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3 Stert Street


(see long history)

This house stands on the east side of the street and next door but one to St Nicolas' Church. It is a double-fronted, timber-framed building dating from about 1470.

The house was built by Abingdon Abbey on land it owned running north from St Nicolas’ between the Abbey wall and the River Stert. The Stert, which flows from north to south, is now in a culvert under the pavement outside the house.  

When the building was renovated in the twentieth century, the original overhanging jetty at the front was restored and an extension was added to the back of the old house, making it a hybrid of some historical interest.  

At the same time the remains of a wall painting of geometric design were discovered in the north bedroom on the first floor. They can still be seen faintly on the timbers.

For much of its later history the building was a public house, variously called the Golden Cross and the Butchers’ Arms. After the Abbey was dissolved in the sixteenth century, the freehold belonged first to the Crown and then to the Borough Council, until it passed into private ownership in the mid-nineteenth century. The 1921 photograph (above) was taken after it ceased to be a pub; the group in the doorway are members of the Lewis and Higgs families.

It is a private house and not open to the public.

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2013


(see short history)

The building

The earliest occupation that we know about in this area of the town was in the Iron Age (approximately 600 BC) when skilled artisans had their dwellings and workshops there.[1] This is followed by evidence of Roman occupation – Roman roof tiles were found in the back garden of 3 Stert Street during the construction of a soakaway in the 1990s.[2]  There is then a gap in the records until the early medieval period when the strip of land alongside the River Stert that now forms the eastern side of Stert Street was owned by Abingdon Abbey, whose wall formed its eastern boundary.  It was waste ground until the Abbey gradually built properties there.[3]

At the time of the dissolution of the Abbey in 1538 the property passed into the possession of the Crown. When Abingdon was given its charter in 1556, the new Corporation which governed the town took over the ownership of the former Abbey properties, including 3 Stert Street.

Before the present house was erected there was at least one other structure on the site, remains of which (in the form of very thick walls and a floor) were found during a twentieth century excavation of the cellar at the east end of the house. It was not possible to determine of what these had once been a part nor exactly how old they were.[4] The well in the garden – also investigated - had probably not been used since the late nineteenth century and was subsequently capped.[5]

At some unknown date after the original build the property absorbed part of the next door house to the south.[6]   This did not, however, include the adjacent section of the backyard, leaving it with an L-shaped plot.   In the early nineteenth century a piece of the backyard of the next door house to the north was bought and added to the yard of No. 3, giving it an irregular plot.[7]

At some time a small cottage and an outside lavatory were erected, abutting the house. Towards the end of the twentieth century a garage and a brick workshop were built at the east end of the garden, and two extensions were added to the house itself.

Until the late eighteenth century the River Stert flowed openly in front of the building and the other houses on the east side of the street, and the inhabitants had to access the road by means of small bridges which their leases required them to keep in good repair. By the late eighteenth century the river was enclosed in a culvert running under the pavement.[8]

It is possible that the property immediately preceding the present building was a boarding house for the Grammar School, which itself was probably next to St Nicolas’ Church.[9] If this was so, it was run by Dionysia Mundy.[10] Evidence of earlier occupation of the site is provided by a fourteenth-century bone flute found in the cellar when it was excavated. This is now in the Bate Collection of musical instruments in Oxford.

3 Stert Street Flute.jpg



The bone flute


Copy photograph © Michael Harrison 2013. Original  photograph by the late Ron Henderson who gave a print to the present owners. Present copyright owner not identified.

Tree-ring examination has dated the old part of the house to between 1466 and 1471.[11]

The building sometimes housed sub-tenants - the leaseholder would let his or her property to several people, each of whom had his or her own room and shared cooking, washing and lavatory facilities.[12] 

In the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century the occupants had sufficient money to have one of the bedroom walls decorated with a painted pattern.[13] Enough of this painting survives on the timbers for us to know how the whole thing once looked, and it has been brought to life by a local artist, Liese Cattle.

                 3 Stert Street painting.jpg 




Late sixteenth or early seventeenth century wall decoration

Decoration recreated by                      Liese Cattle. 


By kind permission of the artist. Photograph © Michael Harrison 2013.

At some time the top (attic) floor was converted into two bedrooms (later made into three); this entailed rebuilding the bedroom and landing space to make two gables at the front of the house and two at the back, all projecting from the original transverse roof. A staircase was added to give access to these bedrooms.

