Joseph TOLLIT (1809–1890)
St Giles [Ss Philip & James] section: Row 28, Grave J26

Tollit grave

[Text in Gothic script along the lower edge of the grave, on the side facing the camera}


Joseph Tollit was born in Uxbridge in Middlesex in 1809 and baptised there on 21 June. He was the son of William Tollit (or Tollett, Tollit etc) of Hillingdon, Middlesex and Frances Lawford of Bushey, Hertfordshire who were married at Bushey on 30 November 1799. Joseph had six older siblings: John (1800), Frances (1802), William (1803), Mary Ann (1804), Sarah (1805), and George (1807).

His younger brother Charles was born near the beginning of 1811, and in June that year, when Joseph was only two years old, his mother Frances Tollit died.

On 7 September 1817 at Hillingdon his father William Tollit married his second wife, Rosetta Barlow, and they had four more sons.


Joseph Tollit, who remained a bachelor all his life, was originally a stagecoachman, and doubtless it was this business that originally brought him to Oxford.

On 1 March 1834 Joseph Tollit, together with his three older brothers John, William, and George, set up their own coach service between London and Oxford , which they called the “Oxford Age”. Joseph and George lived at the Oxford end of the route, and John and William remained at Uxbridge to the west of London.


Right: Advertisement in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 5 April 1834, announcing that the coach left the Vine Inn (near Carfax, at 133 High Street at 10.45am on every day except Sunday, and that the journey to London could be performed in six hours without galloping. The fare was £1 for an inside seat and 10/- outside (the equivalent of about £68 and £34 today)

The journey to London from Oxford was scheduled to take just under six hours, but on 1 May 1834, two months after starting the service, Joseph Tollit did a one-off special run to London in 3 hours 40 minutes.

Messrs Tollits' coaches had a number of accidents. The following was reported in The Times of 8 November 1838:

STAGE COACH ACCIDENT.—On Tuesday afternoon a stage coach accident which had nigh been attended with most serious and fatal consequences occurred between Southall and Hayes, on the Uxbridge-road. As William Tollit's Chalfont coach, which left the Bell and Crown Inn, Holborn, at 4 o'clock, was proceeding shortly before 5 o'clock over the Grand Junction Canal-bridge, it was met by the Sovereign Warwick and Leamington coach coming to town. The Chalfont coach being unprovided with lights, was from the darkness of the evening unperceived by the coachman of the Sovereign, which drove right across the leaders of the former, throwing them down, and the two coaches coming into collision together, the pole and splinter-bar were broken. Fortunately, although both coaches had several outside passengers, none of them were thrown off nor was any person injured. Both coaches were, after some delay, enabled to proceed on their journies [sic].

At first Joseph’s brother George generally drove the coach, and six months after the service started, he was in trouble for racing. Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 4 October 1834 records:

COACH RACING. — At the Brentford Petty Sessions on Wednesday last, George Tollit, driver of the Age, Oxford coach, was summoned at the instance of Lord Montford, for having, on the 10th of last month, furiously driven the said coach, and raced through the village of Southall with another Oxford coach, called the Royal William. Lord Montford clearly proved the case, and the defendant was fined 20s. and costs.

On 29 October 1839 the Morning Post reported another accident that befell Joseph Tollit’s coach:

STAGE-COACH ACCIDENT. — Yesterday afternoon, between four and five o’clock, as Joseph Tollit’s Wycombe and Uxbridge four-horse stage-coach was turning up High Holborn, two of the Paddington omnibuses were racing, when one of them ran with great violence against the coach, breaking the pole, splinter-bars and traces. So violent was the concussion that the coachman was thrown from the box and a gentleman from the roof. They were picked up and conveyed to the shop of Mr. Baylis, a surgeon, both having received severe injuries. The drivers of the omnibuses were stopped and the numbers taken. A coach was procured, and the passengers and luggage were put on it, and, after the delay of an hour, they proceeded on their journey, except the gentleman, who was so seriously injured that he was removed to his residence.

George Tollit ceased to drive the coach in 1839. Robson’s Business Directory for that year shows that “Tollit’s ‘Age’” now departed from the Vine Tavern at 11 a.m. every day except Sunday, returning from London at 7 p.m. Since it stopped at High Wycombe, it must have taken the route up to the top of Headington Hill and along the New London Road. Its second official stop before central London was at Tollit’s home town of Uxbridge, where doubtless his brothers provided a change of horses.

Coach on Headington HillDetail from a painting by J. M. W. Turner showing a coach descending Headington Hill towards Oxford in 1804

At the time of the 1841 census Joseph Tollit, described as a coachman, had evidently still not yet settled properly in Oxford, as he was lodging with the victualler Sarah Stephens at the Vine Tavern in the High Street, where his coaches began their journey.

