watercolour of a large Georgian house in Dulwich

The Court Rolls for October 8th 1534 record the death of Thomas Henley, copyholder of a tenement and 15 acres, for which he paid 5/- a year rent. Thomas Henley had been a Dulwich resident or tenant since 1492. We know that on December 15th 1519 he was admitted copyhold tenant of 6 acres in Nappes (on the east side of Croxted Road), formerly John Warren's, but his acquisition of the other 9 acres (the site of 'Oakfield' and the adjoining Allison Grove) is unrecorded. His heir, according to custom, was his youngest son Thomas, who we are told was, in 1534, of full age. He was already a Dulwich tenant in his own right, his most substantial holding being the 28 or so acres of 'Knowlis', the old manor house, leased from Bermondsey Abbey.

He also enjoyed timber-felling contracts in respect of the Dulwich Woods. His last Will dated April 18th 1544 mentions his wife Elizabeth and his eldest sons William and Thomas, and we know that he had a younger son Henry for, on Thomas Henley's death soon afterwards, it was Henry who, again according to the custom of the manor, succeeded to the property. Thomas' widow Elizabeth almost immediately remarried, her new husband being John Harryson, who in 1546 was appointed Henry's guardian.

By 1562 Henry had come of age, and on April 23rd 1562 he was formally admitted tenant of his father's copyhold. In the same year he married Agnes Cox at St Giles, Camberwell, and although over the next seven years they had three children, all daughters, only the eldest Phillipa or Philippa (baptised July 23rd 1564) survived childhood. Henry himself died in 1570, and was buried on June 9th of that year. His last Will is dated 6th June 1570, which must have been the day he died. In it he described himself as a husbandman, asked that he be buried in the churchyard, and gave a two-year-old heifer to each of his daughters Phillipa, Margaret and Elizabeth, or to the survivors or survivor if any died under the age of 20 or unmarried. Thus, by the time she attained 20 in July 1584, Phillipa as the sole survivor should have inherited three heifers. Henry left the residue of his estate to his wife Agnes, and appointed her executrix, with his father-in-law Richard Coxe as overseer of the Will. Probate was granted on 26th August, 1570.

On April 10th 1581 Phillipa, having attained 16, which was evidently though old enough to qualify as her majority, was admitted to her father's copyhold, now described as a tenement and 14 acres, the annual rent being 4s 8d. There may have been some confusion about the actual size of the holding, and rent payable, because Thomas Henley junior had purchased an acre called Wattes croft in 1533, which Henry Henley sold to John Dove in 1568, and the rent for that had been 4d p.a. It is worth mentioning that throughout the Middle Ages the standard rent payable for copyhold properties, with only rare exceptions, worked out at 4d per acre per annum, a fixed figure which did not increase, even though over the centuries inflation reduced its value in real terms. Almost immediately afterwards, in May 1581, Phillipa married Nicholas Foster, a yeoman. In accordance with the practice of the time, he and not his wife was thereafter listed as tenant in the official records, until his death in 1628.

On April 20th 1636 Philippa Forster [sic] created a settlement of the copyhold messuage and 14 acres, as it was now described. She was to have the property for the rest of her life, and on her death it was to go to her two daughters Joan Westwood and Mary Dunn, subject to their paying 20 marks (i.e. £13 6s 8d) to Nicholas Foster's spinster daughter (by his first marriage) Elizabeth. The Widow Foster is last mentioned in the Rent Tables at Michaelmas 1639, and died shortly thereafter. Again we have a record of her Will, made on 28th October 1639, very shortly before her death. In it she left to John Staple, Elizabeth Staple and Robert Staple (children of William Staple) a sheep each; to her step-daughter Elizabeth Foster, a pair of flaxen sheets; and to Ann Foster, daughter of John Foster, another pair of flaxen sheets. She left her residuary estate to her daughter and executrix Mary Dunn, the wife of John Dunn, but Mary was enjoined to bring up Phillipa's two grandchildren Mary Westwood and Walter Westwood. The Will, which was 'nuncupative' (i.e. made orally, not written and signed) was witnessed by Samuel Staples and Edmund Curson. Probate of it was granted on 14th November 1639.
Joan Westwood must therefore have predeceased her mother, and her share passed to her sister Mary, for on November 25th 1645 Mary Dunn (and her husband John) surrendered "about 6 acres" in three parcels to Thomas & Ellen Richardson. These were the '6 acres' (actually almost 8 acres) in Nappes which her ancestor Thomas Henley had bought in 1519. The three parcels adjoined each other, and can be identified today as the land where the railway lines between Herne Hill and West Dulwich, and Tulse Hill and North Dulwich, intersect, near the Croxted Lane end of Turney Road. The rent of 4s 8d p.a. was apportioned as to 1s 3d for the Richardsons, and 3s 5d for Mary Dunn, who was thus left with the site of 'Oakfield' and Allison Grove.

