South Oxford Community Centre

Lake Street, Oxford, OX1 4RP 01865 242666

Victorian development in South Oxford

The growth of Oxford's suburbs

Dons High Street 1882

'The old order changeth, yeilding place to the new': dons (old and new) on the High Street, 1882. Image
© Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire History Centre, ref: HT134.

Oxford's population rose from 12,000 in 1801 to 24,000 in 1850 and more than doubled again to 49,000 by 1901. In the mid- to late-19th century the University had undergone a series of reforms which led to a large increase in the number of students, and hence in the number of academic staff (and their families). This in turn produced an expansion in demand for goods and services which provided more employment for working people, and, as a result, there was further growth in Oxford's population and an increase in the need for housing.

In 1868 undergraduates were permitted to live out of college for the first time, and many home-owners supplemented their income by letting out rooms to students: within two years there were 400 licensed lodging-houses in Oxford. In 1877 college fellows were allowed to marry (left) and whilst the majority of them moved to the newly-developing suburbs north of the city centre, the presence of their wives and families stimulated the demand for goods and services throughout the city.

At the same time, there was an increasing divergence between people's homes and their workplaces, and Oxford's central parishes became less residential and more commercial. Hence there was a pressing need for housing outside the city's traditional boundaries. Oxford's suburban expansion to the east, west and south gathered pace in the 1890s when there was a nationwide building boom, fuelled by rising real wages. The city's essentially medieval character was altered forever, and the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins spoke for many when he wrote disparagingly of the development of Oxford's 'base and brickish skirt'.

Expansion to the south: New Hinksey

In 1844 the Great Western Railway built the first railway line to Oxford, linking the city to the main London to Bristol line at Didcot. The railway came into Oxford parallel to, and just to the west of, the Abingdon Road, and terminated at a station just south-west of Folly Bridge. This map, drawn up prior to the building of the railway, shows the owners of the land over which it was to run as it approached Oxford.

The railway brought with it a demand for cheap local housing for railway employees. A man called Henry Greenaway, who lived in Newbury but who owned two large fields a mile south of Folly Bridge (as shown on the map above), was probably encouraged by this demand to sell his land for house-building. He divided the two fields into lots and sold them in 1847 and 1849. Each field was laid out with a single main street running down its centre towards the railway. These streets, now Lake Street and Vicarage Road, were linked by Cross Street, the modern Gordon Street.

The new village suburb was named New Hinksey after the nearby villages of North and South Hinksey; 'Hinksey' is made up of the Anglo-Saxon elements 'hink' meaning 'horse' and 'ey' meaning island or area of slightly higher ground above flood level. Small terraced cottages were quickly built and by 1851 New Hinksey housed a total of 144 people. The majority of the houses were built up to the pavement edge, with no front gardens, as was characteristic of early 19th-century development in other suburbs like Jericho and St Ebbe's.

[New Hinksey OS 1878]

New Hinksey on the Ordnance Survey map of 1878, an 'island' suburb surrounded by undeveloped land. Note the presence of East Wick Farm, the Berkshire House and New Hinksey Inn, the city waterworks, and the original school, St John's church and vicarage. Gordon Street was at this time called Cross Street and Vicarage Road was Post Office Street. Vicarage Lane, School Place, Stewart Street and Green Place existed but had not yet been named; Summerfield was yet to be laid out. The original boundary between Greenaway's two fields, running parallel to, and between, Lake Street and Post Office Street, is still marked by property boundaries.

The growth of New Hinksey was slowed after only a few years by the gradual movement of railway activity from South to West Oxford. The London and North Western Railway (LNWR) opened its station at the eastern end of the Botley Road in 1851 (where the Saïd Business School is now) and a year later the Great Western Railway (GWR) opened its new station immediately adjacent (where the current railway station is). Newly-developed Osney Town - and later New Osney - thus became more convenient places for railway workers to live, and these areas prospered from the expansion of railway employment at the expense of New Hinksey. Moreover, building plots were becoming available in other outlying parts of the city - notably in East Oxford - and potential residents and hence speculative builders were probably put off New Hinksey by the regular flooding and primitive sanitary arrangements. But in 1856 the city waterworks were established at the end of Lake Street (in the buildings which now house the South Oxford Community Centre), with grounds (now Hinksey Park) extending north as far as Eastwyke ditch. There continued to be a modest level of building activity in New Hinksey the 1850s and 1860s and by 1871 the suburb contained 159 houses and a population of 722. Conditions improved when main drainage was extended to New Hinksey in 1875, though flooding was still a regular problem, as in other low-lying areas of the city. In 1875 some of the affected families in New Hinksey were said to be 'in a wretched condition, being confined to their upper rooms, with no firing, very little clothing and many with scarcely any food to eat. The stench, too, in their houses arising from the flood is in some cases very offensive.' Despite this, Alfred Boffin, an Oxford baker whose famous Boffin's Tea Room was at Carfax, developed a large area of new housing in Lake Street in the early 1880s. Here he built six- and seven-roomed artisan houses of which ten fronted the existing street and the rest a new cul-de-sac which he called Summerfield.

