Blackhall in St Giles, Oxford: now part of St John's College Kendrick Quad
I would like to thank Mrs Stanbrook, former domestic bursar of Queen Elizabeth House, for employing me as a gardener there and for her patience when I excavated the garden shed; Norman Coates, in charge of maintenence, and Bob Townsend, the librarian, for making my employment there a pleasant one, particularly with regard to snooker; Sir Howard Colvin for allowing me access to the St John's College archives; Brian Durham of the Oxford Archaeological Unit for taking my excavation seriously; the staff of the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies, the Oxfordshire Record Office and the Bodleian Library for efficient assistance, and in particular the Keeper of the University Archives for allowing me access to records; David Sturdy for a shared interest in the history of St Giles'; Bob Hammersley for letting me use his computer, and Jacky Hammersley for much encouragement throughout.
I would like to apologise to nobody in particular for the fourteen year gap between completing my research and compiling this document to make it available to others. This was probably due to my tendency to get fascinated by new projects before completing old ones.
Edward Pope, November 1998
[I would like to thank Stephen Gersh for alerting me to the John Locke connection and the Kendrew Quad excavations. I have added notes to the text of the 1998 printed document in italics in square brackets.
Edward Pope April 2019]
The square walled town of Oxford was built in Saxon times at the southern end of a tongue of gravel terrace between the Thames and the Cherwell rivers. Until the nineteenth century when North Oxford was built over it, most of this gravel terrace was arable land known as St Giles' Field, but immediately to the north of the walled town, the wide street known as St Giles' had been lined with houses since the middle ages. It would be hard to find another street in the world that has been as wide and as long for so many centuries. Some have speculated that it is the remnant of a Saxon village pre-dating the walled town.
On the east side of the street near St Giles' church stands a quaint Jacobean house known as Blackhall. In 1980 it was part of Queen Elizabeth House, an independent academic institution connected to Oxford University, where I took employment as a gardener, which led me to enquire into its history. Pottering around the borders on summer evenings induced a timeless trance when shades of the past seemed to steal over me.
The name Blackhall has led to a tradition that the property was once associated with the Dominicans (black-coated friars who first reached Oxford in 1221), or that it was once part of the University. There were several halls called Blackhall within the walls of Oxford, and these were some of the many academic halls where students lodged (before colleges were founded to coop them in and curb their wanton ways). Blackhall, like Whitehall, was a common name, and any large house such as an inn or farmhouse could have been called a hall in the middle ages.
I found no historical evidence for early academic or religious use, but Blackhall did seem to be an unusual sort of property. From at least 1349 until the nineteenth century it comprised not only the house and gardens near St Giles' church, but also 80 acres of arable land and 16 acres of meadowland in the fields of St Giles' and Osney. From 1349 until 1501 it was the only substantial piece of farmland owned freehold by individual citizens of Oxford, rather than by feudal lords or religious institutions. In the middle ages freehold ownership of land could not be disposed of by individual owners, but had to pass to the lawful heir, except in towns known as boroughs, which had a royal charter. Oxford was such a borough, but had little farmland within its boundaries.
The freehold of Blackhall was left at least four times by the wills of rich citizens of Oxford to religious bodies in return for masses sung for the souls of the departed, and three times bought back again (or otherwise reclaimed), twice by known heirs of the previous owners. More than once Oxford had claimed that Walton Manor, to which most of St Giles' Field belonged, was part of its 'liberty', but the law found against this claim. It appears that the lands of Blackhall were not always counted as part of Walton Manor, but it isn't clear whether they were a recognised part of the liberty of Oxford, or simply managed to avoid dispute because they were a vehicle for the transfer of wealth from rich citizens to religious institutions.
Later, along with Walton manor, Blackhall passed into the hands of St John's College, but continued to be let as a single and separate unit of land of almost unchanging extent until the enclosure of St Giles' parish in 1832. Over the centuries the tenancy of Blackhall seems to have suited doctors and lawyers, and particularly their widows and daughters. It passed only four times from father to son, but seven times or more to an in-law, and for some 160 of the last 400 years the head of the household has been a widow or a spinster.
CHAPTER ONE 1349-1541
The Hundred Rolls of 1279 are supposed to contain a full list of freeholders and tenants, and the only commoner to hold lands in the Manor of Walton was Brumann le Riche. Since the later owners of Blackhall were rich citizens of Oxford who also held lands in Walton Manor, it is possible that Blackhall was part of his property. The first mention of Blackhall in surviving records is from 1349, the year of the Black Death.
