KINGHAM FIELD FARM
All the earliest buildings on the Hill - Durham House 1886, the Workshops 1887, Clyde House 1888, Sheffield House 1890 and the School 1891 – were constructed on Kingham Hill Farm land, but the later buildings were on the land of Kingham Field Farm. If the wording of the Founder’s vision is correct, he must have expected to purchase not only Kingham Hill Farm from Robert Nicholl Byass, but also, in due course, the adjoining Field Farm from the Sarsden Estate.
Picture thanks to English Heritage - Kingham Hill School 1936
The Sarsden Estate, under its wealthy owner, James Haughton Langston, had been steadily acquiring land in Kingham parish during the first half of the nineteenth century. By the time of the Enclosure Award (1850), the Estate had become one of the largest landowners in the parish, and included Mount Farm, the base for his tenant, George Wheeler. Langston had a reputation for building or rebuilding all the tenant farms on his extensive property (which included all of Sarsden, much of Churchill and Lyneham, and a considerable part of Milton-undrer-Wychwood). The Kingham Enclosure Award gave him an opportunity to reward his hard-working and conscientious tenant, George Wheeler, by building for him a substantial new homestead and comprehensive ancillary farm buildings, on a completely new site in the parish. Almost certainly with Langston’s prior agreement and approval, the Enclosure Commissioners awarded him a great tract of land on Kingham Hill in place of his former scattered possessions. This stretched from the brook near Churchill Mill to the Old Way from Kingham to Chastleton. Other farmers in Kingham no doubt accepted this allotment since, like the future Hill Farm and Slade Farm, it was less accessible from the village, and included a fair proportion of what at that time was considered to be marginal arable land. Moreover, the new owner would need to be able to afford to build a completely new homestead with all its associated buildings. The site of the new farmstead was selected, almost certainly, because it was adjacent to a prolific ‘Holy Well` that would easily supply the needs of a large working farm.
Kingham Field Farm, or ‘Holwell House, as its occupants then preferred to call it (today, it is called ‘Holywell House`), was a substantial three-storey building in a commanding position. The yard, barns, granaries, stables, cowsheds and other associated buildings (including, in time, a separate house for the farm bailiff, and workers’ cottages) were well laid out, spacious and solidly constructed.
J. H. Langston liked to think of himself as a good, progressive landlord, willing to provide excellent accommodation and facilities for his tenants, so long as they worked hard, kept their fields clean and in good condition, and – of course – paid their rent. By comparison with J. W. Lockwood’s Hill Farm and Slade Farm, J. H. Langston’s Field Farm was a much more impressive project.
Hill Farm and Field Farm were separated by a long, straight, quickset hedge, planted in 1851 in accordance with the stipulations of the Enclosure Award. Much of this hedge was still visible in the 1960s, but has since been grubbed up, although sections still remain. The hedgerow cut straight through the old pre-enclosure fields and furlongs, with no concessions to tradition. In only one part did it closely coincide with the north-eastern side of a large pre-enclosure field named Batstead. Part of the new field was to become one of the new plantations after 1888, better known to generations of 20th century Plyms as ‘the Planny`.
Field Farm offered the Founder more assets than merely an extension of his property. The Holy Well guaranteed sufficient water for the Homes, even though the Pump House – and therefore presumably the pump itself – was not built until 1909. The quarry on Redquar Hill was a more accessible source of building stone than the quarries on Whitequar Hill, and, far more significantly, was not under the control of the Parish Vestry and Waywarden. And the Founder had access across his own land to the essential railway siding close to Churchill Mill. But, even more desirable was the ready-built Holwell House, large enough to become, with very little adaptation, another Home, provided, of course, that the sitting tenant could be evicted. It would become the first Plymouth House.
The Indenture of Sale, dated 24th December 1888, was signed on behalf of the Sarsden Estate by Henry Dutton of Hinton, Alresford, Hants; Edward Stafford Howard of Thornbury Castle, Glos.; the Right Hon. Henry John, Earl of Ducie, of Tortworth, Glos., and the Right Hon Julia, his wife. The Countess of Ducie was the daughter of J. H. Langston, under whose will (dated 3rd August 1850) she inherited the Sarsden Estate under the trusteeship of four named trustees. Two of the original trustees had died, and the Trust had been reconstituted as recently as 14th December 1888, which suggests that, although the Founder may have been very keen to purchase the property, perhaps three or four years earlier, the sale had been blocked by one of the Trustees, J. R. Barker, who did not die until 21st May 1888.