When gas became available for domestic use in about 1830 it was installed in the house but did not reach the top floors, where candles were still employed.  It was not until 1946 that one of the tenants wired the ground floor for electricity, and later this was extended throughout the rest of building.[14] 

By 1841 No. 3 was a public house called The Golden Cross.[15] The ground floor rooms included a parlour for the resident family and a tap-room and bar for the customers.  Behind the large chimney at the east end of the tap-room was a cellar with a storeroom above it. Between the parlour and the tap-room ran a passageway to the back yard; this was used to bring visitors’ horses through the house to a stable when the building became an inn accommodating overnight customers.[16]




Charlotte Higgs (1883 - 1972) was the licensee of the Golden Cross while her husband George Young fought in France during the Great War. Her dog was called Spot. She was brought to No. 3 aged eleven and lived in the house for 73 years until 1967.

By kind permissison of Michael Lewis and Kay Hammond.


In 1865 the property was sold to John Moses Carter and George Bowes Morland for £107 8s 1d.[17] In 1888 it was bought by Morland & Co a local brewer.[18] In 1951 the house was listed as Grade II under the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

By 1969 it had become dilapidated and a new owner bought the freehold and set about renovating it.  She restored the overhanging jetty at the front of the house; this had been hidden when the ground floor wall of the west front of the building was rebuilt further out into the street, presumably to give more space to the living rooms. It is not known when this rebuilding had taken place but the new owner took the opportunity of reconstructing the ground floor frontage in its original position and changing the ground floor front windows from sash to casement.[19]  The first floor sash windows on the west-facing (front) face probably date from the early nineteenth century, as do the top floor horizontally sliding sashes. As part of the renovation the cellar was excavated and filled in and the storeroom above it was removed.  A two-storey extension was erected at the east end of the house - the first-floor part of this extension included bathrooms and a study.[20]

The property changed hands again in 1977.  The new owners added a further extension to the ground floor, covering the site of the well which had supplied the house until mains water was introduced to Abingdon in the latter part of the nineteenth century.[21]

The present owners arrived in 1997.

The people

Soon after the dissolution of the Abbey in 1538, when the house passed into the possession of the Crown, we find the first record of a leaseholder.  This was Robert Coke,[22] and he was followed in 1554 by William Kysby.[23] It is possible that neither of these men actually lived in the house but sub-let it to tenants.

‘There is a gap in the records until 1663 when the Hearth Tax assessment shows that the leaseholder was probably Richard Gearing.  He may have been followed by Elizabeth Perryman.[24]  She was succeeded in 1670 by John Rice; he sub-let a room to her, having paid off her arrears.[25] In the same year the lease was assigned to Richard Hackworth who lived in the house with his father, Nicholas, and his sisters, Mary Jane and Elizabeth.[26]    

In 1691 Robert Tyrrell, a yeoman, married Mary Jane Hackworth.[27]  Mary Jane and Elizabeth are cited as lessees in 1691[28] and the lease passed to Mary’s husband. The next leaseholder and occupant was Robert Tyrrell’s son, also Robert, who was a currier (one who dresses and colours leather).[29] By the middle of the eighteenth century Richard Clarke, a brewer, held the lease.[30]  William Tyrrell was the sitting tenant and was later joined by Francis Stuchbury, a blacksmith.

In 1782 the lease was transferred to William Spindler, a victualler, “at the old rent of thirty shillings”.[31]  There was also a tenant by the name of William Keates.   In 1794 William Spindler assigned the lease to John Francis Spenlove.[32]

In 1826 John Francis Spenlove was granted a new lease and his tenant was William Mart.[33]

In 1841 the census shows that William Hazell and his family lived in the house.[34] Two years later – John Francis Spenlove having died – a new lease was granted by the Borough Council to John Moses Carter, Edward Tull, George Bowes Morland and others, in trust for John Spenlove’s daughter, Mary.[35] William Hazell was still the tenant but by 1851 he had moved to The Bear and had been replaced by William Beckingham.[36]  At about this time Richard Bishop was recorded as a tenant.[37]

It is probable that the business was mainly the selling of beer, which was a common trade throughout the country because of the unsafe nature of water supplies.  

In 1854 William Able appears in the records as a tenant[38] and also ran a hairdressing business from the same address.[39] Three years later we find Frederick and Elizabeth Wiblin, who had been servants at Caldecott House in Abingdon, recorded as running No. 3 as a pub called The Butchers (sic) Arms, although there is no evidence to show that Frederick was a butcher.[40]  The twentieth century excavations in the back garden of the house unearthed many clay pipes, probably dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and witness to the use of the building as a pub.