Joseph Tollit was described as a livery-stable keeper in Blue Boar Street in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 1 July 1843, which reported a prosecution brought by him against Thomas Barratt, his former foreman, and William Eadle, who were alleged to have stolen from him ten trusses of hay, ten trusses of straw, and another twenty pounds of hay and twenty pounds of straw. Witnesses included John Bustin, who had been Tollit’s stableman at the time; Richard Brain, who then lived on the premises as his foreman; and William Robbins, who assisted at the stable and slept in the hay-loft. Barrett and Eadle were acquitted.

The Vine Tavern was still listed as having a coach office in an 1846 directory, but the railways would by then have already been affecting business, and by this time Joseph Tollit had gone over entirely to the livery-stable business: he is listed in Hunt’s Oxford Directory as a livery stable keeper at 10 Bear Lane.

His stables would have been patronized by the wealthier undergraduates, and on 13 April 1850 the Morning Chronicle reported:

EQUESTRIAN FEAT EXTRAORDINARY. — OXFORD, FRIDAY. —This morning a gentleman of this University undertook to ride from Oxford to London and back, a distance of 108 miles, in six hours, unlimited to horses. He started from Magdalen-bridge at five o’clock, and arrived in London at twenty-five minutes past seven, and returned to Oxford one minute before ten; thus completing this arduous task one minute under five hours. The horses used on this occasion were from the stables of Mr. Joseph Tollit, of this city.

Students driving

At the time of the 1851 census Joseph (41), now described as a livery stable keeper rather than a coachman, was living in Alfred Street in All Saints parish in central Oxford with his nephew George Tollit (aged 9 and born in Uxbridge) and had one servant (a houseboy of 15). Gardner’s 1852 directory lists J. Tollit as a livery stable keeper at both Bear Lane and Alfred Street.

In The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green (published 1853), Harry Bouncer kept his own horse with Mr Tollit, whereas Green had to go to Symonds in Holywell Street to hire one for their outing. This suggests that Tollit concentrated on stabling students’ own horses rather than hiring them out. When Bouncer recounted how his mother sent him two ponies (animals, rather than the £50 he meant by the term), he said, “Tollit was obliged to get rid of them for me.”

The Morning Chronicle of 21 February 1854 reports on a case that Joseph Tollit (described as a horse dealer) brought at the Court of Common Pleas regarding a bill of exchange paid when a Mr Kemp lost at gambling with Joseph’s brother George Tollit. Joseph admitted that George then lived with him at Oxford, and “had had no ostensible occupation but the turf since 1839, when he had quitted the box of the ’Oxford Age,’ and retired into private life”. Again Joseph Tollit lost the case.

By the time of the 1861 census Joseph’s nephew George, now 20, was still living with him and was working as his foreman, and they had a female housekeeper rather than a houseboy.

Joseph’s brother George Tollit senior died on 23 December 1863 aged 56 at the residence of his brother in Lower Streatham.

On 2 June 1866 the following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal:

RESPECTFULLY announces to the Nobility and Gentry attending the Commemoration that, in consequence of the close of the Season, he has at the present time a choice selection of Hacks, Hunters, Harness Horses, &c., which he can confidently recommend as worthy their attention.

For SALE, a Pair of BAY HARNESS HORSES, to match, 15 hands 3 inches.

*** A few Vacancies for some good Stable Men.

At the time of the 1871 census Joseph Tollit (60) was still living at Alfred Street with his nephew George (30), who was still single and described as an assistant livery stable keeper. They had a female domestic servant, and a house boy of 13.

On 13 May 1871 Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported on a case at the Oxford City Court where two youths were found guilty of damaging growing grass belonging to Mr. Joseph Tollit. This grass is described as being near Heyfield’s Hutt, indicating that Tollit produced his own hay in north Oxford, near the top of Walton Street.

Between 1871 and 1873 Tollit’s nephew evidently got married, as on 1 May 1873 George Tollit, who described himself as a livery yard manager, and his wife Emily Staning Tollit had their son George Hughes Tollit baptised at All Saints’ Church in Oxford. Shortly afterwards Joseph and his nephew went their separate ways: the following notice was published in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 13 September 1873 :

I, JOSEPH TOLLIT, of the City of Oxford, Horse Dealer and Livery Stable Keeper, HEREBY GIVE NOTICE that all BUSINESS CONNEXION between me and my Nephew, GEORGE TOLLIT, of the City of Oxford aforesaid, who lately assisted me in my business, HAS CEASED, and that the said GEORGE TOLLIT has no longer any authority to transact business in my name or to receive moneys on my behalf.

Oxford, Sept. 8, 1873.

On 13 December 1873 George Tollit, dealer in horses, advertised his own business as a dealer in horses in Merton Street, Oxford.

In 1876 Joseph Tollit began to sell off his horses, and on 30 December that year the following advertisement appeared:

JOSEPH TOLLIT, Oxford, begs to inform Noblemen and Gentlemen he has several HUNTERS for SALE, up to 12 to 15 stone, fit for immediate use. Also a Thorough-bred BAY GELDING, rising 5 years old, by Lecturer out of Sister to Tomato (a fine jumper, and likely to make a good steeple chase horse). — Hunters on Hire.