William de Burcestre (i.e.of Bicester) was 13 years Mayor of Oxford and died in 1341, leaving a widow Eleanor who died in 1348. Both their wills survive, and neither mentions Blackhall. But in 1349 their son Nicholas de Burcestre died, leaving Blackhall, along with some properties within the town walls, to Richard Cary, husband of his sister Alice, for his lifetime only, and after his death the said properties were to be 'ordained to the setting up of two chaplains' to celebrate mass in St Anne's chapel in St Martin's Church in Oxford 'for my soul and the souls of my father, mother and all my ancestors for ever'.
Such a bequest was called a chantry. This practice, apart from being a considerable source of income for the clergy, must have severely limited the accumulation of worldly wealth by individual families of townsmen. It was abolished at the time of the protestant reformation.
Richard Cary was twice MP for Oxford and six times mayor, and both he and his wife Alice died in 1349, presumably from the Black Death, and their wills don't mention Blackhall. Alice had a son by a previous marriage and she left him in the custody of her executors, Alexander Spurman, chaplain and John de Langrissh, town clerk of Oxford. Spurman was also an executor of Nicholas de Burcestre's will, and in 1351 Spurman and de Langrissh surrendered their custody of Alice Cary's son to the community of Oxford, along with all lands and tenements belonging to that custody, except for Blackhall. Strictly it couldn't have been part of that custody anyway, as it had been left to Richard Cary for his lifetime only, but given so many deaths and wills in one year they may have felt the need to avoid confusion.
Only ten years later in 1361 Blackhall was once again left in a citizen's will to endow a chantry. John de Barford was a clothier who was five times mayor of Oxford and five times MP between 1344 and 1361. In 1355 occurred one of the most famous events in Oxford's history, the riots of St Scholastica's day, when fierce and fatal fighting broke out between town and gown. King Edward III intervened in the dispute and found in favour of the University, since when, it is said, the town has always played second fiddle to the scholars. John de Barford was imprisoned for his part in the riots. In his will he left Blackhall to endow the chantry of St Mary in All Saints Church, Oxford, for three years, with six priests one year, four the second, and two the third.
So the picture emerges of the property being continually bought again by the richest townsmen so that their souls could be prayed for, no doubt with fine music and splendour. Blackhall was recycled in this way by the descendants of John de Barford over the next four generations. The second husband of his daughter Gillian was William Dagville, five times mayor of Oxford and eight times its MP, who died in 1399. His interests included brewing, and in the Poll Tax assessment of 1381 he was one of the four inhabitants of Oxford in the top wealth bracket. After his death Gillian married a third time, and in 1413 she granted the reversion of Blackhall after her death to Thomas Dageville, the son and heir of William Daggeville.
The 1381 Poll Tax assessment also gives us our first glimpse of the actual inhabitants of Blackhall. None of the owners or tenants of Blackhall seem to have lived on the site until a later period, preferring their houses within the city walls. Robert, servant of Blakehalle, Thomas, carter of Blakehalle, and Walter, thresher of Blakehalle, all assessed at the lowest rate, suggest that at this time Blackhall itself may have been a farmhouse rather than a mansion.
In the 1413 grant of reversion the lands belonging to Blackhall were described in more detail for the first time, being 80 acres of arable land, 16 acres of meadows both behind Osney and Bishopseyte, and two cottages next to Blackhall. (Bishopseyte was also called Burgess Meadow, and is now a nature reserve on a grassed over rubbish tip.) The 80 acres of arable would have been scattered in strips throughout St Giles' Field, according to the system by which ploughlands were then distributed. In a document of 1422 Thomas Dagville granted to others all his freehold properties with certain exceptions, one of which is, 'a tenement situated in the suburbs outside the northern gate of Oxford called from antiquity la Blakehall'.
A William Dagville, probably Thomas's son or grandson, was mayor of Oxford four times and MP once, and died in 1476. He was a grocer and was recorded as having bought fruit, dates, rice and cotton from Southampton. In his will he styled himself 'jantylman' and followed a long tradition by leaving Blackhall for the good of his soul. 'Alle my londes tenementes and cottageys in the parisshe of Seynt Gilys with all the errable londes and medowes aswell behyndes Osneye as in Burges medowe shall remayn for ever unto the abbot and the monkes of Ruley and they for to keep myn obyt worshipfully for ever, and at every obyt holding the abbot shall have 2s and every monke that is prest 16d and alle other monkes that be no prest 8d and this to be paid of the same lyfelode by the abbot, and the belman 6d'. Rewley was an abbey near where the fire station now stands, an obit was a memorial service. Dagville also left his best psalter to the abbot of Osney, and to St Giles' church another psalter and a pair of second vestments. Other bequests included twelve gowns, one of them his town livery gown.
