Maria Matthews: A Gifted Life in Context

We were recently preparing to put the History Society’s Second Wychwoods Album (first published in 1990) on the Society’s website, and we came across this rather striking photograph of Maria Matthews. There was little context and we had to think about which part of the Wychwoods she belonged. An approach to one of the Society’s longstanding members, Anne Matthews, clarified things. The following is based on notes which Anne has kindly provided.

The Matthews family came from Warwickshire to Fifield in the early 19th Century. Marmaduke Matthews 1782-1840 moved to Fifield House and farmed locally. His grandson was Frederick Matthews who married Emma Powell (born 1844) in Taynton on October 27th 1863.

Frederick was living in Burford at that time. Emma was the daughter of a farmer in Taynton. (Her father was William 1794 – 1867 and her mother Ann 1802- 1875). They had three children. Frederick farmed William’s farm in Taynton until he inherited a farm in Fifield from his own father.

Their eldest daughter, Maria Matthews, was born in 1864. Their second child was Florence who later married and emigrated to Canada. Their third child was a son, Frederick William Powell Matthews (FWPM) who gave his name to the flour mill built in 1913 close to Shipton Station.

Maria was academically inclined but never went to university, which was not always considered the most suitable place for women. She became a gifted photographer and her photographs illustrated Three Centuries in North Oxfordshire by M. Sturge Henderson published in 1902. She and her cousin Anne Matthews lived in the Cottage in Fifield. They travelled together to France where she took many photographs.

Her brother Frederick was widowed twice when his wives died after childbirth. His first wife had five children. On her death certificate, in addition to medical reasons, it was stated that she died of exhaustion! Each time he was widowed, Maria took over running his house and his six young children.

When Frederick married for the third time, Maria returned to live with her parents in the house they had built then called the Gables. She and her mother gave a reading room to the village. This is now the Parish hall of Fifield.

Her father had started a small business buying and selling grain and seeds from his barn before they decided to build the mill at Shipton. Sadly he died in 1911 shortly before the mill opened.

Maria’s eldest nephew, Donald, married and had three children but he left his wife Nancy. Maria rented a house in Malvern to offer a home to Nancy and her family where they took in paying guests.

Later in life, Maria had a serious fall and broke her hip. She was confined to bed in the care home attached to the Wantage convent where her younger sister Doris was a nun. Nancy moved to Wantage to look after her.

On their wedding day in October 1955 Anne and Ian went to see Maria and gave her Anne’s bouquet as the oldest member of the Matthews family.

Maria never married but gave much of her life to helping her family. She died on 8 June 1963, just two days before her 99th birthday and is still fondly remembered within the Matthews family.