On 24th December 1888, Charles Edward Baring Young completed the purchase of Kingham Field Farm from the Earl and the Trustees of the Countess of Ducie for £3,600. This property consisted of eighteen enclosed fields of arable and pasture land totalling 180 acres and 35 perches. About one-third of the total acreage was pasture, consisting chiefly in meadow-land alongside the brook, with a little rough grazing nearer the summit of the hill. A few of the old pre-enclosure field names had still been preserved where new fields coincided partially with the former furlongs – Millham, Broadmoor, Fitsmoor (Fiddexmore), Shortridge and Clover Pits (Culver Pits). The farmland lay immediately to the south and west of Kingham Hill Farm, and was centred on Holwell House, still officially known as ‘Field Farm`. Access roads had been created after 1850 from Churchill by way of Churchill Mill, and from the Kingham-Chastleton Road (properly called the ‘Old Way`). Access to Field Farm from the Old Way began immediately to the south of the present Headmaster’s House, where the Miller’s Path, an ancient right of way that was to feature prominently in future litigation between the Founder and Kingham Parish, joined the main road. This entrance is still clearly discernible from the road. After running south-east for a few hundred yards, the Miller’s Path continued across the fields towards Churchill Mill. But the main track diverted from the path and swung north-eastwards through the quarries on Upper Broadmoor. It then twisted again, first south-east and then north-east, along the western side of Bank Field to join the route of the present road along the southern edge of the plantation. This was of course still an unsurfaced farm track, made inconvenient by its various twists, but parts of it could still be detected in the 1960s. One of the first necessities was to re-align this road so that it led directly from Holwell House to the area under development for the first three Homes. The only new buildings to be constructed on Kingham Field Farm land were Plymouth House (1893 – now ‘Kingham Hill House`), Norwich House (1906 – now ‘Plymouth House`) and the Headmaster’s House (originally the Chaplain’s House). Later, the pump house, and the farm workers’ cottages would be built.
Although there had formerly also been a field road, called Holwell Road, from the village to the Holy Well, this had fallen into disuse after 1850. Only the small section between Plymouth House (Kingham Hill House) and Holwell House is still in use. When the Founder purchased the property in 1888, this road would in due course be extended to Hill Farm. From Field Farm to Churchill Mill, the present road, including the two tight corners at the bottom of the hill, had been created by J. H. Langston in order to provide access from his farm to the mill and railway siding. However, in doing so, he took advantage of an existing right-of-way, the Swailsford Carriage-way, commonly known in the 1960s as ‘Sandy Lane`.
The homestead of this farm consisted of Holwell House, the farmhouse, and the adjacent farm buildings, barns, granary, stables, and cottages. The last tenant of the farm, Thomas Wheeler, who had been granted a lease at a rent of £280 p.a. on 4th December 1880, had been evicted a fortnight before the sale (11th December 1888) after a very acrimonious process. An umpire, George Richard Castle of Bicester, had been called in to adjudicate between Thomas Wheeler and the Sarsden Estate, and had awarded Thomas Wheeler compensation of £459 – 0s – 5d for the fixtures and improvements in the farm that the Wheeler family had made over the past thirty-eight years. The eviction of Thomas Wheeler was almost certainly a condition made by C. E. B. Young before he would complete the purchase. Despite this, Thomas Wheeler still refused to leave Holwell House at once, and it was not until 25th January 1889 that C. E. B. Young finally obtained his removal. The Founder was determined to get vacant possession because he needed Holwell House as one of the Homes on Kingham Hill.
Holwell House was converted into a boys’ Home and a group of senior boys moved in on 8th August 1889 under the benign supervision of Charles Burch; there was no formal opening ceremony. Confusingly (for us) this accommodation was at first called ‘Plymouth House`. By 1891 there were seven boarders in Plymouth House, with ages ranging from 14 to 22 years. The senior member of this community was Arthur Nisbert Roper, one of the earliest boys on the Hill, who was described as ‘Labour Master`. Arthur Roper’s younger brother, Herbert Roper, was also in the House and worked as an Assistant Teacher. Three of the remaining five young men were carpenter’s apprentices, and the other two were an engineer and an agricultural labourer.
A few hundred yards away to the west, the next new house was constructed, also on Kingham Fields Farm, on an ancient piece of pasture ground called Fiddexmore or Fittixmoor or (in C. E. B. Young’s deeds) as Fitsmoor Pasture. When this Home was opened on 13th January 1893, it took over the name ‘Plymouth House`, and Holwell House was then renamed ‘Stratford House`, but still remained a hostel for the oldest boys and a Sanatorium for the sick. In 1901, there were four residents there: a mechanical engineer, a stonemason, a carter, and a 12-year old patient under the care of Mrs Maria Burch, the nurse.
By contrast, the new Plymouth House held forty-one boys aged 14 to 19, all of whom were serving some form of apprenticeship. Nine of them were training to be carpenters under the instruction of George Lamb who lived in what would later become the Farm Bailiff’s House (occupied by Mr Bill Stephenson and his family in the 1960s). George Lamb was afterwards appointed the first Superintendent of Norwich House. Six were farm boys or ploughboys working on the farm under the direction of Arthur Roper, now married with his own family, and styled ‘Farm Bailiff`. Another six were apprentice blacksmiths under the instruction of John Tuck, Superintendent of Swansea House; four were pupil teachers; another four were apprentice tailors, being trained by Walter Valentine, Superintendent of Clyde House; three were apprentice masons; three apprentice shoemakers; two apprentice bakers; two gardeners working in the walled gardens (built in 1894) under Leonard Johnson, Superintendent of Plymouth House and the remaining two were an engineer and a bricklayer’s labourer. Arthur Bridges, a builder from Kingham, was probably involved in instructing.