On the eastern side of Abingdon Road, where most of the land was owned by University College and Brasenose College, regular flooding prevented development and the only buildings were those of Eastwyke Farm until, in the late 1850s, a row of 11 houses (10 semi-detached, one detached) known as Grandpont Villas was built on a small area of land owned by the City Corporation. These are now nos. 65 to 85 Abingdon Road. In the medieval period this had been the site of  a house belonging to the Bridgewright or Hermit, the man responsible for the repair of the Grandpont causeway.

The beginnings of the Grandpont Estate


Following the complete closure of the Great Western Railway's Grandpont station in 1872 the area between Folly Bridge and the waterworks grounds was cleared and the station buildings and track dismantled and sold off as building materials. The redundant railway line running north from Hinksey Lake, together with the station site and approach road, had all been raised above flood level upon embankments and therefore offered ideal ground for house-building. Moreover, the proximity of Grandpont to the city centre made it a potentially convenient place of residence for 'labourers, college servants and a few very small tradespeople and shopkeepers.' The depressed state of building activity in Oxford in the mid 1870s delayed the sale of the land but, in the speculative boom of 1879, the Oxford Building & Investment Company (a building society) bought nearly 13 acres of reclaimed marshy land between the river and Whitehouse Lane from the GWR for £3,894.

The company laid out the Grandpont Estate and divided it into 231 plots. Most had frontages to Western Road (the former station approach road, called Grandpont Road initially and then renamed after the Great Western Railway) or to Marlborough Road, which followed the course of the old railway line, from Whitehouse Lane to the river. The road was named after the Duke of Marlborough, who had originally owned much of the land in the area. Other lots were formed on the riverside meadows near Folly Bridge with frontages to roads named Brook Street and Buckingham Street (after former landowners) and Cobden Crescent (after Richard Cobden (1804-1865), British Liberal politician and champion of the Oxford Building & Investment Company). Cobden Crescent is curved because it follows the line of the original city and county boundary (which itself follows a culverted stream); Grandpont was in Berkshire until 1889.

Grandpont estate map Ox Building  Invest Co 1879 1

The Oxford Building & Investment Company's Grandpont estate map, 1879.

Plots were put up for auction on 1 October 1879 and 173 were sold for £6,590. They were bought up by speculative builders, usually in blocks. Hence houses were built in groups, mostly of two, three or four, but sometimes of up to eight, of the same design. This led to the pleasing variety of house styles which we see on the streets of Grandpont today.

Marlborough Rd houses 2 smaller

Three styles of houses: 146-140, 138 and 136-134 Marlborough Road.

Grandpont development OC 18-10-1879 p.8d

The Oxford Chronicle, 18 October 1879.

        The first houses were built in 1880 at the northern end of Marlborough Road, nearest the river, on the eastern part of a piece of land originally owned by University College and known as Friars Mead. Thereafter houses appeared in blocks dotted along either side. By March 1881, 13 houses on Marlborough Road were occupied and 24 more were in the process of being built. There was a fixed building line, so that the houses are all set back a certain distance from the pavement. They were built with front gardens edged by a dwarf wall topped by iron railings. Most of these railings were removed during the Second World War with the idea of melting down the metal for re-use, but on streets where the houses had semi-basements, and there was a danger of people falling in during the blackout, railings were retained. Examples (by the Jericho iron foundry Lucy & Co) are at 2-6 and 38-42 Western Road.

The growth of the Grandpont Estate

Work continued in 1881 and 1882, but prospects of an early completion of the estate were dashed by the collapse of the Oxford Building & Investment Company in April 1883. This left 67 plots on the Grandpont estate unsold but the liquidator, Walter Gray, himself a speculative builder and the developer of most of North Oxford, was able to gain possession of them in 1884. By the following year he had finished a number of houses for letting purposes. The new houses were occupied by families pursuing a wide variety of trades. Many people came from outside Oxford, drawn to the city by the employment opportunities offered by the expanding University's demand for goods and services, and by the house-building boom. In March 1887 the horse-tram service was extended from Carfax along St Aldates and the Abingdon Road as far as the end of Lake Street in New Hinksey, making the area much more accessible. (Here is a cartoon of 'The Grandpont Express' from a postcard entitled 'A Bit of Old Oxford', from Stephanie Jenkins' Oxford History website.)