In 1474 a lease of the property to the north side of Blackhall (now 22 and 23 St Giles) stated that the property to its south was occupied by Magister William Goodyer. He was a Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford University, and held the grand sounding office (among others) of Lieutenant and Commisary-General of the Admiral of England. In 1472 he was granted a salary of £40 a year, thirty times the rental value of Blackhall. This suggests that by now a substantial mansion had been built at Blackhall. Possibly William Dagville had lived there too, since St Giles' is the church he chose to remember in his will.
William Dagville's daughter Joan, who married Edmund Gylle, made her will in 1486 and died in 1501. She left her 'farmeplace in Saint Gyles parish called Blackehall with 20 acres of arable land and the meadows behind Oseney' to the abbot and convent of Rewley Abbey, on condition that they kept yearly obit at a cost of 6s 8d. Perhaps the abbot had sold back just 20 acres of Blackhall, fully expecting to get it back again in the next will. In 1496 Edward Wodeward left in his will a 'yearly obit of 13s 4d for his soule and all other christian soules, to be paid out of his farme of Blackhall during the terme of yeares he had therein, four yeares yielding therefore £5.6s.8d.' This is the first record of the lease rather than the freehold being left for these purposes, and the mention of all other christain souls perhaps reflects the growing protestant morality of the time. The annual rent of Blackhall works out at £1.6s.8d., four times the cost of Joan Gylle's obit, which fits neatly with her mention of one quarter of the arable acreage. If there was by now a fine mansion at Blackhall, perhaps this was let separately. Edward Woodward was mayor of Oxford five times, MP once, was knighted in 1483, and lived at Pery Hall within the walls of Oxford. He held property in eight towns and villages in Oxfordshire, and possessed books of civil and canon law which he left to his son Lionel. Like many citizens of those days, he rose to the top by being a servant, for Robert Attwood, who had been mayor in 1454, left the oversight of his shop to his 'man', Edward Woodward.
The days of chantries and monasteries were nearly at an end and with them dwindled the apparent connection of Blackhall with the office of Oxford's mayor. Colleges were the new monasteries, and it was doctors and lawyers, allowed unlike most university members to marry, who next found a use for the property.
Roysye Eleanor = (1) Philip de Wormenhall
d.1348 (2) William de Burcestre d.1341
William Nicholas d. 1349 Thomas Alice
= Cristina = Margaret = Tibote John (1) = = (2) Richard
Blundell Cary d.1349
John Bost (or le Peyntour)
John de Barford (1) = Agnes = (2) John de Bedford
d.1361 | = (3) Henry Castell d.1376
John of Hampton (1) = Gillian = (2) William Dagville d.1399
| = (3) Thomas de Cowley
whose son or grandson, William Dagville d.1474 = (1) Joane, daughter of William Katermayn of Chalgrove
| = (2) Margaret
Edmund Gylle = Joan
Richard Alice Frideswith
CHAPTER TWO 1541-1612
In 1541 King Henry VIII, having dissolved the monasteries, granted to his doctor, George Owen of Wolvercote, all the lands in North Oxford which had formerly belonged to Godstow Abbey (i.e. Walton Manor), and in a separate grant 'the messuage and arable lands in Oxford-fylde with meadows &c in Burges Mede and near Charwell, belonging to the same messuage, in the parish of St Gyles without Oxford.....which belonged to Rewley'. (A messuage meant a dwelling and its immediate yards and outbuildings).
George Owen died in 1558 and in 1561 his son and heir Richard leased the farm of Blackhall and other parcels of land to Nicholas Day of the parish of St Giles. Then in 1573 Richard Owen sold the Manor of Walton, now considered to include Blackhall, to the President and Scholars of St John's College, who have been the ground landlords ever since. At the time of the sale the tenant of Blackhall Farm was Roger Hewet (yet another mayor of Oxford and a cousin of Richard Owen), for eight years more, and then it was to revert to Nicholas Day for 41 more years, which would make the lease of 1561 a sixty-year lease. If this Nicholas Day was the miller and leaseholder of Holywell and King's mills, who died in 1577, he must have already sold the lease of Blackhall before he died, as it isn't mentioned in his will.
