Katharine Feilden (1864–1954)
Katharine Josephine Dolores Feilden (1864–1954), built High Wall in Pullen’s Lane, and Feilden Grove is named after her. She played an important part in the development of the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford where Feilden, Cecil and Randle Wards have been named after her and two of her nephews.
The Feilden family seat was established in the fifteenth century in Blackburn, Lancashire. Katharine’s branch of the family came from Witton Park in Blackburn, but they were an army family who moved around. Her father, Randle Joseph Feilden, was born in Clifton, Bristol in 1825/6, and her mother Jane Campbell Hozier was born in Lancashire in 1820/1.
Katharine’s parents married at Carluke in Lanarkshire on 21 March 1861 and had the following children:
- Randle Joseph Francis Campbell Feilden, born in Edinburgh on 15 January 1862
- Cecil William Montague Feilden, born at Witton Park on 13 March 1863
- Katharine Josephine Dolores Feilden, born at Carluke, Lanarkshire on 2 August 1864
- James Hartley Feilden, date of birth unknown
- Percy Henry Guy Feilden, born at Witton Park in 1870
At the time of the 1881 census, Katharine (right) was sixteen years old and lived in London with her parents at 41 Eaton Place, Hanover Square. This was just a few doors away from the office of the architect Walter Cave who, some thirty years later, was to design a house for her on Headington Hill. She is described as a scholar, and had a live-in German governess. Her father, then aged 55, is described as an “M P Major General Reg Army”. All four of her brothers were away, presumably either at school or in the army. The family of three had an impressive staff of ten (not including the governess): a housekeeper, two ladies’ maids, two housemaids, a kitchenmaid, a scullery maid, and no fewer than three footmen.
On 15 October 1880 Katharine’s eldest brother Randle Feilden was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Christ Church at the age of 18; but just six months later at the time of the census he was a lieutenant in the 3rd Lancashire Militia, based at Fulwood Barracks near Preston. He became a captain of the Scots Guards, and in 1887 died at the family’s next home in Grosvenor Crescent after catching enteric fever while serving at Aldershot.
By the time of the 1901 census Katharine’s father had died. Aged 36, she now lived with her mother Jane at 36 Wilton Road in Knightsbridge. The two ladies still had nine servants (a cook, two ladies’ maids, a housemaid, kitchenmaid, housemaid, butler, footman, and hall boy).
Katharine’s brother Cecil Feilden, who chose to live at Mollington Hall near Chester rather than at Witton Park, was now a Major in the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys). He fought in the Boer War, and on 19 February 1902, at the age of 39, he died at Klippan as a result of a wound. In his will he left £101,021, and willed his Cheshire estate to his brother, Lieutenant Percy Guy Feilden, and the Witton estate to his other brother, Captain James Hartley Gilbert Feilden. (The latter did not spend much time at Witton Hall, which became very dilapidated in the 1920s, and was demolished in the 1950s.)
On 11 November 1902 Katharine’s youngest brother, Major Percy Henry Guy Feilden, married Dorothy Louisa Brand, daughter of Henry Robert Brand, 2nd Viscount Hampden. In 1908 they moved to Crawstone Hall, Cokethorpe, near Witney and restored it lavishly. (His home is now Cokethorpe School, and one of the school houses is named after him.) They had three children:
- Major-General Sir Randle Guy Feilden, b. 14 Jun 1904
- Major Cecil Henry Feilden, b. 19 Mar 1907
- Dorothy Priscilla Feilden, b. 25 Oct 1909.
Miss Feilden’s early years are celebrated in a series of four fine stained-glass paintings by her architect friend Walter Cave. They tell of four Anglo-Saxon Saints associated with events that were clearly very important to the young Katharine. St Bega commemorates her Lancashire roots; St Margaret of Scotland her place of birth in Carluke; St Werburgha brought learning and order to her childhood years in the person of her German governess; and St Frideswide, the patron saint of the city of Oxford, lived at Binsey, once part of the manor of Headington where she had come to build her new home. All four Saints are associated with acts of healing which, in a sense, became an important part of Miss Feilden’s own later life.
Jean Cottage, which used to be within the grounds of High Wall, was another large house which incorporated the estate coach house. With its cosy interior and attractive octagonal corner bay windows, it nestled comfortably into a corner of High Wall’s substantial grounds and formed an integral part of Cave’s idea of a fine country residence. At the time of the 1911 census it was occupied by Miss Olga Wanda Bertha Holtzmann (61), who was a Prussian housekeeper, and a parlourmaid.
During the First War Miss Feilden moved into Jean Cottage in order to open the main house to officer casualties.
Right: Cecil Henry Feilden (1906–1983), Miss Feilden’s nephew
In 1915, Miss Feilden paid for the construction of two wooden huts comprising forty beds at the Wingfield Convalescent Home, enabling it to open its doors to soldiers with orthopaedic injuries. This marked the beginning of the Nuffield Orthopedic Centre. In 1913 she had joined the Committee of the original Wingfield Hospital, which during its early pioneering days was under the direction of her great friend the late Mr G. R. Girdlestone.
Further substantial donations followed and in 1917 the 22-bed Feilden Ward opened with rooms for serious cases and a small operating theatre. The same year she became the Commandant of the Wingfield Military Hospital (as it then became known), a post she held until 1920. In 1936 another endowment enabled the creation of the Feilden Nursing Scholarship, which is still awarded annually.
Between the wars Miss Feilden employed four gardeners to care for her beautiful garden at High Wall. It had been her practice to pen it to the public under the National Gardens Scheme for the benefit of the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing.
In 1939 Miss Feilden was in residence at the main house, with her friends Miss V. Wroughton and Miss Jones ensconced in Jean Cottage; but by the following year she (along with others in Pullen’s Lane) again relinquished her home to help the war effort. High Wall was transformed into a 50-bed Joint War Organisation Auxiliary Hospital, and she never moved back.
Left: Soldiers in the library at High Wall, c.1917
After the War Miss Feilden preferred the quiet informal atmosphere of Jean Cottage (left), which she shared first with Miss Wroughton, and then, after the death of her brother Percy on 25 March 1944, with his widow Dorothy, the Hon. Mrs Feilden. In 1946 Dorothy moved up to High Wall, leaving Miss Feilden (now aged 75) living on her own in Jean Cottage.
Katharine Feilden died on 3 September 1954 at her beloved cottage within yards of the spot where Cave had depicted St Frideswide standing on Headington Hill nearly half a century earlier. Miss Feilden was the only daughter and the last surviving child of the late Lieut.-Gen. and Mrs. Randle Feilden, of Witton Park, Blackburn, Lancashire.
Her obituary appeared in the Oxford Times of 10 September 1954 (p. 12) under the heading: “Great hospital benefactress Miss K. D. Fielden dies, aged 90”.
Two plaques have been erected in the Main Hall at High Wall, one from the Army Council and the other from the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem. They express with pride and gratitude the Nation’s thanks for the willing and inestimable service Miss Katharine Feilden had performed in caring for sick and wounded servicemen during two world wars.
Left: “KF”, Katharine Feilden’s monogram, over the gallery fireplace at High Wall
- “Forgotten tomb of the ‘unknown’ squire”, Lancashire Evening Telegraph, 13 May 2002: Detailed information about Witton Park and Miss Feilden’s brothers
- Miss Feilden, Major Cecil Henry Feilden; by courtesy of Oxfordshire Health Archives
- Family Coat of Arms; by courtesy of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage
- Miss Feilden (teenager), Entrance to High Wall, The four Saints, Jean Cottage, The Library at High Wall c.1917, and Katharine’s monogram are a;; copyright Arpad Turmezei