Pullen’s Gate/Brockless Cottage
In 1836 Thomas Whorwood (Lord of the Manor of Headington) put up for sale much of the land of Headington Manor, including the whole of the Pullen’s Lane area. It is clear that the farmhouse now called Pullen’s Gate had not yet been built, as no such house was mentioned in the auction catalogue.
The land to the west of the lane (Lots 19 to 23) did not sell in 1836, and was offered for sale again ten years later. William Peppercorn (who was probably attached to the solicitors Peppercorn & Wilkinson of St Neot’s who organized the sale of the manor land) eventually bought all the west side of Pullen’s Lane for himself in 1849, the year same year that he bought the title of Lord of the Manor of Headington.
Brockless Field had been split in half when Pullen’s Lane was carved through it prior to the sale in 1836, and there were no farm buildings on the west side of the road. As the land on that side continued to be farmed, it seems likely that this house was built to serve as its farmhouse. Possibly it is the house that is listed as “being built” on the north side of Headington Hill in the census of 1841; or else Peppercorn himself had it built in 1849.
Certainly the house was in existence by 1850, as the rate book of that year showed that Peppercorn owned 35 acres 2 roods and 31 perches on Headington Hill (with a gross estimated rental of £35-2-31 and a rateable value of £89-8-0). It also states that he owned a house on this land, let out to Richard Wootten. The following extract from the preamble to the New Headington census of over thirty years later in 1881 describing the enumerator’s walk shows that this house was known as Wootten’s Farm:
… proceeding westerly along the north side of London Road to the occupation road by Joe Pullen’s tree to Morrell’s (formerly Wootten’s) Farm, and along such road to Jack Straw’s Castle and the Brick Kiln cottages in Marston Road.
Richard Wootten (1791–1867) was a brewer, the son of a former mayor of the same name (and uncle of William Wootten-Undershell who owned Headington House between 1848 and 1887). At the time of the 1851 census he is not listed in Headington, and it looks as though the house was occupied by John Heritage, a farm bailiff, and his family.
At the time of the 1861 census, Wootten, now retired and a bachelor aged 70, was living on his own at this farmhouse with a housekeeper, and the entry is immediately followed by that of Charles Rowles, a farm bailiff. As Hill Top House is listed immediately before Wootten and his bailiff, and afterwards the enumerator walked down to the King’s Mill, it is fairly certain that Wootten lived at Pullen’s Gate and Rowles lived in some other building on the site.
Wootten died in 1867, but at the time of the 1871 census for Old Headington the house is still listed as Wootten’s Farm and is occupied by John Hopcraft, a farm bailiff. (The enumerator did his round the opposite way round this time, so that Wootten’s Farm is immediately preceded by Jack Straw’s Farm.)
In 1874 the farmhouse and barn together with 13 acres of surrounding land (probably Lots 22 and 23 of the 1836 sale) were conveyed by the Peppercorn family to the Morrell Trustees in the sum of £3,000. The Morrells remained the owners of the farmhouse until 1942.
The 1876 Ordnance Survey map (left) shows that two years after the Morrell family became its owners, Pullen’s Gate with its barn had become known as Joe Pullen’s Farm. It was also known as Morrell’s Farm, after its owners.
In 1881 (when Pullen’s Lane is anomalously listed in the New Headington census), Joe Pullen’s or Morrell’s farmhouse is described simply as an “uninhabited cottage”.
In about 1886 Evelyn Abbott (1843–1901), Fellow in Classics at Balliol College, appears to have started to get some work done on the abandoned farmhouse, and from 1890 he is listed in directories as living at Pullen’s Cottage, as it was then known. The 1891 census shows him there with his cousin Annie M. Abbott (a 24-year-old student) and looked after by a nurse and a cook. (The nurse was required because Abbott was permanently paralysed as a result of an accident.) Abbott is last listed in Kelly’s Directory in Pullen’s Cottage in 1897, and died at Great Malvern in 1901. (More information about Abbott is available in the ODNB.)
The house was occupied from 1897 to 1899 by the Revd William Joynson Guerrier, and in 1898 it is called Brockless Cottage. Guerrier, who had matriculated at the University of Oxford from Worcester College in 1881 at the age of 21, may have named it after the old field himself, as this is the first time the name appears in print.
Right: Brockless Cottage on the 1898 OS map of Headington.
The cottage and the barn each have a pump (marked P): these were necessary because the reservoir on the other side of Headington Road served St Clement’s and East Oxford, not Headington.
No one is listed Brockless Cottage in 1900.
Lt.-Col. S. D Maud only lived at the cottage for one year, but as that year was 1901, he is included in the census. He was a retired captain aged 41, and lived in the house with his Canadian-born wife Laura and their three servants (a cook, housemaid, and parlourmaid).
From 1902 to 1920 Charles Cecil Henry lived at Brockless Cottage, which he spelt as Brockleaze. He is described in the 1911 census as a land agent, and lived there with his wife and two children and three servants (a governess, cook, and house parlourmaid. Charles Henry is listed in directories as the estate agent for Headington Hill Hall Estate Office at Upper Lodge until 1918, and again from 1926.
Miss Harper is listed at Brockleaze from 1921 to 1939.
In 1942 Dr Francis John Lys (1863–1947) (Provost of Worcester College from 1919 to 1946, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1932 to 1935) bought the house from the Morrell family, and named the house Pullen’s Gate, but he does not appear ever to have moved in, because during the Second World War the house was occupied by the Forces, and on 30 September 1947 he died. No one is listed at the house up to 1949. Mrs Lys had moved into the house by 1952, and remained there until 1973. The cottage remained in Dr Lys’s estate, however, until 27 September 1984, when it was conveyed to Frank Pawn.
Dr & Mrs Lys purchased the barn next door from the Morrell family in 1946, reuniting to Pullen’s Gate which they had bought a few years earlier.
H. Melville Harris (1894–1976) bought the barn in 1960 and converted it into a house. He wrote about Pullen’s Gate and Barn in Between the White Gates (Oxford, 1975). There is a memorial dedicated to him on the wall of the lane.