The leaseholders continued to be John Moses Carter, Edward Tull and George Bowes Morland.  From this time until the final closing of the business the building was sometimes called The Butchers’ Arms and sometimes The Golden Cross, presumably at the whim of the freeholder or possibly the lessee.  Frederick and Elizabeth Wiblin were the tenants but William Able had taken his hairdressing business elsewhere in the town.[41]

After the freehold was sold in 1865 (see above) Frederick and Elizabeth continued to live in the house with their daughter (also Elizabeth).[42]  It seems that there had been some unruly behaviour on the premises in this period since in 1881 the licence had been renewed on condition that the landlord “be careful as to the way (the) house…….(was) conducted in future”.[43]

In 1883 Frederick Wiblin died and George Alfred Lay took over the running of the pub.[44] 

By 1891 Alfred Thomas Phipps was running the business - this time called The Butchers’ Arms - having previously managed two other public houses in the area.[45] Other people recorded at the address were George Alder (an auctioneer’s porter); William Fulker (a musician); Edward Porter (a mason’s labourer); James Mealinaker (a musician); Mark Woodley (a farm labourer) and Roy Tognell (a scenic artist.)[46]  (This information is from the census and it is possible that some of these people lived elsewhere and were just visiting, given the large number of them.)

Alfred Thomas Phipps was succeeded by his widow, Elizabeth.  William and Amy Higgs were tenants; William was a carpenter and is also described as a ‘beer retailer’ in the local directory.[47]

By the beginning of the twentieth century Amy Higgs had taken over the tenancy of the property, which was again called The Golden Cross.[48] Living with Amy Higgs were her daughter, Charlotte, and her sons Harry and Tom.  William Oakley and Thomas, his son, were boarders.[49]

Charlotte married George Ernest Young, a blacksmith who later worked for the local firm MG Cars as an engineer.  By 1915 they had taken over the licence and the tenancy.[50]  George Ernest Young fought in the First World War, together with Thomas Rowland Higgs, William Thomas Higgs and Ernest Lawrence – all recorded as living at No. 3 Stert Street. They all survived.[51] Ernest Lawrence was a policeman, and three of his daughters – Violet May, Edith Amelia and Eileen Clare – were born in the property.[52]

In 1921 No. 3 ceased to be a public house but continued to be lived in by George Ernest and Charlotte Young,[53]who remained there as tenants of Morlands until after the end of the Second World War.  They took in lodgers both in the main building and the cottage; these lodgers included Percy James Dyke (who was there in 1928),[54] Barbara Lee and Roy Stone.[55] Soon after the end of the war Winifred, the Youngs’ daughter, married George Lewis who had been a prisoner of war and became a chemical engineer with Esso. They lived in No. 3 and it was George Lewis who installed the first electricity in the house.  Later he and Winifred bought their own house locally.[56]

By 1950 Trevor Price is recorded as living with the Youngs[57] and the following year John and Audrey Naylor rented two rooms in the house.[58]

When Ernest Young died his widow, Charlotte, continued to be the tenant until 1967. Then she moved out to live with Winifred and George but went on paying the rent for No. 3 and returned to visit the empty house from time to time.[59]

By 1969 Charlotte had died and the freehold was bought from Morlands by interior designer Jill Ginever.   She restored it with a grant from the local Joint Environmental Trust and a considerable amount of her own money, adding a two-storey extension at the garden end to replace the cottage and lavatory.  She married Harold Wilson who became the Resident Judge and Recorder of Oxford, and they lived in No. 3 with their family.[60] 

In 1977 the Wilsons sold the freehold to Bernard and Mauricette Mellor.  Dr Bernard Mellor was retired and had been the Administrator and Registrar of the University of Hong Kong. It was they who added a further extension eastwards on the ground floor.[61]

In 1997 the house was sold to Michael and Gillian Harrison, who had come to Abingdon on their retirement from the Civil Service.[62] During the 1998 construction of a soakaway in the back garden the Harrisons unearthed a large quantity of artefacts, ranging from Roman roof tiles and medieval coping tiles to eighteenth century earthenware and a l920s ceramic doll. All the finds from the excavations in the cellar, the well and the site of the soakway were kept, and are in the Oxfordshire museum store at Standlake or in the possession of either the Abingdon Area Archaeological and Historical Society or the present owners.[63]


[1] Personal communication from Tim Allen, Oxford Archaeology, 1998.

[2] Personal communication from Michael and Gillian Harrison, 1998.

[3] A E Preston, St Nicholas and Other Papers’ (Oxford 1929), p.170, and Joseph Stevenson(ed), Chronicon monasterii de Abingdon (2 vols, London, 1858), Vol. ii, p.330.

