria County History

[ix] H M Colvin - A History of Deddington

[x] Provisions of the Will of Samuel Churchill dated 18th April 1808 - Oxford County Record Office

[xi] Greenwood v. Churchill

[xii] Reverend William Cotton Risley's journals in the Bodleian Library, Oxford

[xiii] Oxford County Record Office