In the next local history series, Jill Kashi of Westwood Heath History Group shares research on the history of Tocil House Farm. Look out for more local history stories in future editions of our community newsletter.
The Modern Records Centre contains a wide variety of resources of value to local and family historians, with helpful staff on hand if guidance is needed. My most recent visit there has been the starting point of a journey of discovery, learning more about what lay beneath the Tocil Residences. Photographs of David and Reg Clayton, the last tenants of Tocil House Farm, handing over material for inclusion in the archive in 2015, led me to their reminiscences, recorded as part of the Institute of Advanced Studies oral history project, “Voices of the University”.
(The brothers handing over the materials to Ken Sloan at the University in 2015.)
The Claytons at Tocil
The Claytons moved to the farm in the late 1950s; the area they knew had changed little over the centuries, being rural and predominantly agricultural. The three main farms were Gibbet Hill, Cryfield (both buildings extant and in use by the university) and the now long-gone Tocil House Farm.
David and Reg, who had spent their childhood at Hob Barn Cottage on Shultern Lane (near where Aldi now stands), followed in their father’s footsteps as farm workers employed by George Bostock. The Bostocks were a long-standing family of farmers in the county, farming land at Tocil as far back as 1912. When the Clayton family moved to live at the old rambling house, they were amazed by its sheer size; it stood three storeys high, had 16 rooms and an enormous fireplace. It was a secure property, having windows with shutters and bars. Approached by a long drive, it also featured a walled garden. The brothers recalled that on its demolition, the three-feet deep walls could clearly be seen. They both believed it was too grand a house to have been built as a farmhouse and thought that at one time it might have belonged to a member of the Leigh family, on whose estate Tocil House stood.
Work on the farm was relentless, continuing all year round, involving ploughing, planting and harvesting potatoes and other crops and maintaining the land, then extending to over 300 acres. They also helped to manage the large dairy herd; this job came at a cost for Reg, who caught brucellosis in the days before herd testing. But change was coming; the land had been identified as a site for one of seven planned “Utopian Universities”. In October 1963, the Coventry Evening Telegraph announced, “199 Acres Chosen as University Site”. As construction work began in 1964, the Claytons found themselves in a disappearing world, carrying out their usual farm work as the university emerged around them. They recall the foundations being laid for the early buildings in the Gibbet Hill area and for the library, one of the first constructions.
The first students arrived in October, 1965. Perhaps they were somewhat bemused by their farming neighbours, particularly at the sight of David sitting on his plough on a cold snowy day warming his feet over the steam from a recently installed heat pipe, concealed beneath the ground. By 1969, the Claytons’ days at Tocil were over; the university continued to grow but memories remained strong. Even in 2015, they could still recognise trees they had planted and gate posts they had put in.
Back in Time
It is possible to understand something of Tocil House and its people by looking at other sources, taking us further back in time. There are references to “Tosale” in the fourteenth -century Stoneleigh Leger Book, the name possibly being a variant of “teazle”: perhaps a place where teazles grew in this part of Warwickshire, centuries before it was inhabited. As yet, it is unclear as to when the house was built, but it was lived in by the Parkes family in the early nineteenth century. Thomas Parkes moved there in 1817 from Canley Moat House, with his young family. This included son Henry, then a toddler, who would grow up to become Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales.
The Campbells at Tocil
However, for most of the nineteenth century, Tocil House was home to the Campbell family, farmers for three generations. Their presence is recorded as early as 1822, when a certain Sarah Gumbly sought redress from a Mr Campbell of Tocil House for taking her property from there and “turning it into the lane” – an inspection of this document is needed to discover the full story! The Campbell in question was probably John, who farmed there until his death in 1843. He was a person of some standing; his will describes him as a “gentleman”. After his death, his wife, Mary, daughter Helen and son William took over the running of the farm. In the census of 1851, Mary is described as a “farmer of 300 acres employing 14 labourers and 3 boys”. John and Mary’s eldest son, William, received a good – and undoubtedly expensive - education at Ratcliff College, Leicester, a Roman Catholic school designed by Pugin. I hope to discover more about this, as William appears to have been the only child in the family to have received such a privileged education.
By the time he took over the running of Tocil, the farm had increased in size; by 1871 it was 450 acres, providing work for 13 men and 1 boy. In comparison, nearby Cryfield Farm comprised 223 acres, worked by just 3 men and 1 boy. William took an active interest in local life: in 1858 he was elected to serve as a Guardian of the Poor for the Warwick Union; in 1881 he was elected to a sub-committee of the Warwickshire Reformatory Institutions, which oversaw the Boy’s Reformatory at Weston-under-Weatherley and the Girls’ Reformatory at Tile Hill.
On his death in 1904, his son, also William, ran Tocil House Farm. William Jr. and his siblings, Mary and St John, never married and continued there at least until the 1930s. Like his father before him, William Jr. acquired public roles, being a member of the Stoneleigh Association for the Prosecution of Felons and as a shareholder of the Coventry Corn Exchange and Public Room Company.
Changing Times at Tocil
Newspaper accounts from the 1930s describe successes for Tocil farmers in local agricultural competitions. In 1932, heavy rains and muddy conditions did not prevent T.H.Edgar from winning a prize for the best cultivated and managed farm, a ploughing competition and prizes for his ploughing horses. During this period, George Bostock established a stud farm at Tocil House, winning prizes for breeding shire horses both nationally and locally including at the Royal Show. In 1927, the Leighs of Stoneleigh sold the land to Coventry Corporation and by the 1940s, discussions took place as to where new universities could be sited, a decade before the Claytons moved to Tocil House, little knowing they would be the last tenants.
There is always something rather poignant about a “lost” house. In 1882, Sir Henry Parkes returned to his Warwickshire roots for a visit. A local newspaper reported that “Lord and Lady Leigh promised that the old Moat House at Canley and Tocil House shall always be preserved in good repair in memory of their illustrious visitor and friend”. Moat House survives, but all that remains of this once rather grand farmhouse is a black and white photograph and references in disparate sources. More research is planned and hopefully more of Tocil’s story will come to light.
Jill Kashi, Westwood Heath History Group
If you have recollections or photographs of the area before the construction of the university, or in the early years of its development, please get in touch. community at warwick dot ac dot uk.
'OS Map name 026/02', in Map of Coventry and its Environs (Southampton, 1884-1889), British History Online [accessed 15 October 2021].
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Want more local history?
Learn more about the history of Westwood Heath in Jill's article from April 2021.