Mary Dunn's death, reported on November 1st 1647, was followed by a somewhat bizarre series of events. She had no children by her marriage to John Dunn, but she had been married before, to John Staples, a Camberwell yeoman, who was frequently mentioned in the Dulwich records between 1600 (when he would have been about 14 years old) and his death c.1624, and they had had at least two sons, Samuel and Nicholas (baptised January 25th 1618), of whom Nicholas was the younger and therefore entitled to the copyhold. However, Nicholas was a sailor who had sailed for foreign parts some years before, and had not been heard of since; he was therefore presumed dead. Samuel had died (leaving a young widow, Frances), and it was therefore initially decided that the heir was his youngest son John Staples, aged 6. However, within a few months, evidently to everyone's surprise, Nicholas Staples reappeared to claim his inheritance, and he was admitted instead as tenant on April 27th 1648.

Nicholas does not seem to have had any great capacity for saving money, and on May 15th 1656 he surrendered part of his premises (described as a messuage and adjoining orchard, west of Bathsheba Sheppard's orchard, north of Dulwich Common, and east of Nicholas Staples' own capital messuage and orchard, and 2 acres adjoining) to a Citizen and 'Plummer' of London, John Hathway. This was only two weeks after he had mortgaged the property, to one Richard Hunt, and we know of an earlier mortgage of his entire premises, to one Margaret Grimble, in 1654. It was agreed that the rent of 3s 5d would be apportioned as to 1s 4d for Hathway's copyhold (which later became the site of Allison Grove), and 2s 1d for Staples' retained copyhold. References to Nicholas Staples (and his wife, Godly) continue until 1669, when William and Elizabeth Cooper or Cowper succeeded to his "messuage and 4 or 5 acres". In fact it was just over 6 acres.

Up to this point we have been dealing with owners of the site of 'Oakfield' for whom the property was probably if not certainly their main residence. From the later 17th century onwards, however, successive owners of the copyhold did not actually live there, and would have regarded it as merely an investment property. Although they were obliged to pay a 'quit rent' of 2s 1d p.a., they would have been able to let the property at an annual 'rack rent' a hundred times that amount or more. William Cowper was dead by March 1672, and his widow Elizabeth was granted licence to let the property to a tenant or tenants or her choice. Shortly afterwards, both the house and the lands with it (approximately 6 acres) were divided into two holdings. By 1689, when Elizabeth Cowper and her son John (who had an interest in the property as remainderman, under a settlement which his parents must have set up before 1672) sold the property to Robert and Mary or Marie Fairman, one of the holdings was occupied by Richard Perry, the other was vacant. Robert Fairman, a brewer of St Saviour's, Southwark, was the tenant of other leasehold property in Dulwich. He and his wife were given licence to let the property for 20 years to whomsoever they wished.

