Headington history: People

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Thomas Rayson (1888–1976)

Thomas Rayson was a well-known Oxfordshire architect who lived at The Ridings in Headington for nearly fifty years. He was born in India on 5 December 1888 where his father William John Rayson was a railway engineer, but returned to England with his family at the age of two and lived in London, where his father kept the Union Flag pub at 178 Lambeth Road. He served articles with Robert Curwen of Bishopsgate Street in London, and first came to Oxford in 1910 as an assistant to the architect Nathaniel Harrison. By the early 1920s he had set up his own architectural practice in central Oxford, and was elected ARIBA in 1918 and FRIBA in 1927.

For a full list of Rayson's architectural works, which include the Oxford War Memorial in St Giles' and work at Oxford colleges and churches, see his Wikipedia entry. Shown below are six buildings that he designed in the Headington area.

1. Shotover Edge (1914)

Shotover Edge

This large house called Shotover Edge is on the south side of Old Road as it ascends the steep part of Shotover Hill. It was built in 1914 for Dr Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, the Master of University College.

2. Headington School (1928–1930)

Headington School

This postcard shows the original Headington School building soon after it opened in 1930; in the 1980s a large wing was added to each side. It is usually stated to have been jointly designed by Thomas Rayson and Gilbert T. Gardner, but Rayson used to say that “Gardner's only acutal designing was to insist on vases on the roof”.

3. Roundabouts, The Ridings (early 1930s)


Rayson designed this house at the foot of Shotover in the early 1930s. He married Helen Hilton in 1933, and they brought up their two children here. He lived at Roundabouts until his death in 1976.

4. The Gatehouse, 195 The Slade (1929)

195 The Slade

This house was designed by Thomas Rayson for his friend John Henry Brookes, after whom Oxford Brookes University is named. Brookes lived here from 1929 until his death in 1975, and is remembered with a blue plaque. This house was once renowned for its beautiful garden.

5. Old Headington Village (formerly Parish) Hall (1959)

Old Headington Village Hall

Until 1959, Old Headington's only hall was an iron room set up in the garden of the original vicarage. Members of the public raised £7,000 for the Old Headington Parish Hall, which was designed by Thomas Rayson and opened in 1959 by the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Rev. D. G. Loveday. In 1962 the Headington Women's Institute started up here, with Elizabeth Bowen as its President. It changed its name to Old Headington Village Hall in 2016.

6. Rayson House, Eden Drive (1964)

Rayson House

This photograph shows part of the sheltered housing in Eden Drive designed by and named after Thomas Rayson. Plans submitted by the Oxford Cottage Improvement Society (O.C.I.S.) for 22 old people's flats were approved on 16 October 1962. The sign between the windows on the left reads: “O.C.I.S. 1964 / THOMAS RAYSON ARCHITECT”. An additional block of six two-person flats was approved in 1983. There are now 27 flats, each with its own kitchen and bathroom.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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