By 1595 the tenant of Blackhall was Dr Robert Barnes. He may have bought the lease from Nicholas Day twenty years earlier, and may have been the occupant of the dwelling-house at Blackhall even before that, as it looks more than coincidence that like George Owen he was a Doctor of Medicine, a native of Worcestershire and a fellow of Merton College. Perhaps they were related by marriage. He became a Master of Arts in 1541, Bachelor of Medicine in 1548, was ordained priest in 1555, was appointed Higher Linacre lecturer in 1558, and became a Doctor of Medicine in 1566. When Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford in 1566 he was one of those chosen to speak in her presence.
Doctors of Medicine had the special privilege of being married while still remaining fellows of colleges and they were often much wealthier than their celibate fellows. He and his wife Anne had six daughters, all of whom married, the first five to local gentry, while the youngest daughter Prudence married John Eveleigh, son of a Devon gentleman, who had come up to Exeter College in 1575 aged 16 and had been a fellow there from 1578 until 1593. In 1599 he became principal of Hart Hall, an academic hall, and in the same year Robert Barnes sublet to him the lands and farm buildings of Blackhall.
John and Prudence Eveleigh had three daughters and two sons, and in the baptism record of one of them he was described as a physician, although there is no record of his having taken a medical degree. In 1604 the plague hit Oxford and both physicians Robert Barnes and John Eveleigh died, leaving mother and daughter widowed. Ann Barnes died in 1612, and the wills and inventories of Robert and Anne Barnes give a detailed picture of Blackhall at that time. Possibly some of the house they lived in survives in the present building, but it seems more likely that the house was completely rebuilt around 1660.
Rooms mentioned in Robert Barnes' inventory were the hall; the buttery by the hall; the parlour; the kitchen next to the parlour; the little buttery next to the kitchen; the larder house; the barn by the larder house; the coal house and privy house; the malthouse; the garner (storehouse) over the malthouse; the brewing kitchen; the chamber over the brewing kitchen and the kill chamber; the garner by the maid's chamber; the maid's chamber; the cockloft and appleloft over the maid's chamber; his bedchamber; the middle chamber; the chamber over the middle chamber; the new chamber over the hall; his study; and the stable. In his wife's inventory eight years later the upper rooms were named as her bedchamber: the chamber over the hall; the chamber over the kitchen; the chamber over the buttery; the chamber over the gate; the high cockloft; and the upper chamber of all.
Some of the more fascinating items from Dr Barnes' inventory were: in his study (total value ten shillings) 27 old books of physic (i.e.medicine), 28 old books of astronomy, 14 books of logic and sophistry, 33 books of grammarschool, plus books, swords, trash, old iron, shelves, boards, boxes, broken books and glasses; in his bedchamber (total value six pounds) a standing bedstead corded with two mats, a trundle bed corded with a mat, a featherbed, a bolster, two pillows, three blankets, a pair of sheets, two pillowcases, a coverlet, a canopy with green silk curtains gold knobs and an iron hoop, a straw chair, two fir boxes, a joined box, a little joined stool, a looking glass, a needlework cushion, a livery cupboard, a slickstone, two old boxes, a hoodbrush, two pieces of green cloth about the chamber, and six bedstaves, plus plate in the same chamber valued at £33; in the garner by the maid's chamber a rippling comb and a little press for caps; in the maid's chamber as well as her bedding, two brushes, two shoeforms, a wooden footstep, his apparel, a brass staff and a brass warming pan, which suggest that the maid acted as valet to Dr Barnes; in the hall (total value ten pounds) a table with a joined frame, three forms (benches), a standing cupboard, a pair of virginals (harpsichord), two joined stools, a little embroidered stool, a turned chair, a green cloth fringed carpet, a darnix carpet, a printed cupboard cloth, four needlework cushions, a pair of snuffers, a brass hanging candlestick, a pair of iron creepers, a fire shovel, a pair of tongs, a pair of bellows, two pieces of printed cloth, a box of gold weights, two boarded leaves for the window, a pair of spice graters and a pair of tables.
