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Headington history: Pullen’s Lane

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Napier House (Cotuit Hall)


Cotuit Hall

Cotuit Hall (on the west side of Pullens Lane at its junction with Harberton Mead) was designed by H. W. Moore and built by Parnell & Sons of Rugby.

The building was formerly known as Napier House, and it took its name from Arthur Sampson Napier (1853–1916), Fellow of Merton College and Professor of English Language and Literature, who had it built and lived here with his large family in the house from 1892 until his death 24 years later .

Napier and his wife Mary Ferrier both originated from Cheshire, but were evidently living in Germany at the start of their marriage, as their eldest son, Albert, was born in Berlin in 1881, and their next two sons Herbert and Oswald James Walter in Gottingen in 1884 and 1886 respectively. They moved to Headington soon after Oswald’s birth, as he was baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 1 May 1886. At this time they were living in Southfield House, where they had another three children: Edmund in 1888, Harold in 1890, and Hilda May in 1891.

With a wife and six children as well as four servants to house, Professor Napier purchased 2¾ acres of Brockless Field at the top of Headington Hill from the Morrells, and building started in 1890. Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 11 October 1890 (p. 6c), reads:

As regards the residential portion of the town, new houses continue to spring up in the outlying suburbs. On Headington Hill … another new residence has also been commenced for Professor Napier, by Messrs. Parnell and Sons, of which Mr Moore is architect.

(Harry Wilkinson Moore (1850–1915) had just designed the nearby house of Professor Vines in 1889, while John Parnell & Son had built Keble College, and would go on to build Oxford’s present Town Hall.)

The Oxford Chronicle of 17 October 1891 (p. 8b) reported as follows:

A large new house for Professor Napier is almost completed on Headington Hill estate, which is now becoming a popular place of residence. The builders are Messrs. Parnell, of Rugby, and the architect Mr. Moore. The wood carving (with the exception of the newels of the staircase) was executed by Mr. James Roberts, of Paradise Square.

Napier’s new house was ready in 1892. Pullen’s Lane was becoming a popular area for Oxford academics, as it combined all the advantages of living in the town and the country. It was it just within the “university radius”, yet was in the country; and unlike the rest of Headington at this time, it had piped water and gas. Other academics currently living in Pullen’s Lane included Evelyn Abbott (Tutor in Classics, Balliol College): Sir William Markby (Reader in Indian Law, Balliol College); Professor Sidney Vines (Professor of Botany), and Paul Willert (Tutor of Exeter College).

On the night of the 1901 census, Arthur Napier was staying at Harden Park, Wilmslow with his 77-year-old widowed mother Martha, his two spinster sisters Charlotte and Annie, and his nephew T. Reginald Phane, a railway engineer. Meanwhile his wife Mary was at home in Pullen’s Lane with their six children and four servants (a cook, parlourmaid, housemaid, and under-housemaid).

The 1911 census shows Professor Napier (57) and his wife Mary (56) at home in Napier House with three of their children: Oswald (25), Harold (23), and Hilda (19), students of Science, Classics, and English respectively, and their four servants.

In 1916 Napier died at the age of 62, and the house was put up for auction. The auction catalogue gives a good picture of the house in its heyday, and is reproduced in full below.

The house was bought at this auction by Headington School, which was then based entirely in what is now its junior department on the south side of the London Road. From 1916 to 1930, Napier House in Pullen’s Lane was the junior section of the school. When in 1930 the senior school moved into its present purpose-built buildings on the north side of the London Road, the juniors moved into their present building and rather confusingly took the old name of Napier House with them.

The former Napier House reverted to being a private house and was renamed Cotuit Hall. The origin of the name is uncertain: Cotuit is a village in Massachusetts.

In the 1930s Cotuit Hall was occupied by Redvers Opie, Fellow and Tutor in Economics at Magdalen College.

From the 1940s to about 1955, Cotuit Hall was the City of Oxford Children’s Home: memories of one of the children.

In the late 1950s it was a private house again, occupied by the Revd D. B. Jones.

By 1962 Cotuit House was a Hostel of the College of Technology, which later became the Polytechnic and then Oxford Brookes University. Until 2011 it provided 102 study bedrooms for Brookes students.

In May 2011 Cotuit Hall was sold by Oxford Brookes University to the EF International Academy, who plan to use it for students aged 16–18 taking two-year A-level or International Baccalaureate residential courses.


