History of Common Leys Farm
This house has history. It is not grand history about famous people;
it's a history about working people eking out a living from the land.
We have managed to research the history of the farmhouse back to the
1860s although we know that the house is actually 500 years old.
Below is the Last Will and Testament of Thomas Meloney (pictured
right) leaving his 'estate' to his daughters and sons. Thomas Meloney
was married to Jane (nee Knight) and lived in Holton. He started his
farming by buying a pig from market and collecting the slops from the
villagers of Holton and Waterperry to feed. It obviously grew, so he
sold it at market and made enough money to buy more than one. And so it
went on ....
After grafting for many years Thomas Meloney had all the worldly goods listed in the Will to leave to those he left behind.
Mabel & Joseph Fonge
(The following is adapted from information written by the great-grandchildren of Joseph Fonge)
Mabel (nee Meloney, pictured left) was one of Thomas’s daughters;
born in 1837 (in the reign of William IV, two years before Queen
Victoria came to the throne). She married Joseph Fonge, and they rented
Common Farm (now known as Common Leys Farm) from one of the Oxford
colleges. She was the second of eight children, and before she married
was a Ladies’ Maid at Holton Park, Oxfordshire.
Joseph Fonge and friend
Fonge, (pictured right) born in 1836, was the son of John (an
agricultural labourer living at Waterperry) and Elizabeth Fonge, and was
the youngest but two of 13 children. He was baptised at Waterperry
Parish Church on 8th May 1836. The Parish Records also document his
siblings James (baptised 1822), Rose (baptised 1824), Henry (baptised
1826), William (baptised 1828), Benjamin (baptised 1830) Robert
(baptised 1832), Moses (baptised 1834) and David (baptised 1840).
The only education Joseph had was at the village school two miles
away. He had to walk there, but his schooling did not last long; when he
was seven he went to work on an adjacent farm where he earned 1s.6d.
(8½p) a week. By saving 1s. (5p) a week, he at last, at about 17 years
of age, saved enough to buy a pig; here Joe’s wealth began.
By the time he was 23 years old he had saved a nice little sum, and
his wages being 10s (50p) a week, he made an excellent match, having the
good fortune to secure the love of ‘a very worthy and industrious
Christian woman’, Mabel Meloney. He married Mabel on 10 Oct 1859.
They had ten children: 5 boys and 5 girls. They are shown here, in birth order:
Eliza Jane, 1866*
Ellen Martha, 1883*
*It is uncertain whether these dates refer to the birth or baptism dates.
Their children were healthy and strong; Joseph and Mabel had little
trouble bringing them up, and the doctor was almost unknown to pass over
their threshold, except at the advent of a new baby. When the boys
began one after another to go to work, times were easy and prosperous.
Joseph’s wages increased; he had a better post and looked after
cattle and consequently his money gradually rose to 12s (60p), then 14s
(70p) and subsequently to 16s (80p) a week. His outgoings were carefully
watched. His rent for a comfortable cottage and about 5 poles (1 Pole =
30.5 square yards or 25.289 square metres) of garden ground was 20
shillings (£1) per year. In addition to his garden he also farmed, at a
moderate rent, some strips of allotment land at Waterperry Common in a
Field close to Common Farm, rented from the Right Hon. J. W. Henley of
Waterperry House, Waterperry, who was always ready to let the labourer
as much allotment land as he and his family could cultivate in their
spare time. Money was not spent on any luxuries.
Having by careful management saved a comfortable sum, Joseph gave up
agricultural service and began to farm on his own account, at Common
Farm, Waterperry, Oxon. (now known as Common Leys Farm). He now had the
occupation of 40 acres of land, and made a plain simple living. He found
that he was about as well off as when he was a weekly labourer, working
quite as hard but as his own boss. He could work when he liked, but
being his own master, he felt that his work was never done. He was not
at all dissatisfied at that, but rather glad to know that he had plenty
of work to do, and, by God’s blessing, health and strength to do it.
Joseph’s father John Fonge died in 1876, but for some years before
John’s death it fell to Joseph chiefly to support his aged parent, the
Poor Law Guardians allowing 1 shilling (5p) and a loaf weekly as an
allowance, so John lived with them for the last years of his life; this
is documented in the 1871 Census Return, which says that they were
living with Mabel’s father-in-law, John Fonge, Widow, aged 75, born
Water Perry Common. At this time the couple’s children, except the two
youngest, were all out in the world earning their own living.
In the 1891 Census Return, Joseph, his occupation given as an
agricultural labourer, declared that also living with them was his
brother Davis, age 40, also an agricultural labourer. The spelling name
Fonge was sometimes spelt Funge in the Parish Registers; to Joseph’s
annoyance he had to have the letter U replaced by an O on his carts etc.
to comply with the orders of the Squire.
At the time of Joseph’s death on 29th July 1908 aged 73, they still
lived at Common Farm, Waterperry where their children were all born, and
now owned 140 acres, having considerably increased their original
holding. After Joseph died his son Walter managed the farm for Mabel.
Their son Charles went to live at Weedon, Northants, and Mabel his
mother always used to describe his family as “that Weedon lot”.
Mabel lived with a companion called Miss
Coombs, who kept a policeman’s helmet hanging in the hall in the belief
that it would scare off burglars. After Mabel's nephew Leslie (Walter’s
son), had finished school he used to have to walk across every night to
sleep with them for some protection. He remembered Miss Coombs as a tall
thin grey haired, pale faced woman, who somehow seemed rather
ghost-like. (Rumour has it that her ghostly shadow still walks the common towards Waterperry. Spooky !!!!!!)
Mabel died on 7th November 1930, aged 95, at her daughter Kate’s home
in Winchester. Both Joseph & Mabel are buried in Waterperry Church
In collecting this information, we (the great-grandchildren of Joseph
Fonge) have gathered that Joseph’s life story was considered to be an
example of how to succeed by hard work. His life was recorded as a part
of Waterperry’s history under the title A Successful Labourer. Someone
unknown to us has written the following:
‘Joseph Fonge continued to walk that path of patient industry which
he had from the first mapped out for himself. He was not one of these
who grow weary in well doing. The flight of time was not allowed to
render him any less resolute. Painstaking and zealous, he was possessed
of a deep and sincere faith in God, though he was not given to talk
about it. For him religion assumed the aspect of doing thoroughly the
duty which lay nearest to hand. Taken altogether his life was a speaking
exemplification of the old fashioned virtues of thrift and
strenuousness. This is the type of character on which our empire has
been built up and on the continuance of which its existence depends.
There are those among us who think that it is unhappily becoming rarer
than it once was. At any rate the career of JOSEPH FONGE and of many
others like him, shows that it is possible for an agricultural labourer
to rise in the social scale to a position of comparative affluence.’
1950s and on
The farm was eventually bought from the Oxford college in the 1950's
by Mr and Mrs Neil who farmed it to its full. In his spare time, which
was very little, Mr Neil and his friends used to practice in a band at
In the 1970's it was purchased by some local land auctioneers who brought the farm into the real world.
The Old Dairy is now where Allie cooks the farmhouse cuisine and the Old Hayloft, as was, is now bedrooms.
If only walls could talk!