Robert Fairman died in 1716. On April 9th 1718 his widow Mary, now of St Olave's, Southwark, with her prospective husband Richard Hawkins, gentleman, called on the Deputy Steward of the manor at his offices in St. Andrews, Holborn, in order to finalise a marriage settlement, the effect of which was that, "notwithstanding her coverture", Mary was to be permitted to leave the property to whomsoever she wanted in her Will. Mary Hawkins duly made her last Will and Testament on December 18th 1719, and left the property (the two halves of which were now occupied respectively by John Allen and Elizabeth Willy, or their undertenants), to her "loving niece Martha" (wife of Samuel Scott, of Great Amwell, Herts.) and Martha's heirs, charged with an annuity in favour of one Martha Wilkins (possibly Mary's sister). Mary Hawkins subsequently died, and Martha Scott was admitted tenant at the Court Baron held on April 13th 1721, and paid £52 10s as an Entry Fine, and also for a further licence to let the property for 20 years. At that time the property was still divided into two, one part occupied by someone apparently called John Reup.

In 1743 Martha Scott was given permission to pull down an ancient barn on the premises, which were stated to be in the possession of William Pond. He was still there the following year. In 1767 Martha was succeeded by her son, John Scott, who paid an Entry Fine of £56 (stated to be one year and three quarters rack rent at £32 p.a.), a heriot of £2 (in lieu of his 'best beast'), and rent arrears of £3 2s 11d (i.e. 35 years at 2s 1d p.a.), a total of £61 12s 11d. The property was described as "late in the occupation of William Pond, now of Edward Russell". This was the same Edward Russell, a Distiller, who was responsible for ornamenting the Mill Pond. John Scott died in 1784, and the Heriot payable was £6 6s "in lieu of his coach horse". He was succeeded by his daughter, Maria de Horne Scott, aged 6. Maria later married Joseph Hooper, of Great Amwell in Hertfordshire (evidently the Scott family had not moved from there), and in 1805 they surrendered 'Oakfield' (by then occupied by Elizabeth Bedwell, a widow) to Ann Wright, the spinster daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Wright, the builder of Bell House, who had died in 1798 leaving her Bell House and the three fields behind it, and another 3-acre copyhold property (the only other copyhold still in Dulwich apart from those which have already been mentioned) immediately to the north of Bell House (now Nos. 15 to 25 College Road). She thus became the owner of a solid block of property, leasehold and copyhold, stretching from what is now the Old College Gate of Dulwich Park as far south as the Mill Pond.

In 1809 Dulwich Common was finally enclosed. The procedure on enclosure of manorial common land was that those who had a free- hold or copyhold (but not leasehold) interest within the manor were entitled to a proportionate share of the enclosed common lands or receive appropriate compensation for giving up their rights of common, or a combination of both. In Dulwich, of course, the vast bulk of such properties were owned by the College itself, which was thus able to retain most of the enclosed lands (which included the woods) and contemplate future development on them. However, the handful of copyholders, including Ann Wright and her neighbour Allison Allen Marshall (on whose copyhold land Allison Grove, named after her, was later built) were similarly entitled. A parcel of derelict land, now bounded by Park Hall Road, Acacia Grove and Croxted Road, was earmarked for division among the copyholders, and in 1809 the Enclosure Commissioners awarded plots within this parcel to each copyholder. This land, totalling 4a.2r.14p., thus became the first copyhold to be created in Dulwich since the early middle ages. Ann Wright, as the owner of the two most valuable copyholds, received 3a.2r.0p, Allison Marshall 2r.2p., and William Hudson, the only other copyholder (of the '6 acres' further north along Croxted Road), the remaining 2r.12p. In addition, Allison Marshall (but not Ann Wright) was allotted a small strip of land in front of her house, enabling Dulwich Common road to be straightened and narrowed. The area covered by 'Oakfield' and its grounds after 1809 was six acres and 13 perches.

In 1811 Ann Wright married John Willes, builder of 'Belair'. She died in 1817, aged 68, bequeathing her copyholds to Thomas Trice, aged 17, the son of her cousin James Trice, subject to a life interest (which did not last long - he died in 1818, aged 83) in favour of her husband John Willes. It was a condition of the bequest to Thomas Trice that he change his name to Wright, which he duly did, and in 1820 (still technically 'an infant' aged 20 - his guardian Mrs Elizabeth Dennis Denyer had to be with him at the ceremony) he was admitted to both copyholds. By this date Mrs Bedwell had been succeeded as occupant of Oakfield by Stephen Hall.

