Headington history: People

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Major William Lauriston Melville Lee (1865–1944)

Lived at Stoke House, Stoke Place, Headington from 1915 to 1955
Acted as a secret agent in a branch of MI5 set up in 1916 to spy on the British socialist movement,
and served as President of Headington United Football Club, 1919–1936

William Lauriston Melville Lee was born at Bridport Rectory in Dorset on 8 October 1865 and privately baptised on 23 December. His middle name Lauriston came from Lauriston Hall in Torquay, the home of his grandfather Sir John Theophilus Lee. Melville was originally his father's forename, but both William and his father used it as part of their surname.

William's parents were the Revd Melville Lauriston Lee and Emily Winter Dicker, who were married in Sussex in 1852. He had three older sisters, and his younger brother Arthur Hamilton Lee was born on 8 November 1868.

At the time of the 1871 census William (5) was living at Bridport Rectory with his father Melville (49), his mother Emily (40), and his siblings Alicia (17), Emily (15), Ethel (9), and Arthur (4), plus their cook and housemaid.

On 21 January 1872 when William was just six years old his father the Revd Melville Lauriston Lee died at 1 Portland Terrace, Richmond. His effects came to under £1,500.

In 1881 William (15) was boarding at Wellington College in Sandhurst, Buckinghamshire, which had been founded for the sons of deceased officers who had held commissions in the Army.

William was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Magdalen College at the age of 19 on 16 October 1884. Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported on 28 January 1886 that William and Julius D. O'Dwyer, who were both then lodging at 15 St Giles’ Street, were summoned before Oxford City Police Court for causing danger to the public by throwing snowballs from the top floor of that house on to the street. (He was later to write a history of the police in England.)

It is unclear whether William obtained his degree, and from 12 August 1888 he served as a Second Lieutenant in the Army.

Oxford and Farnborough (1889–1915)

In 1889 Melville Lee moved to Oxford with his widowed mother, and they lived at 43 St Giles' Street (now the Quaker Meeting House).

On 15 October 1890 Melville Lee was gazetted Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. At the time of the 1891 census when he was aged 25 he was at home at 43 St Giles' Street with his mother Emily (57) and his sister Theresa (29), plus a cook and a housemaid.

On 26 April 1892 at Trinity Church, Paddington, William Lauriston Melville Lee, now described as an officer at Farnborough, married Winifred Acton Barter, the daughter of the merchant Henry Barter, who lived at 101 Westbourne Terrace, Paddington. They had just one child:

  • Rupert Henry Melville Lee (born at Alexandra Road, Farnborough, Hampshire in 1893
    and baptised at St Mark's Church, South Farnborough on 30 April).

In 1893 Melville Lee was still a Lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was promoted to Captain on 6 April 1898, but less than six months later on 21 September 1898 he was appointed a Captain on retired pay.

His mother appears to have remained at 43 St Giles' Street until 1895.

By 1900 Melville Lee had moved to 161 Woodstock Road in north Oxford. At the the time of the 1901 census he was described as a retired captain at the age of 35 and was living there with his mother Emily, his wife Winifred, and his son Rupert (7). They had four servants: a governess, cook, parlourmaid, and housemaid. In that year his book A History of the Police in England was published.

They appear to have moved two doors to the north by 1911, as on census night Melville Lee (45), who now described himself as a retired army Major and a university lecturer, was alone at 165 Woodstock Road with the servants (a housemaid, cook, parlourmaid, and chauffeur). His wife Winifred (42) was paying a visit to Walter and Isabella Green at Manor Farm, Great Holland, Essex.

Various photographs of Melville Lee in Oxford appeared in the Oxford Journal illustrated in the next four years:

  • 21 June 1911: with Territorial Army veterans in a church parade in Oxford
  • 13 March 1912: at the Queen's Own Hussars annual Dinner at Buol's Restaurant
  • 8 May 1912: with Veteran Reserves at Deddington
  • 10 March 1915: at an inspection of the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars
Headington (1915–1955)

In 1915 Major Melville Lee bought Stoke House on the east side of Stoke Place, Old Headington.

Early in 1916 Mrs Coppock of Headington Quarry enlisted the help of Major Melville Lee to get her son Eddie, who had lied about his age, back from France. On 9 April 1916 Mrs Stone, the mother of Eddie's friend William Stone, wrote to her son: “Mrs Coppock has been trying to get Eddie back but Major Melville Lee told her he would let her know but he did not think they would as he had been passed fit and gave his age as 19.” Eddie was in fact returned, but as soon as he reached the age of 19 he was sent out again and was killed within weeks.

