Headington history: Miscellaneous

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History of Bury Knowle Park

Girls at opening of park
Veronica Constance Grant, aged 9 of 1 Stapleton Road and her friend Frances Tombs of 3 Stapleton Road on the day that Bury Knowle Park opened to the public in the latter part of 1932.

Bury Knowle before 1930 (a private mansion with its own park)

Bury Knowle House

Bury Knowle House (left) was built in c.1800 by the Oxford goldsmith Joseph Lock as a country retreat. The present public park occupies most of its land

The ha-ha in front of the house protected the formal gardens from the animals that would have grazed in the park.

Fuller history of Bury Knowle House

Under the Headington Enclosure Award of 1804 Joseph Lock was granted just over six acres in Sheepcut Furlong to the south of Bury Knowle House (numbered Plot 57 in the Award), and this land became the park of his mansion.

In 1844 Mrs Maria Ballachey inherited Bury Knowle House and its Park from her father, now Sir Joseph Lock. She was a great supporter of Headington National School for Boys and for Girls (now St Andrew’s Primary School), which lay opposite her home, and she allowed the children’s yearly treat to take place in her private park (then known as “Mrs Ballachey’s field”). The following report appeared in the Headington Parish Magazine for September 1872:

National Schools.—The annual Treat given to the children of these Schools took place on Thursday, August 8th, in Mrs. Ballachey’s field, which she kindly lent for the occasion. Fifty-five boys and Thirty-five girls—being all who had attended School the requisite number of times—partook of excellent Tea and Cake with very evident satisfaction. The weather which had been threatening all the earlier part of the day turned out most genial and favourable, and enabled the children to enjoy most heartily the various amusements provided for them by Mrs. Ballachey and other kind friends. Swings and See-saws were in continual requisition; Football, Cricket and various other games were kept up without intermission until 8 o’clock, when the children assembled in front of Mrs. Ballachey’s house, and after singing a number of pretty and well selected pieces under the leadership of Mr. Yeates, and very much to the satisfaction of the ladies and gentlemen present, dispersed to their homes.

Edward Brocklehurst Fielden, a civil engineer, bought Bury Knowle house and park from the Locks in 1885 and added the large rear wing.

The next owner was Colonel Howard Kingscote, whose wife, the novelist Adelina Kingscote, became notorious.

Charles Miskin Laing owned the house from 1899 to 1923, and his wife Etheldreda Janet Laing took some early colour photographs in the garden.

The last private owners of the house and park were the Beaufoy family (suppliers of vinegar to the Royal Navy).

1930s and 1940s: A public park and library

The growth of the car works at Cowley meant that in the ten years between 1921 and 1931 the population of the Headington district rose from 5,477 to 10,131 and open spaces were disappearing In 1929 Headington became a suburb of the new extended city, and began to lose its open spaces at an alarming rate. As a result the city council bought Bury Knowle:

  • The Bury Knowle House, with its garden and large park, was bought by the city council in 1930
  • The baby clinic which had been run by volunteers at the British Workman since 1915 was taken over by the city council and moved into the upper part of Bury Knowle House.
  • Bury Knowle Library was opened in early 1932 by George Claridge Druce (notwithstanding the committee member who had commented: “If a person could not walk from Headington or Cowley to the Central Library to get a book, he did not deserve one”). It was the city's first branch library.
  • The public park was opened in late 1932 by the Mayor, Charles Henry Brown. Bill Berry in Within Living Memory: Recollections of Old Headington, Oxford wrote: “They had quite a fight to get Bury Knowle Park kept as an open space for the community”.
  • Around this time public conveniences were built on the site of Bury Knowle House's lodge on the London Road.
  • During the war there were two Air Raid Shelters in the Park, one each side of the entrance: the siren was sited on top of Holyoake Hall
  • In 1948 the Bury Knowle Art Group was founded with John Henry Brookes as Chairman. It originally met in Bury Knowle Library.
  • The path inside the park along the London Road was at this time hidden behind a long hedge

Baby clinic 1936

Detail of 1936 clinic

The above picture shows a group of mothers and children photographed outside the baby clinic at Bury Knowle House in 1936.

If you think your mother or grandmother could be here, email and ask for a bigger version of the photograph to be sent to you. The detail on the right of the mother to the left of centre shows how much clearer the picture is full-size.

Just three years later the Second World War broke out, and the image below shows members of the Home Guard on the same steps.

Home GuardPhotograph kindly supplied by Charlotte Howes, whose grandfather John Percival Howes is in the group

Below: "Save Our Library" protestors (including author Brian Aldiss at top) on the same steps in 2010:

Save Headington Library 2010

1950s and 1960s

During the summer months in the early 1950s, there was a marquee alongside the ha-ha. The area was fenced off, and shows were held inside.

The Crazy Golf area was a grass tennis court, and the putting area was then on the London Road side of the present tennis courts.

The park c.1950

Detail of roundabout

Detail of slide

The three postcards shown above and below probably date from the early 1950s (one of them is postmarked 1952).