According to Tom Morris, writing in 1909: "Dr Webster came to London to serve his time to a medical man, a doctor who lived at the house named Oakfield. He married the doctor's daughter." For once Morris appears to be accurate, since we know from Blanch and other sources that when, soon after qualifying, Webster came to Dulwich in 1815, he was first the assistant, and afterwards the partner, of "Mr Hall, an established practitioner". Blanch refers later, in his piece on Webster, to Dr Marshall Hall, and to 'Biographical Sketches of Dr Marshall Hall', which Webster wrote for 'The Lancet' in 1850, without making it clear if the two Halls were the same, or related.

The 1854 Terrier names Thomas Wright as tenant of Oakfield and 4 [sic] acres; one John Smith is referred to as occupant/lessee of the premises. In 1859 there is reference to " ... the pond at the angle of Dulwich Common opposite Mr Green's House", which may or may not refer to 'Oakfield'. It would, however, explain why the house is assigned the name 'Vert Bois' ('Green Wood') on the 1862 edition of Stanford's Library Map. On February 16th 1862, Thomas Wright was given permission to demise his copyhold messuage [Oakfield] etc on the east side of the Road from Dulwich to Penge, and c. 5 acres, now Mr Jos. Harris'. Joseph Harris Esq. was duly granted a 28 year lease from March 25th 1862.

In 1877 Thomas Wright, of Chalfont St. Peter, Bucks, died. The 'heriot' payable on this event was £55. In the following year, 1878, his executors sold 'Oakfield House', still occupied by Joseph Harris Esq. (to whom Thomas Wright had sold the copyhold allotment on the west side of the Common the previous year for £1,000), to Robert Palmer Tebb Esq., of 83 Lombard Street, London, for £4,500. In 1880 Tebb mortgaged the property to Sarah Berry, and, up for sale in 1882, it was converted from copyhold to freehold the following year, not by the copyholder purchasing the freehold, i.e. enfranchising, but by the newly-constituted Estates Governors purchasing the copyhold. The transaction apparently involved exchanging with land in the region of Beauval Road which was required for the proposed new Alleyn's School, although the actual mechanics of the transaction require further investigation. In 1886 the occupant of Oakfield, presumably as lessee of the Estates Governors, was one G. B. Blessley.

In about 1897 Sir Henry Perkins lived at Oakfield, according to Col. J.E. Tidy (whose family leased Bell House nearby at the same time). It seems he was actually 'Frederick', not 'Henry'. The lessee in 1903 was James Samuel Holliday. In 1912 Samuel Stanley Brown, an Estates Governor since 1896, who prior to that had been Clerk to the College Governors for three years from 1871, died at his residence at Oakfield, Dulwich Common, according to 'The Dulwich College Register, 1619-1926'. His widow, Hannah Maria Brown, is named as lessee in the same year. From 1924 to 1950 the lessee was Ralph Marven Everett, M.B.E., whose links with Dulwich College were even closer. Born in 1879, he was the son of E.M. Everett, a master (and former pupil) at the College, and was himself educated there. He played for the School 2nd XI in 1896, and the 1st XV in 1897. From 1898-1905 he was Secretary of the Old Alleynian Football Club, and was Hon. Auditor of the Alleyn Club (for old boys of Dulwich College) in 1906-7, and Hon. Treasurer 1907-8. With the rank of Major, he served with the 9th Battalion, L.N. Lancashire Regiment, in the First World War, and was wounded. In 1925 he was appointed a Governor of James Allen's Girls School.

Everett's successor as lessee was Commander Weymouth, but from 1952 and into the 1960's the property was occupied by John Drummond and his family, and in the 1970's by our former Chairman, Mr Roger Low.