In the barn by the larderhouse (total value one pound) an axe, a bill, a birdcage, two iron rakes, a hoe for the garden, a pair of wooden scales with an iron beam, two hatchets, five wheels of linen, two wheels of yarn, a stock with winding blades, a market basket, a little hair sieve, a chest of hemp, a little stool, a wooden garlic mortar and pestle, a mustard mill with an iron ring, a pewter ladle, an iron ring and hook, a pipkin, a mustard pot, two bowls, a basket of hemp, a hair rope, a gaged dagger, a long plank, two shelves, and other trash of feathers, old iron and lumberment; of livestock (total value £35) three swine, a boar, four turkeys, five ducks and a drake, a cock and four hens; of glass, casement, portals and wainscot, four pounds worth. The total value of the inventory was £719 10s 8d, of which £500 was the annual rent 'for certain ewes to roam out of two farmes', £47 was in debts and £21 was in ready money. The two farms may refer to Blackhall and Medley, both of which were held by Dr Barnes.
Ann Barnes' inventory mentions many of the same items and also details her modest wardrobe of smocks, two gowns, two kirtles, three petticoats, two french hoods, a bongrace, two girdles and a pair of gloves; and in another room eight aprons, two gowns and an old kirtle. One item missed from her husband's inventory was 27 trees.
From Dr Barnes' will, which is even longer than his inventory, my favourite extracts are that he left 40 shillings to his servant Richard Needle, whose son Robert was his godson, and 5 shillings to each of his other servants, 'man boy widowe and maid'. He stipulated that the glass in the windows should remain at Blackhall till the last year of his lease, and then be divided among his daughters. He left to Robert Atkinson Esq., Councillor at Law, whose advice he used in the penning of his will 'a little hoope ring of gold having this poesie ingraved Bona Fide Sine Fraude' and to Mr John Weston, Doctor of Civil Law, 'a signett of gold having this poesie ingraved Nosce Te Ipsum'. The inscription 'Know thyself' on a small but valuable gift to a friend sums up the private spirituality of the Renaissance in contrast to the public masses sung for the souls of the departed in the middle ages.
Robert Barnes d 1604 = Anne d 1612
Elizabeth Anne Maria Eleanor Maria Prudence d 1652
= Michael = Godfrey = William = Thomas = Henry = John Eveleigh
Hugganson Barton Bowne Yaidon Clarke b 1559 d 1604
Ann Ann John d 1678 Frances George
= Henry Stevens = Mildred d 1681 b 1603 d 1612 b 1604
Waggonmaster to daughter of Thomas
King Charles I Caldwell of Newbury
& Jane his wife, youngest daughter
of Archbishop Michael Boyle,
Primate of Ireland
Alice Anne Rebecca Jane Elizabeth
= Richard = Rev. Dr. = Rev. Henry = Col. Frederick = John Sealy,
Power of Benjamin Cross Parr Mullins of Dingle Mayor of
Carrigaline d. 1684 | Cork 1698
John Robert William Tryphaena Elizabeth Mary (2) = William = (1) Martha Mullins
b.1676 d. unmarried = John Collis, of
d.1709 Blennerhassett Lisedoge
| d.1733 |
John Rev. Thomas Edward Robert Rev. William Collis
= Elizabeth vicar of Dingle = Ellen, daughter = (1) Elizabeth, b 1683 d 1754
daughter of = Avis of Christopher daughter of = Isabella
Peter Cooke Blennerhassett Hilliard Edward Day Galway
= (2) Mary, d 1771 without children
Knight of Kerry
The four sons of William Collis and Mary Cross all had children
CHAPTER THREE 1612 - 1709
It seems probable that Prudence Eveleigh and her children would have moved in with her mother when they were both widowed; and certainly when the sixty-year lease expired in 1621, St John's granted a new lease in her name. Her son John graduated from Wadham College in 1619 and the following year became vicar of Knockmourne and Derryvillane in the Bishopric of Cloyne in Ireland. He later held various positions in that diocese but was best known as the Dean of Ross; probably his career was furthered by his marriage to Mildred, daughter of Thomas Caldwell of Newbury and his wife Jane, daughter of Archbishop Michael Boyle, Primate of Ireland. Prudence's eldest daughter Ann married Henry Stevens, who became waggonmaster to the King's forces while the court was at Oxford during the Civil War, when the fortifications of Oxford ran just outside the back wall of Blackhall's garden. After Cromwell's victory a subsidy was levied in 1648, from which University incomes were exempt, and Mrs Eveleigh was assessed as the seventh richest person in Oxford. All the wealthiest citizens lived outside the city walls; of the seven richest, three lived in St Thomas' parish, one in Holywell, and three in St Giles'.