In 1887 there were 73 houses on Marlborough Road. Gradually the gaps between the houses filled up and the majority of dwellings were built by the turn of the century; all 260 were completed by 1914. At least 31 builders or families of builders were involved, most erecting a handful of houses, some responsible for large numbers. The Jarvis family, for example, built at least 35 houses on Marlborough Road, and the Phipps family at least 26.

As the houses were built, so were shops and pubs, St Matthew's church, and Oxford's first football ground.

Further development to the south

Between Whitehouse Lane (now Whitehouse Road) and Hinksey Lake another strip of former railway land, just under two acres, was bought from the GWR in 1882 by James Archer, an Oxford carrier and coal merchant. He laid out 60 lots on the west side of a new street called Archer Street. This was simply a continuation of Marlborough Road, and by 1892 its separate name had been given up. Lots were put up for auction in October 1882, being advertised as offering excellent opportunities for building superior workmen's dwellings or business premises. Building was slow to begin, however, and the first house plans were not submitted until March 1887. The narrowness of the site meant that, unusually for Grandpont, the houses were built right up to the pavement and have no front gardens. Their back gardens look out over an area of open meadowland known as Dean's Ham.

After a reluctant start, the pace of house-building on Archer Street accelerated, encouraged no doubt by the gradual completion of the adjoining Grandpont estate and by the beginnings of development to the east: Chilswell Road, Edith Road and Newton Road were laid out in 1889 on a 7-acre piece of land known as Irish Mead, formerly owned by University College. A 4 ¼-acre plot of land between this and Whitehouse Lane, known as Roundabout Close, was sold by Brasenose College to John Henry Salter, the Oxford boatbuilder based at Folly Bridge, in April 1899 for £2,500. Salter laid out the estate in 105 lots with frontages to the Abingdon Road, Whitehouse Road, Kineton Road and an extension of Chilswell Road. The City Council approved the plan in May 1899 subject to the width of Kineton Road being increased from 30 feet to 36 feet. Salter insisted on seeing the plans of each house before building could commence and, being a Methodist and tee-totaller, forbade the sale of liquor on any lot for 25 years without his consent. In May 1900 he sold the lots fronting Whitehouse Road to the builder Thomas Henry Kingerlee for £875, and Kingerlee's firm built all the houses on that (southern) side of the road as a single terrace. Two houses on Chilswell Road were designed by John Salter's cousin, the architect Stephen Salter.

Below are extracts from Ordnance Survey maps of 1876, 1899, 1921 and 1938 showing the development of Grandpont and New Hinksey:

South Oxford OS 1878 smaller South Oxford OS 1900 smaller
South Oxford OS 1921 smaller South Oxford OS 1939 smaller

Housing development south of New Hinksey

In 1891 William Farthing, a London architect and surveyor, laid out a housing estate immediately south of New Hinksey. There were 92 lots, 16 feet wide and 120 to 130 feet deep, most with frontages to Norreys Avenue. The following year, land to the south of Norreys Avenue was laid out for Charles Gillman, an Oxford photographer and printseller (of Gillman & Soame) by the Oxford surveyors Galpin & Son. Most of the 114 lots were on Sunningwell Road. Both estates were intended for a superior class of artisans' dwellings. Building in Norreys Avenue began immediately but lots in the more distant Sunningwell Road only became attractive as Norreys Avenue filled up in around 1905.

The Radburn family outside 50 Chilswell Road in c. 1905. Image from Carole Newbigging, The Changing Faces of South Oxford and South Hinksey, Book 3 (Robert Boyd Publications, 2003). (Click on image to close)

[50 Chilswell Road, Radburn family, c.1905]

Looking west along Edith Road, probably in the early 20th century. Image © The Oxfordshire County Council, the Oxfordshire History Centre, ref D273566a (Click on image to close)

[Edith Road, D273566a]

Looking along Lake Street towards the Abingdon Road during flooding in 1890. (Click on image to close)

[Lake St flooded, 1890, Taunt]

Plan of Grandpont Villas, built c. 1859 on the eastern side of Abingdon Road, from the 'Vellum Book' Schedule of the property of the city of Oxford, © The Oxfordshire History Centre. (Click on image to close)

[Grandpont Villas plan, Vellum Book]

Map accompanying Daniel Trinder's Award 1844, showing the proposed line of the Great Western Railway as it approached Oxford, just to the west of the Abingdon Road [east is at the top]. The line terminated with a station just to the south-west of Folly Bridge. Henry Greenaway's two fields between the Abingdon Road and the railway line were to become the site of New Hinksey. Image © The Oxfordshire History Centre. (Click on image to close)

[Map accompanying Daniel Trinders Award 1844]