At Oxgate Farm
The quaint timbered dwelling with gables and a roughcast exterior manifests the idyll of domesticity for many and, as testimony to its potency, suburban streets up and down the country are lined with approximations to this notion in varying degrees of authenticity. Yet in a suburb north of Cricklewood, among the acres of development which spread across the land during the twentieth century, stands just such a house that is the embodiment of the romantic retreat, only this example dates from 1465 and it is not the result of architectural whimsy but a rare survival from another age.
Five miles up the Edgware Rd, where it becomes a dual carriageway, you turn left and walk up Oxgate Lane through the light industrial estate built upon the Oxgate farmlands laid out in 1285. At the crossroads, you turn right into Coles Hill Rd, described by B W Dexter in ‘Cricklewood Old & New ‘ in 1908 as having “all the charm of an untouched rural pathway with luxurious hedgerows and many varieties of wild flowers.” These days, it might be characterised as unremitting suburbia if it were not for the presence of Oxgate Farm, still asserting itself, undeterred by the changes that time has wrought.
Still roofed with its handmade tiles and floored with ancient worn flags, this is the oldest house in the Borough. Originally one of the eight Prebendal manors of St Paul’s Cathedral, the surviving building is believed to be a wing of the fifteenth century manor house, which was occupied in 1465 by Bartholomew Willesden, collector of the King’s taxes, and in 1500 by Henry Frowk, Lord Mayor. Elizabeth I’s half-brother, Lord Chief Warden of the Cinque Ports, Sir John Parrott, also lived here – he is best remembered today as the prototype for Shakespeare’s character of Falstaff.
Over the centuries, the manor reduced in size from a thousand acres until just the house and back garden are left today today. In the second half of the twentieth century, it was home to the painter Marie Burtwhistle and then Shakespearian actor Mark Dignam and his wife Virginia, who cherished the house for its romance. But now, two years after Virginia’s death, Oxgate Farm has reached an impasse in its existence. At the beginning of the twentieth century brick footings were installed that have subsided, removing support for the timber frame structure so that, in some cases, the joists no longer meet the exterior walls and bedroom floors lurch at alarming angles. Shored up with scaffolding props and recently refused support by English Heritage, the property is too costly for the current owners to repair.
Like a great old galleon cast up by a tidal wave to sit in the beach car park surrounded by modern vehicles, Oxgate Farm languishes today, yet it is an historically important and irresistibly charismatic building that cannot be allowed just to fall down.
Former residents Bartholomew Willesden of Oxgate and his wife portrayed in brasses of 1492
The humped ridge of the roof
Numbers upon the joists made by fifteenth century joiners to ensure the frame fits together correctly
An eighteenth century indenture to lease Oxgang Farm
Thomas Powell bought the property in 1751
Holes in the door, so the farmer could check his livestock from the parlour when the kitchen was a byre
Nineteenth century residents at the south door
The south door today
The farm is to be seen on the left in this late nineteenth century photo
The south entrance photographed in 1968
Nineteenth century wallpaper revealed in the bathroom
Shakespearian actor Mark Dignam & his wife Virginia bought the house in 1968
Mark Dignam’s study, untouched since he died
The south side of the house is held up by scaffolding props at present
The brick wall is collapsing forward at the front of the house
Oxgate Farm and shop in 1968