Prudence Eveleigh was buried at St Ebbe's, Oxford on the 14th August 1652. Her will is unusual in being a memorandum of words 'spoken by her in her bedchamber at her house in St Giles, in the presence of Paul Hood, D.D., Rector of Lincoln College. Margaret Andrews, spinster, her maidservant, and Christopher London, her servant, then living in the said house with her'. She left the lease of Blackhall to her son John. Six weeks later on the 28th of September Christopher London married Margaret Andrews at St Giles' church. John Eveleigh seems to have remained mostly absent in Ireland. When the lease of Blackhall was renewed in 1657 it was in the name of Anne Eveleigh, either his sister or his daughter; and his affairs in Oxford seem to have been handled by Christopher London, who began to prosper on his own account, for in 1654, describing himself as a carpenter, he took the lease of 14 St Giles which was owned by Balliol College. [note 2019: From perhaps 1657 and certainly in 1659 John Locke the philosopher exchanged love letters with Anne, John Evelegh's daughter, and apparently with another young woman staying at Blackhall identified in E S De Beer's edition of Locke's correspondence as Elinor, daughter of Edward Parry bishop of Killaloe 1647-1650, she later married Richard Hawkhurst. See letters 48, 51, 57, 61, 63, 65,69 - 74, 79, 80, 83 - 89, 119-122 in Vol. 1]
It was about this time that the present Blackhall appears to have been built, or at least remodelled if it already was a four-storey stone structure. The most dateable feature is the three-storeyed bay window facing St Giles; the top window has a central arch in a pattern Pevsner called 'Ipswich fashion', a motif characteristic of around 1660. There is another example of this in Oxford at 126 High Street, as well as several modern copies in the exuberant design of Lloyds Bank at Carfax. The restoration of the monarchy let loose a rash of new building in Oxford; 43 St Giles (now Friends House) is dated 1660, and 11 St Giles (Middleton Hall) was built in 1663 by the mason Bartholomew Peisley senior, who also lived in St Giles a few doors from Blackhall. He may well have been the architect of Blackhall, though its style is in complete contrast to that of Middleton Hall. In the late 1660s the Sheldonian theatre was being built and gave much employment to Oxford craftsmen, including Christopher London, who worked there as a carpenter. Possibly he was responsible for the splendid staircase in Blackhall.
In 1661 John Eveleigh obtained his most valuable preferment, becoming Precentor of Cloyne and Dean of Ross, and this may have enabled him to invest some money in building work. In 1664 he resigned the Precentorship in favour of Benjamin Cross, who married his daughter Ann. In 1665 the Oxford Hearth Tax assessed John Eveleigh as having five hearths; in the Subsidy of 1667 he appeared as 'John Eveleigh or his tenant for Blackhall', and Christopher London was next on the list; and in the Poll Tax of 1667 no Eveleighs were noted, perhaps because they were in Ireland at the time, but in the household next to that of Christopher London and his wife, were listed Mary Penn, Mary Wildgoose and Jane Dully, maids, who were very likely servants at the vacant Blackhall. In 1668 the lease was renewed in the name of Elizabeth Eveleigh, the Dean's youngest daughter; but the following year a new lease was made in her father's name, without the usual payment made about every seven years, as only one year had elapsed. Usually when a tenant undertook substantial rebuilding this was mentioned in the lease and the payments were reduced, but in the case of Blackhall this doesn't seem to have happened. In 1669 a deed of the property to the north of Blackhall gave Christopher London as the occupier on the south side, which may mean he was living in the mansion itself, or in a house in the farmyard. Anthony Wood recorded a fire on the 13th April 1669 which destroyed all the houses to the north of Blackhall, which suggests that it was a stone building by then.
In 1673 Christopher London took the lease of 17 & 18 St Giles from St John's College and began to build three tenements there. In 1675 David Loggan made his celebrated map of Oxford on which a four-storey Blackhall was unmistakeably, if not accurately, depicted, with the two dormer windows flush with the north wall that are visible today, except that one has been blocked by a chimney. Middleton Hall was also clearly picked out, while the rest of the houses in the street were drawn too uniformly to be detailed studies. He also showed clearly how a wall and buildings running from what is now the middle of the lawn divided the farmyard from the formal garden behind the house, with diamond-shaped formal gardens at the east end of both sections of the property.