Auction Catalogue, 28 June 1916

Auction of “The residence of the Late Prof. Napier”
28 June 1916 at Hamlet & Dulake, 11 Cornmarket Street at 5pm
“immediately after the Sale of the Furniture and Effects”
(Solicitors: Hazel & Baines, 58 Cornmarket Street)

“A particularly well-built family residence, with attractive grounds of about 2¾ acres” … “giving beautiful panoramic views over the City spires to the county beyond”

This attractive FREEHOLD PROPERTY is situate in one of the most healthy localities around Oxford, near to the historical landmark, ‘Joe Pullen’s Tree’, stands at an elevation of about 300 feet above sea level, giving picturesque views over the City Spires, and is within the University Radius. The Residence was erected for the late owner’s occupation upwards of 20 years ago, is particularly well built, and most admirably planned.

The accommodation comprises:

On the Second Floor:

  • A Large Room with Cupboards (30ft by 20ft) suitable for Studio or Playroom;
  • Bedroom (16ft by 13ft 6in) with fitted Cupboard
  • Tank Room
  • Box Room (12ft by 10ft)

On the Half Landing:

  • Bedroom (12ft by 9ft) with fitted Cupboard

On the first floor (Back Wing):

  • Two Bedrooms (15ft by 10ft and 15ft by 13ft 3in respectively, excluding bays), with fitted Cupboards

On the Main Landing:

  • Two bedrooms (15ft 6in by 15ft and 15ft by 14ft respectively, excluding bays) with fitted cupboards
  • Two smaller bedrooms (15ft by 9ft and 15ft by 9ft 6in) with Dressing Room (10ft by 6ft 6in)
  • Bath Room with enamelled bath (hot and cold service) and fireplace;
    WC with pedestal apparatus
  • There is a spacious Landing and wide Staircase with oak balustrade, rails and newels, also Secondary Staircase

On the half Landing:

  • Bedroom 12ft by 9ft

On the ground floor:

  • Drawing Room (20ft by 15ft, excluding bay) with mantel and over-mantel panelled with silvered glass
  • Library (20ft x 15ft, excluding bay)
  • Store Room adjoining with cupboards and shelves
  • Dining room (23ft 6in by 15ft, excluding bay) with mantel and over-mantel panelled with silvered glass
  • Inner Hall (20ft by 15ft) with fireplace, cupboards, and bookshelves in recesses
  • Outer Hall with tessellated floor and fitted hat and coat stand, with silver glazed panels
  • Morning Room (14ft 9in by 11ft 6in, excluding bay window), with two ranges of bookshelves and cupboards in recesses
  • Store cupboard with shelves
  • Lavatory fitted with marble basin (hot and cold service)
  • WC with pedestal apparatus
  • Boot Cupboard with pegs and boot lockers
  • Butler’s pantry having lead lined sink (hot and cold service), draining board, cupboards, and fire grate.

On the semi-basement floor (well-lighted):

  • Pantry with tiled floor, shelves and heat slab
  • Large coal cellar
  • Wine Cellar with tiled floor and brick bins
  • Cycle store (21ft by 8ft 6in)
  • Kitchen (12ft 6in by 16ft, excluding bay), fitted with dresser, cupboards, table and oven range
  • Scullery (15ft by 12ft) having single oven range, cupboard, hot water tank and tap, shelves, stoneware sink with hot and cold service, and pump connected with soft water reservoir

Outside, leading off an enclosed brick yard, is:

  • Servants’ WC, Boot Room, and corrugated iron-covered shelter.
  • There is also a useful Tool House in the garden.

The gardens and grounds about 2¾ acres in extent are tastefully laid out in flower beds, large sloping lawn, also tennis lawn. There are pretty walks amidst well selected and mature shrubs and trees, and the Kitchen Garden and well-stocked Orchard are features of some importance

This charming property is FREEHOLD, in excellent repair, fitted with modern grates, gas, electric bells, and modern conveniences. All the principal rooms face South. The sanitary arrangements are on the most approved system, the water and drainage being connected to the Oxford Corporation mains.

The usual Tenant’s Fixtures and Fittings, the Inventory of which may be seen at the offices of the auctioneers and also produced at the time of Sale, are included in the purchase; and vacant possession will be given on completion.

The present affords an exceptional opportunity (particularly to Members of the University) to acquire a really well built and commodious residence in a high and health locality in the country, and yet possessing the conveniences and advantages of a Town House.


See also:

  • Oxford Chronicle, 11 October 1890 and 17 October 1891
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 11 October 1890 (p. 6c) and 17 October 1891 (p. 8b)
  • Oxoniensia 35, p. 81

© Stephanie Jenkins

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