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Pullen’s Lane: The Croft


The Croft

The Croft was built on the east side of Pullens Lane in 1881/2. It was the second large “don’s house” to be built in the lane, and at the time of the 1881 census was in the course of construction: it is listed as “Headington Hill (Mansion with coach house and stables adjoining): Being built”. Pevsner describes the house as “1880 by Waterhouse, redbrick, in Waterhouse-Gothic with straight topped windows”.

1898 map

 

 

The map on the left dated 1898 shows how The Croft’s 12-acre grounds stretched from the east side of Pullens Lane to Cuckoo Lane. Its only neighbour then was The Pullens (1880), but In 1887 it was joined on the other side by Langley Lodge.

The Croft had its own lodge to the north-west: this was occupied by coachman Henry Wicks (60) and his wife Eliza (63) in 1911.

 

The Croft and Langley Lodge together now form Rye St Antony School.

 

The Croft was built for Paul Ferdinand Willert, who was a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford from 1867 and also a barrister-at-law at the Inner Temple from 1870. He vacated his fellowship when he married Henrietta, daughter of John Crofts, at her family home of Adel near Leeds on 5 July 1881, but was re-elected in 1882. Their son Arthur was born in Oxford on 19 May 1882 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church, Headington on 1 July following. Their daughter Dorothy was born three years later.

At the time of the 1891 census, Paul and Henrietta Willert were not at home in the Croft, but their two young children were there, looked after by four servants. The Willerts also had a coachman, Henry Wicks, who lived with his wife in the lodge of The Croft.

By 1901 Paul Willert (described as “Formerly College Tutor” at the age of 56) is at home with his wife Henrietta (49) and their daughter Dorothy (15). They have five servants (a housekeeper, housemaid, under-housemaid, cook, and parlourmaid) living with them in the house, with the same coachman still in the lodge.

After Paul Willert’s death in 1912, Mrs Willert remained at the Croft until 1918. After that date the house was let out: James C. Robertson lived there in 1922; Leama R. Davies in 1923; and Bernard Wardle in 1925/6.

From 1928 to 1945 the house was occupied by Paul Willert’s son, now Sir Arthur Willert, KBE. He was the chief U.S. correspondent for the Times of London from 1910 to 1920. He also served as the secretary of the British War Mission in Washington (1917–1918), as head of the news department of the British Foreign Office (1931–1934), as head of the Ministry of Information Office for the Southern Region (1939–1945), as a member of British delegations to various international conferences, 1921–1934; and as head of the Ministry of Information Office for the Southern Region, 1939–1945. He was the author of four books on politics, and other writings. He died in 1973 at the age of 91.

At the end of the war Rye St Antony School, which had moved to Langley Lodge next door in 1939, bought the 12-acre site of The Croft and its lodge and joined the two sites.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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