He advertised horses for sale a number of times in the next few years, and one of the ponies for sale was kept at Cold Arbour, suggesting that he also rented land there.

In 1880 Joseph Tollit, who was 70, retired and sold up his business. The following advertisement appeared on 16 October that year:

HUNTERS, HACKS, & HARNESS HORSES for SALE, on account of the Proprietor giving up the Business. The above are all sound, useful animals and can be purchased at moderate prices. They may be seen at the stables, Alfred Street, Oxford, lately in the occupation of Mr. Joseph Tollit.

At the time of the 1881 census Joseph Tollit (71), who described himself as a retired horse dealer, was boarding at the King’s Arms Hotel on the corner of Holywell Street and Parks Road. He probably moved into 17 Southmoor Road in 1889, as that is the date of the first lease (to the builder, John Wooldridge, along with No. 19 next door).

He died the following year:

† Joseph Tollit died at 17 Southmoor Road at the age of 81 on 23 March 1890 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 26 March (burial recorded in the parish register of Ss Philip & James Church).

The following obituary appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 29 March 1890:

DEATH OF MR. JOSEPH TOLLIT. — Our obituary column this week contains the announcement of the decease, on Sunday last, of a well-known and highly respected citizen, Mr. Joseph Tollit, at his residence, 17 Southmoor-road, at the ripe age of 81. He will be remembered as having for many years carried on the livery stables in Alfred-street, and with undergraduates of sporting proclivities he was a great favourite.

He enjoyed the reputation of being one of the ablest stagecoachmen of his time, and his career in this respect was attended with many incidents of adventure and daring. It is said that on one occasion he drove Lord Randolph Churchill (then an undergraduate) from Blenheim in half an hour, starting from the Park at 11.30 p.m., when he had to be in College at 12 o’clock.

The following instance of coolness and daring must have somewhat astonished any one of weak nerves who happened to be on the coach at the time:— “Black Will,* as the people used to call him,” he said, “a well-known whip, went to London with me on the box seat one day, and just after I changed horses at Beaconsfield, and was going down Dupre’s Pitch, as it was called, one of my leaders began kicking and got one of her legs over the inside trace. He asked me if I was going to stop, but I said, ‘No, not till I get to Gerrard’s Cross, for if I do she will begin again.’ ” “Well,” he said, “I have been driving for forty years and never dared to do a thing of the sort.” I drove the animal right through to London, and she never kicked afterwards.

Particulars are given of a journey to London, performed in extraordinary quick time, which has often been the subject of discussion. The “Oxford Age” coach commenced running from Oxford on March 1st, 1834, horsed by the Brothers Tollit —John, William, George, and Joe — starting from the Vine Hotel in the High-street at 11 o’clock, arriving in London at 4.30, but on occasions doing the distance a little faster; for instance, on the 1st of May, 1834, it arrived at Quebec Chapel, Oxford-street, by the clock at 2.40, making the time from Oxford to London in 3 hours 40 minutes. Mr. Tollit, in referring to the matter not long since, said, “I was just over two hours going to Wycombe, leaving that place exactly at one o’clock and one hour and forty minutes going from Wycombe to London. The “Old Blenheim” coach left the Star Hotel at nine o’clock, and we passed it at Gerrard’s Cross, twenty minutes from London, although we had to wait at Uxbridge, for the horses were not harnessed, and at Acton I had to drive the same team back to town that had just come down, and had to help harness them. I had a lady just behind me, and I asked when at Notting Hill if she felt at all alarmed, and she said, not in the least, her only fear was that her friends would not be at the Bell and Crown, Holborn, to meet her. This turned out to be the case, so I put her in a ‘growler’ and sent her home. Sir Henry Peyton, of four-in-hand renown, met Mr. James Castle, the driver of the ‘Blenheim, in Oxford-street, and said, ‘Well, what’s become of the ‘Age’ and ‘Royal William?’ I thought they were to be in town before you to-day.’ ‘Well’, he said, ‘so they are, I should think, for they passed me while I was changing horses at Gerrard’s Cross, and I have not seen them since, and if they have not had a jolly dinner before now they must have been very idle.’ ” A more remarkable achievement than this has hardly ever before, we think, found a place in coaching annals.

The remains of deceased were interred in St. Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Walton-street, on Wednesday afternoon. The coffin was of polished oak, with brass fittings, and the plate bore the following inscription:— “JOSEPH TOLLIT, died March 23, 1890, aged 81 years.” The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. Blake and Co., of Little Clarendon-street and St. Giles’.

* Black Will is the infamous Oxford coachman who had a wife in London and Oxford, but the wives did not object and he was not prosecuted (see William Tuckwell, Reminiscences of Oxford, p. 4).



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