At this period there was no enclosed area for children. A witch's hat roundabout can be seen on the first postcard, and a high slide on the second, and swings on the third.

The park c.1950

Swings in Bury Knowle in the 1950s

  • In the 1950s the land at the south-east corner of the park was used as playing fields by Magdalen College School and Headington School.
  • In 1968 a doctor’s surgery opened upstairs in Bury Knowle House, replacing one in Sandfield Road.

1970s and 1980s
  • In 1971 the Old Headington Conservation area, which includes the whole of Bury Knowle Park, was created.
  • Following the Local Government Act of 1972, all library services in the City of Oxford became the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council on 1 April 1974. Since that date Oxfordshire County Council has leased the ground floor of Bury Knowle House from Oxford City Council and has continued to use it as a library.
  • A fence was erected around the children’s play area to keep dogs out.

New housing


In November 1984 planning permission 84/00629/GFH was granted for “Erection of 26 one-bed flats, 1 two-bed flat, 1 two-bed disabled persons flat, 1 two-bed disabled persons bungalow. Car parking and new vehicular and pedestrian access. Located north of Bury Knowle Coach House”. The buildings (left) were designed by the City Architect’s Office/David Williams.

Equipment in park in 1980s

The picture above shows some of the old equipment in 1987; the roundabout and concrete tiles under the equipment would be considered too dangerous today. At the end of the 1980s rubber tiles and completely new equipment was installed.

The 1990s

Bury Knowle Stable Block



In 1990 planning permission 90/00591/NFH was granted to convert the former Bury Knowle stable block (left) into an architect’s office.

  • Conservation work was undertaken in the park as part of the Forest of Oxford project. Trees were planted by local school children following donations from Comtel, Boots, other local businesses, and the Oxford Preservation Trust.
  • Bury Knowle Library was renamed Headington Library in 1999.
  • The doctor’s surgery and Bury Knowle baby clinic closed in 1993 when Bury Knowle Health Centre opened on the London Road.
  • Red bins for dog’s mess were introduced
  • In April 1993 an exciting steam engine rally was held in the Park, but because of heavy rain the ground was damaged by the machinery. PICTURES

Since 2000


  • “Fun in the Parks” was held in Bury Knowle Park in 2000
  • The diagonal path that runs from the main entrance of the park to Chestnut Avenue became an official cycle route in March 2001.
  • A peace sculpture was set in the grass in February 2002.
  • The Headington Festival has taken place in Bury Knowle Park each year since 2003.
  • In about 2004 the sensory garden was created.
  • In 2004 the city council ceased to lock up Bury Knowle Park at night.
  • In February 2005 the western wall of the path that runs from London Road to North Place (flanked by Bury Knowle Park to the east and Headington Car Park to the west) was lowered to make it safer.
  • In April 2005 work started on carving the trunk of the Storybook tree, which had been largely felled by a severe gale a year or two earlier. Benches carved with animals were later added near the tree.
  • Around this time cycling was allowed for the first time in the park, but only on the long diagonal path.
  • The Friends of Old Headington persuaded the county council to replace the lamp standards leading up to the front door of Bury Knowle House.
  • Headington Library extended its opening hours to include Saturday afternoons.
  • The development offices of the Rugby Football Union and the Oxfordshire Cricket Board moved into the second floor of Bury Knowle House.
  • Local people asked in vain in 2007 for the park to be locked at night again.
  • OFVM showed a night-time “Film in the Park” in 2007, 2008, and 2011.
  • Since 2007 Churches Together in Headington have organized a Headington Summer Family Fun Day in the park in July: pictures by Margaret Stranks: 2008 and 2009
  • In December 2007 Churches Together in Headington held an advent play with a donkey was held in the park for the first time.
  • The “Palm Saturday” parade of Headington Baptist Church has ended with a service in the park since about 2007: Pictures of the 2009 parade.
  • Diseased trees were felled in 2008/9.
  • The new Friends of Bury Knowle Park group held its inaugural meeting on 24 June 2009 and its first Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, 23 September 2009.
  • Following the award of a Playbuilder grant of £47,000, Groundwork Thames Valley refurbished the children’s play area between February and July 2011
  • In 2011 the park was awarded a Green Flag; and the city council decided to move its leisure department out of the first floor of Bury Knowle House, where it occupied the first floor.
  • In 2014 the library finally got disabled access via a new lift, and the children's section was refurbished

Peace sculpture


The peace sculpture has the theme of “Hope” and was designed by children and made by them with the artist Diana Bell. It is a circle of 12 relief slabs (one of which is shown left). The twelve schools of Headington each designed one tablet to convey their ideas of hope for the world. It was opened on 21 February 2002 by Justin Lewis Anthony (Precentor of Christ Church Cathedral ) and Sheikh Mohammed Qasim from the Mosque in Stanley Road.

Sensory garden
Above: The Sensory Garden

Bury Knowle lodge


Bury Knowle toilets were once the main London Road lodge to Bury Knowle House. They were under threat of closure at the end of 2008, but were been saved.


Right: Nineteenth-century amateur sketch of the lodge of Bury Knowle House, now the toilet block.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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