Unton Croke (1594/5–1670/71) was the fourth son of Sir John Croke, a lawyer of Chilton in Buckinghamshire. He was named Unton after his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Unton.
Croke was matriculated at Oxford on 2 March 1609/10, and in 1616 he was called to the bar.
On 8 November 1617 Croke married Anne Hore, daughter and heir of Richard Hore of Marston. He and his wife had ten children. As a result of his marriage, he inherited “half a yard-land at Merston worth 50li. per annum, and built a house thereon”. The house became known as the Mansion House (later the Manor House), and has now been virtually rebuilt as 15 and 17 Mill Lane. He made this house his residence when he was not in London, and acquired more land in Marston, becoming the leading gentleman in the village. Marston was then part of the Manor of Headington, and Croke came into conflict in Chancery suits with Sir Thomas Whorwood, the Lord of the Manor.
Croke was elected Member of Parliament for Wallingford in 1626, and again in 1640.
Croke and his sons supported Parliament in the Civil War, and his house in Mill Lane, Marston was used by Sir Thomas Fairfax as his headquarters when he besieged Oxford in 1645; and in 1646 it was the venue for negotiations with Cromwell for the royalist surrender, which was signed there.
Dr Plot relates in his Natural History of Oxfordshire that when Anne Green, a servant maid from Duns Tew, miscarried at four months, she was arraigned at an assize in Oxford before Serjeant Unton Croke of Marston, who sentenced her to be hanged. Her body was taken for dissection afterwards, and she was found to be alive and survived.
In June 1655 Croke was created serjeant-at-law by Cromwell.
In 1655 Croke enclosed by agreement two open fields in Marston, which was challenged by Brome Whorwood, the new Lord of the Manor, but the challenge appears to have failed.
In 1657 the register of the Church of St Nicholas in Marston shows that Ann, “one of the daughters of Unton Crook Esq.” married Martin Piggot of St Pancras, London.
Croke’s wife Anne died at the age of 68 and was buried at the Church of St Nicholas on 11 June 1670. A brass in the floor of the chancel (right) reads:
My flesh shall rest in hope.
Ps. xvi. ver. 10
Hereunder resteth in hope of
resurrection the body of Anne
ye wife of Unton Croke servant
at law, who was married to
him 8th November 1617 and left him
and ten children the 10th day of
June 1670 and in the 69th
yeare of her
Photographed on 18 February 2006
One of Croke’s daughters, Miss Caroline Croke, died at the age of 35 on 19 July 1670, a month after her mother. The parish register records that “Miss Kearalin” was buried at the church the day after her death.
A diamond-shaped stone (left) in the floor of the chancel reads:
Carolina Croke, died
19th of July, in ye year of
our lord 1670, and
in ye 36th yeare
of her age
Photographed on 4 March 2006
Five months after that Unton himself died at the age of 76 and was buried with his wife. The parish register gives the date of his burial as 3 January 1670/1, but the stone in the floor of the chancel of the church (below) gives the date of his death as having taken place on 28 January.
Photographed on 18 February 2006
An article in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1800 says of Croke, “The inscription on his grave seems to confess his want of popularity.” That inscription reads as follows:
O Vir quicunque es pusillu’
hoc terrae qvo meum tegitur
corpus mihi ne Invideas?
Ex Luc: Cap 6° Vers. 26
Vae vobis cum laudaverint
vos Omnes homines
Serviens ad Legem, Obiit
28° die Januarii Ano Dni:
1670 Annoq’ Aetatis suae 77o
which translates as:
O sir, whoever, you are, surely you will not grudge me
this paltry piece of land in which my body is buried?
St Luke Chapter 6, verse 26:
“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!”
Serjeant at Law,
died 28 January A.D. 1670, in his 77th YEAR
The arms at the top of the stone shows Croke, impaled with, sable, a chevron, between three cinquefoils, for Hore.
Croke had three surviving sons, but the line expired with them:
- Richard Croke (1624/5–1683) was chosen as Deputy Recorder of Oxford in 1653 and around this time married Elizabeth Wright, daughter of Martin Wright, a goldsmith who was twice Mayor of Oxford. Richard inherited his father’s property in Marston in 1671, but they also had a home in All Saints parish. His eldest son, another Richard Croke, also died in 1671 and was buried at Carfax church. Richard Croke senior was knighted in 1681. Lady Croke died on 27 March 1683 in their All Saints home and was buried with her parents at St Martin’s Church; Sir Richard himself died in in the same house on 14 September that year, at the age of 60, and was buried the next day in the Church of St Nicholas. His two surviving sons, Wright and Charles, inherited the Marston property from their father. Wright remained in Marston and he and his wife Mary had five children there: Richard in 1687; a second Richard in 1688; Charles in 1689; Carolina in 1691/2; and Ann in 1699. His three sons all died in childhood and were buried in the church. Wright himself died at the age of 46 on 7 June 1705 and was buried in the church two days later; and his widow, Mrs Mary Croke, was buried with him on 2 April 1717
- Unton Croke junior (d.1694) was a parliamentarian army officer and lawyer. He was elected Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1658 and MP for Oxford in 1659. His son, another Unton, was baptised at St Aldate’s Church on 17 March 1658 but was buried there two days later. He had five surviving daughters: Drury, Bridgett, Gratious, Charity, and Eleanor.
- Charles Croke (fl. 1652–1686), was a traveller and author. Anthony Wood wrote, “He lives now (1686) by gaming to maintaine his wife and children.”
There is a fine wall monument to Sir Richard Croke and his sons on the wall of St Nicholas Church.
Photographed on 25 February 2006
The attached pair of houses shown above once formed the Manor House that was rebuilt by Unton Croke in 1622 (with some earlier parts surviving). Croke’s Manor House was divided into these two houses in 1840 and extensively remodelled. The house on the left (now 17 Mill Lane) was known as Cromwell Castle in the nineteenth century, while the house on the right (now 15 Mill Lane) continued to be known as the Manor House.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Unton Croke and his three sons
- Sir Alexander Croke, The Genealogical History of the Croke Family, Originally named Le Blount (Oxford: Parker, 1823), especially Volume II, Section 5: “Serjeant Unton Croke of Marston”, pp. 511–549