South Oxford Community Centre

Lake Street, Oxford, OX1 4RP 01865 242666

Rivermead Hospital

Rivermead Hospital, at the southern end of the Abingdon Road, was originally built in 1883, a mile out of the city, as an isolation hospital for patients with infectious diseases. Like most cities Oxford had suffered a series of devastating cholera outbreaks in the 1830s, '40s and '50s. During the first, in 1832, the Radcliffe Infirmary refused to admit cholera patients and a small temporary 'fever' hospital was set up near the canal in Jericho, north of Walton Well Road. It was not until 1871, however, that the city's first purpose-built fever hospital was established, on St John's College land on the Woodstock Road, just north of where St Margaret’s Road is now.

Cold Harbour OS 1900 showing hospital and mills

In the late 19th century Oxford's hospital services expanded rapidly with the foundation of special maternity, isolation, tuberculosis and orthopaedic hospitals and departments, as well as convalescent and nursing homes. St John's wanted to develop its land in north Oxford for middle-class housing, and so when the lease on the fever hospital site came up, it was not renewed. In 1884 the Oxford Local Board accepted the tender of TH Kingerlee to build a new Infectious Diseases Hospital on the Abingdon Road, at Cold Harbour, for £7,258, to accommodate infectious and fever cases. It was opposite a cottage which since 1779 had been used as a hospital for smallpox victims, and which later became The Farrier's Arms pub. Both buildings are shown on this extract from the 1900 Ordnance Survey map (left).

The Slade Hospital, which opened in Headington in 1939, was intended to replace the hospital at Cold Harbour, but the outbreak of war made this impracticable. Cold Harbour therefore continued in use, mostly as an additional tuberculosis hospital, supporting the work of the Osler Pavilion in Headington. The Osler took patients who could be treated, Cold Harbour cared for those beyond this stage. In 1954 Cold Harbour ceased to be an isolation hospital and the remaining patients were transferred to the Sunnyside convalescent hospital in Headington. The Cold Harbour site was renamed Rivermead and became a psycho-geriatric centre, linked with the Cowley Road and Littlemore Hospitals. In 1956 it was taken over by Dr Lionel Cosin and renamed the Rivermead Rehabilitation Centre, combining the dual functions of a geriatric unit and a rehabilitation department for young disabled patients. In due course the geriatric aspect ceased and by the late 1960s the hospital was established as one of the leading rehabilitation centres in the country. The services transferred to the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre when the Rivermead site was given up by the health authority in 2002. Thereafter most of the buildings were demolished and housing was built on the site, with a new road named Gordon Woodward Way after the former Lord Mayor of Oxford for 1980/81, who was on the conmmittee of the hospital for many years, and who died in 2002.

Rivermead Hospital lodge

Since 1996 the entrance lodge of the hospital, on the Abingdon Road (left), has been occupied by the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind.

Abingdon Road milestone to Abingdon
Abingdon Road milestone to Abingdon

The isolation hospital stood just over a mile out of the city: just to the north of it, near 309 Abingdon Road, is this milestone, which is a Grade II listed structure. The photos left show the southern and northern faces of it, and it is marked as 'MS' near the centre of the 1900 Ordnance Survey map above. It also appears on the 1878 OS map, so it must have been in place before then.