The Dean of Ross died in Ireland in 1678. His house there was at Bandonbridge, and he left 50 shillings to the poor of Bandonbridge and twice that sum to the poor of St Giles. He left the lease of Blackhall to his son-in-law, the Rev. Benjamin Cross (the Dean had five daughters, all of whom married, and no sons). His wife Mildred died in Ireland in 1681. From 1679 date the earliest surviving poor-rate records of St Giles parish. In May they listed 'Mr Eveleigh for his house and land', in July 'Mrs Eveleigh for Blackhall Farm', in May 1680 ' Mr London or Mr Higgins for Mrs Eveleigh house & land', and from 1681 'John Higgins for his house and land'. Higgins was the farmer and probably lived in the house in the farmyard.
In 1683 Benjamin Cross left Ireland to become Rector of Spetisbury, Dorset, but he died the following year, leaving the lease of Blackhall to his wife Ann and his sons Robert and William.. Ann Cross renewed the lease in 1690 and St John's allowed that the payment be 'part abated in regard of her distress'. The largest item on an inventory of debts annexed to the will of Benjamin Cross was 'about £200 in the hands of Christopher London'. In 1692 William Cross, Ann's younger son, matriculated age 16 at St John's College. In the same year John Higgins died, and his inventory listed 5 pigs and 4 cows (worth £25 10s), a team of horses and harness (worth £30 10s), 6 beds with 15 pairs of sheets and pillows (worth £12), and 3 tables, 3 chests, a chest of drawers, a cupboard, 18 chairs and six stools (worth £2 3s). The poor rate continued in the name of Widow Higgins until 1696 when she died and John Matthew took over the farm. The inventory of Mary Higgins listed no livestock, but £75 in money, plate and bad debts. She had a shop with £6 worth of candles and soap, and a garret, a chamber, a lower room and a cellar.
In 1696 a Window Tax was levied, and Mary Higgins was taxed on five. Blackhall would probably have had at least 20 windows, which was the maximum taxable number, bu did not appear in the list. Somehow Ann Cross had managed not only to avoid the Window Tax, but also to hang on to her private seat in church, for on the 9th May 1696 she was granted a 'faculty' as follows: '...whereas Mrs Ann Cross of the parish of St Giles in the suburbs of the Citty of Oxford widdow hath humbly requested and desired our leave and licence for a faculty to enjoy the seate at the upper end of the middle alley of the parish church of St Gyles aforesaid next to the chancell on the right hand side opposite to the ministers pew which hath constantly belonged and been enjoyed by the inhabitants of the house or tenement called Blackhall in the parish of St Gyles aforesaid and now in the possession of the said Mrs Ann Cross and which she hath repaired at her own proper costs and charges containing in length 5 foot 3 inches and a half and in breadth 6 foot situate as aforesaid....we Henry Allworth Vicar General....do give grant and assigne the seate....unto the said Mrs Ann Cross to be appropriate to her and her family dwelling in the house called Blackhall to sit kneel and stand to hear divine service and sermons...'
Her son William studied medicine and received his doctorate in 1706, but died in 1709. His mother outlived him, but her date of death is unknown. The lease of Blackhall from 1709 was in the name of her son-in-law William Collis, gentleman of Lisedoge, county Kerry, Ireland. He was granted administration of the estate of Dr William Cross at the request of Ann Cross. In 1709 Christopher London also died, four years after his wife Margaret. The executors of his will were Henry Brereton, fellow of St John's and William Langford, cook of St John's and he left £30 to his maid Mary Miles and sums of between £5 and £30 to various friends and relations, £10 for his burial and 12 shilling loaves to poor families on his burial day. He mentioned a deed of gift made by him to Dr William Cross, which William Collis had made over to Henry Wise, mercer of Oxford, such that Henry Wise had to pay some of the legacies in London's will. This probably concerned the lease from St John's of 17 & 18 St Giles, which from 1709 was in the name of William Collis, and thereafter until 1821 was leased along with Blackhall to the same persons in the same years.
The architectural history of Blackhall remains unclear. I have followed the views of Pevsner rather than the 1939 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, which stated that Blackhall was built in the early seventeenth century or earlier, and remodelled about 1700. The inventories of Dr and Mrs Barnes in 1612 seem to be for a three-storey building, while Loggan's map makes it clear that a four-storey building very like the present one was there by 1675.
continued in Six Hundred Years of Blackhall part two