[4] Council for British Archaeology Newsletter, No.1 (1971), Group 9.

[5] Council for British Archaeology Newsletter. No.2 (1972), Group 9.

[6] Width of the present frontage compared with the same measurement in Roger Amyce’s Survey of Abingdon, October 1554 (London, National Archives, LR 2/187/196-215; transcript in Abingdon Town Council Archives).  There is also a relevant reference by Preston, St Nicholas and Other Papers, p.291.

[7] Personal communication from Elizabeth Agulnik, a previous owner of Nos. 5-7 Stert Street.

[8] Susanna Stevens, Diary, July 16th, 1795, cited by Preston, St Nicholas and Other Papers, p.171.

[9] Abingdon Town Council Archives , Verney Papers 45, The Bishop’s Award.

[10] R E G Kirk (ed.) Accounts of the Obedientiars of Abingdon Abbey (London: Camden Society, n.s.vol 51, 1892), The Gardener’s Account of 1388-1389.

[11] A K Moir, Dendrochronological Analysis of Timbers from 3 Stert Street in Abingdon, (Hungerford, Tree-Ring Services, Report ABSS/27/02, 2002).

[12] Abingdon Town Council Archives, Abingdon Corporation Minutes, grant of lease to John Rice, February 4th, 1670.

[13] Clive Rouse, Report on a Wall Painting at No.3, Stert Street, Abingdon, Berkshire (sic), (unpublished report, 1969, in the possession of the authors).

[14] Personal communication from George Lewis, 1997.

[15] Census return for Abingdon St Nicolas 2, 1841.

[16] Personal communication from Winifred Lewis, 1997.

[17] Abingdon Town Council Archives, Abingdon Corporation Report and Valuation 1861-2, and the Chamberlain’s Accounts, vol.8, May 11th, 1865.

[18] Abingdon Town Council Archives, List of hereditaments and premises conveyed to the Company by Indenture, February 18th, 1888.

[19] Personal Communication from Jill Ginever Wilson, 2000.

[20] Personal communication from Jill Ginever Wilson, 2000.

[21] Personal communication from Bernard and Mauricette Mellor.

[22] Berkshire Record Office, Preston Papers, D/EP7/38: Notes on The Ministers’ Accounts of the Court of Augmentations,.

[23] Amyce, Survey of Abingdon.

[24] Abingdon Town Council Archives, Chamberlain’s Accounts (1667), p.13.

[25] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, grant of lease to John Rice.

[26] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 22 May 1691.

[27] Mary Ackworth (sic) married Robert Terrill (sic) at South Hinksey, Berkshire, on 11 June 1691, International Genealogical Index.

[28] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 22 May 1691.

[29] Abingdon Town Council Archives, lease to Robert Tyrrell (junior), 10 April 1735.

[30] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 9 May 1751.

[31] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 17 April 1782.

[32] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 20 August 1794.

[33] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 3 May1826.

[34] Census return for 1841.

[35] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 20 November 1843.

[36] Census return for 1851.

[37] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 2 May 1854.

[38] Abingdon Corporation Minutes, 2 May 1854.

[39] Post Office trade directory for 1854.

[40] Personal communication from Susan Matthews, a relative.

[41] Dutton, Allen trade directory for 1863.

[42] Post Office directory for 1869.

[43] Abingdon and Reading Herald, 1 October 1881.

[44] Kelly’s trade directory for 1883.

[45] Kelly’s trade directory for 1891.

[46] Census return for 1891.

[47] Vale of White Horse directory for 1894.

[48] Kelly’s trade directory for 1903.

[49] Personal communication from Winifred Lewis.

[50] Kelly’s trade directory for 1915.

[51] Abingdon Roll of Honour for the First World War, Abingdon Area Archaeological and Historical Society archives.

[52] Personal communication from a member of the Lawrence family.

[53] Personal communication from Winifred Lewis.

[54] The Abingdon street directory for 1928.

[55] Personal communication from Barbara Lee and Roy Stone.

[56] Personal communication from George Lewis.

[57] The Abingdon Directory for 1950.

[58] Personal communication from John Naylor.

[59] Personal communication from Winifred Lewis.

[60] Personal communication from Jill Ginever Wilson.

[61] Personal communication from Bernard Mellor.

[62] Personal communication from Michael and Gillian Harrison.

[63] Personal communication from Michael and Gillian Harrison.

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Additional Details

Public access: 
Exterior only
Listing reference: 
Grade: II List Entry Number: 1283172
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