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Oxford War Memorials: St Frideswide’s Church, Oxford

William ESSON (1873–1916)

William Esson
From Dragon School – Old Boys and Masters
Who Gave their Lives in the Great War
(OUP, 1922)

Esson on memorial

William Esson’s parents
  • Father: William ESSON senior: born in Forfar, Dundee on 17 May 1838; died on 28 August 1916 at the age of 78 in Abingdon
  • Mother: Eliza MEEK: born at Barry, near Carnoustie, Forfarshire, Scotland on 20 November 1841; died on 11 November 1893 at the age of 51 at 13 Bradmore Road, Oxford

William Esson senior (see his Obituary) spent the first part of his childhood in Dundee, where his own father was manager of the gas works, and was educated at Glasgow Royal Academy and then Cheltenham Grammar School. He won a scholarship to St John’s College, Oxford and was matriculated at the University at the age of 16 on 8 March 1855. In 1860 at the age of 21 he became Fellow & Tutor in Mathematics in Merton College. At the time of the 1871 census he was staying at Ness House, Gloucester Road, Cheltenham with his widowed mother and two sisters.

William Esson’s mother Eliza Meek (29) was a governess in 1871 at a small boarding school for girls in Edinburgh run by her widowed aunt, Mrs Margaret Meek.

Marriage of William Esson’s parents, and his siblings

The banns for William’s parents’ forthcoming marriage were read in Merton College Chapel on 16, 23, and 30 March 1872, and they were married on 10 July 1872 at Edinburgh Parish in Edinburgh. They had three children:

  • William Esson: born in Oxford in 1873 (reg. fourth quarter)
  • James Esson: born at 13 Bradmore Road, Oxford on 8 December 1874
  • Margaret Esson: born at 13 Bradmore Road, Oxford on 20 November 1877.

William Esson’s father took out a lease on 13 Bradmore Road (a brand-new 14-roomed house in North Oxford) in 1874, soon after the birth of William, his eldest child. By the time of the 1881 census, the family was complete: William Esson senior (42), then Fellow & Tutor of Merton College, and his wife Eliza (38) were living in their mansion with their sons William (7) and James (6), who were both “scholars”, and their daughter Margaret (3). They had three live-in servants: a nurse, an under-nurse, and a housemaid. About this time William was sent to the Dragon School in Oxford.

At the time of the 1891 census, William (17) and his sister Margaret (13), both described as scholars, were at home with their parents, and their three servants now comprised a parlourmaid, cook, and housemaid. William’s brother James (16) was at Malvern College and boarding at School House, College Road. He was a Minor Scholar and School House Prefect, and in the House Football Eleven. He left Malvern College at Easter 1893.

In 1893 William Esson junior (19) joined the Royal Marines (National Archives ref. ADM 196/62/285). The following year (1894) his only brother James died in Oxford at the age of 19 and was buried in Holywell Cemetery.

In 1897 William Esson senior moved to New College on his appointment as Savilian Professor of Geometry, a position he held until his death.

On 21 July 1900 William Esson junior was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, and at the time of the 1901 census, when he was 27, he was Captain of the twin-screw cruiser HMS Hyacinth, which was then docked at Devonport. His father was at 13 Bradmore Road with his daughter, but his mother Eliza was missing; in addition to the cook, maid, and housemaid, the family now had a housekeeper, suggesting that she may have been in hospital. She died at the age of 51 on 11 November 1893 at 13 Bradmore Road and was buried in Holywell Cemetery: her death was announced in The Times, and there was a full report of her funeral in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 18 November 1893.

At the time of the 1911 census William Esson junior (37 and still single) was a Captain in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and based in the Royal Marine Barracks at Forton in Alverstoke, Hants. His sister Margaret (33 and also unmarried) was visiting him, staying at the barracks in the accommodation provided for women and children: she described herself as an artist. William’s father (now a 72-year-old widower and the Savilian Professor of Geometry) was alone at 13 Bradmore Road with his housekeeper and three other servants.

On 14 June 1912, William’s sister Margaret Esson, who was then living at 52 Hamilton Road, married  Captain Edmund Gay, the only son of the late Edward Gray of Aldborough Hall, Norwich, at St Michael & All Angels Church, Summertown (announcement in The Times). The couple set up home in the Manor House, Norwich, and do not appear to have had any children.

River Hotel


On 2 December 1913 in the Fulham registration district, William Esson junior, now a Major in the marines, married a widow, Mrs Minnie Louisa Fowler of the Manor House at Northmoor (with the marriage announced in The Times).

His wife’s maiden name was Minnie Louisa Warren, and she was born in 1873 in Maidenhead (registered second quarter with forenames reversed). Her marriage to her first husband, Hugh Robert Fowler, had taken place in the Fulham district in the first quarter of 1892, and she had three children by him. He spent time in Africa overseeing a brick business and farm, and probably died there some time between 1911 and 1913.

William & Minnie Esson spent their short married life in the Bridge House, 17 Botley Road (now the River Hotel, right).

Minnie was already 40 when she married William Esson, and they do not appear to have had any children.


William’s sister’s husband, Edmund Gay of the Norfolk Regiment, was killed in action on Thursday 12 August 1915 (see Aldborough War Memorial and the elaborate stained glass window there in the church).

Poppy In the First World War William Esson served as a Major in the Royal Marine Light Infantry on HMS Russell. He was killed at the age of 42 on 27 April 1916 when his ship was torpedoed near Malta.

He is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel reference 21) and also on the war memorial inside the church in Northmoor.

His death notice in The Times of 2 May 1916 reads:

  • ESSON — On the 27th April, 1916, MAJOR WILLIAM ESSON, R.M.L.I., the beloved and loving husband (ever faithful, ever sure) of Mrs. W. Esson, Bridge House, Botley-road, Oxford, and only surviving son of Professor W. Esson of Oxford, who was killed on the occasion of the mining of H.M.S. Russell. “God gave me His ‘best.’ He giveth. He taketh away.”

William Esson’s widow Minnie Louisa was the executor of his will, and his effects came to £269 1s. 0d.


William Esson’s widower father

  • William ESSON senior was still living at 13 Bradmore Road in 1914, but he died at The School House, Abingdon on 25 August 1916 (just five months after his son was killed) and was buried in Holywell Cemetery on the 28th. He had an obituary in the Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions, 1917, 111, pp. 332–3. The Warden of Merton was the executor of his will, and his effects came to £111,825 2s. 3d.

William Esson’s widow

  • Mrs Minnie ESSON did not remain at the Bridge House on the Botley Road, and by 1935 it was the Bridge House Hotel. She did not remarry, and died at the age of 67 in 1940 in the Wandsworth registration district.

William Esson’s sister

  • Mrs Margaret GAY (born 1877) lost her husband, only surviving brother, and father within the space of a year. She does not appear to have returned to Oxford.

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© Stephanie Jenkins

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