In July 1916 Major Melville Lee was succeeded by Captain Fox as Military Representative of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry City Local Tribunal.

On 2 August 1916 at St Andrew's Church in Headington, Major Melville Lee's son Rupert Henry Melville Lee (then a Lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment) was married from Stoke House to Katherine Edith Childe (with photographs of the wedding published in the Oxford Journal Illustrated of 9 August 1916).

In 1916 David Lloyd George appointed William's brother Colonel Sir Arthur Hamilton Lee (later 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham) as his personal secretary at the War Office. Around the same time William Lauriston Melville Lee was appointed a secret agent in PMS2 (Parliamentary Military Security Department, No. 2 Section), which was set up in 1916 by MI5 to spy on the British socialist movement. In 1917 PMS2 claimed to have discovered a plot to murder the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and the 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….). More information here

PMS2 was closed down in 1917, as its undercover methods were considered too provocative. Melville Lee was now publicly controversial and no longer had a job, and he remained at Stoke House, Headington for the rest of his life. Later in 1917 he established and edited a journal called Industrial Peace, which circulated information on left-wing political organizations and individuals in the workplace: this was printed in Oxford, and ran until 1928.

In 1918 Melville Lee was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

His mother Emily Winter Melville Lee died at 12 High Street, Fareham, Hampshire on 2 September 1918. Her effects came to £3,468 18s., and her executors were Melville Lee himself and his brother Arthur.

Melville Lee's son and wife lived with him at Stoke House, and his only grandchild Peter Lauriston Charles Melville Lee was born at Stoke House on 3 March 1919 and baptised at St Andrew's Church.

On 1 September 1919 Melville Lee was elected President of Headington United Football Club. Six years later in September 1925 he performed the ceremonial kick-off for the first game at the Manor Ground. He stepped down as President in the summer of 1936.

On 27 June 1940 Melville Lee's only grandchild Sub-Lieutenant Peter Lauriston Charles Melville Lee, who was then living at The Cedars, Henwick Road, Worcester, was killed in action at the age of 21 on HM Submarine Odin, which was sunk off Capo Santo Vito in the Gulf of Taranto by Italian destroyers. He is remembered on the Portsmouth War Memorial (Panel 37, Column 1). His effects came to over £15,500.

On 9 March 1944 Miss Faith Moore (sister of the Viscountess Lee of Fareham), an American who lived at Two Trees House in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, was staying with the Melville Lees at Stoke House when she died at the age of 67. On 13 March 1944 Melville Lee rushed to purchase two plots in Headington Cemetery, and five days later on 18 March 1944 Miss Moore was buried in one of them (Section D, Grave 22). Her effects came to £114,068 7s. 2d., and Melville Lee, his brother Viscount Lee of Fareham, and Faith's sister the Viscountess were her three executors.

Just four months later on 11 July 1944 William Lauriston Melville Lee's own wife Winifred Acton Melville Lee died at Stoke House. She was buried on her own in a third plot in Headington Cemetery on 15 July (Section O, Grave 47). Her effects came to £1,141 2s. 1d. and her husband and son (now a retired lieutenant-colonel) were her executors.

William Lauriston Melville Lee was still living at Stoke House when he died in the Cowley Road Hospital at the age of 90 on 29 October 1955. He was buried alone on 3 November 1955 in the second plot he had bought in Headington Cemetery in 1944 (Section D, Grave 34: see picture). Four letters and notes relating to his death by the Secretary of the Oxfordshire Territorial Army Association can be seen in the Oxfordshire History Centre (O11/1/C4/2).

His effects came to £11,562 0s. 11d.

His son Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Henry Melville Lee continued to live at Stoke House after his father's death. In about 1959 he sold much of its land, and 8, 9, and 10 Stoke Place were built in its garden.

In 1963/4 he privately published a book about his genealogy entitled Related to Lee (two copies available to view in Oxford).

He moved to Malta in 1965 and sold Stoke House to Ruskin College, which was then based in Walton Street, Oxford but had since 1947 owned Ruskin Hall (formerly the Rookery) on the other side of Stoke Place.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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