Headington history: Streets

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Headington Hill & Road: Hill Top House

Hill Top House

This house dates from the early nineteenth century. It is specifically named as “Hill Top” in directories from 1867, and also on the 1876 and 1898 OS maps of Headington

Hill Top House from the east

The first known occupant of this house was Richard Green. Pigot’s Directory for 1830 lists him as a gentleman on Headington Hill, and the 1841 census for Headington Quarry shows him living here at the age of about 70. At this time it was the only house of any importance in this area. Green’s will was proved on 20 April 1846.

By 1850, the Headington Rate book shows that the house was both owned and occupied by Benjamin Badcock, Esq., when its gross estimated rental was £40 and its rateable value £34. The 1851 census shows Badcock, an bachelor of 54 whose occupation is given as a Surveyor, living here with his unmarried sister Sarah, his nephew Philip (who was also his assistant), and one servant. Badcock and his sister (with two servants) were still in the house at the time of the 1861 census, and he owned the house until 1874. on 20 March 1875 the following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal:

On Headington Hill, Oxford

To be let for a term, either furnished or unfurnished,—A Residence, known as “Hill Top”, standing in its own grounds, with conservatory, flower and kitchen gardens, and orchard, with numerous choice wall and standard fruit trees, coach house, stable, and yard, in the occupation of Miss Badcock.

The House stands on the highest and most healthy spot in the environs of Oxford, the subsoil is fine sand, and the views are charming and extensive in every direction.

Early possession may be had.

To view and for further particulars, apply to Messrs. R. Pike & Son, auctioneers, 21, New Inn Hall-street, Oxford.

It appears the owners then had a clear-out, as the following advertisement appeared in the Journal of 29 May 1875:

Superior household furniture, Pianoforte, Bath Chair, Hand Cart, Cambridge Patent Rolling Press, 24 Iron Hurdles, a quantity of Oak Posts, Old Lead, Copper and Zinc, and a few choice Greenhouse Plants.

To be sold by Auction
by Messrs R. Pike and Son

Upon the premises known as “Hill Top,” Headington Hill, near Oxford, at Eleven o’clock precisely, fully described in catalogues, to be had of the auctioneers seven days previous.

From 1875 to 1881 Hill Top was occupied by the Revd James Franck Bright, MA, who was Fellow & Chaplain of University College and Tutor & Lecturer in Modern History. On 22 February 1876 Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) wrote in his diary: “Called on Bright, of University College, at his house on Headington Hill. He has four girls, of whom I saw the eldest, Margaret, aged 9.”

The 1881 census shows the Revd Bright as a widower of 48 living in the house with his four daughters aged from 11 to 14, his unmarried sister-in-law (who is described as mistress of the family), and five servants, including a page. Later that year he was appointed Master of University College, and he presumably sold Hill Top when he moved down to the Master’s Lodgings in the High Street.

From about 1883 it was owned by Commissioner-General Fitzjames Edward Watt CB, but in the early years he let it out: in 1887 it was occupied by Mrs Eckford, who moved to Sandfield Cottage the next year. The 1891 census shows Watt (aged 68) and his wife Julia (aged 43), living in Hill Top and looked after by four live-in servants. Watt was buried at St Clement’s Church on 14 March 1902, and his widow continued to live there until 1910, when she moved to The Firs nearby.

In 1889 the municipal borough of Oxford was extended eastwards, bringing Headington Road and Hill Top House into the city of Oxford. In 1894 this area was taken away from the parish of Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry and annexed to the parish of St Clement’s.

Possibly Hill Top was bought by the Morrell family in 1910, because it is not listed again in directories until 1918.

From 1918 to 1923 the house was occupied by Captain James H. Morrell BA.

Mrs Radcliffe lived at Hill Top from 1925 to the 1930s, William Byard in the 1940s, and Sir Oliver (later Lord) Franks in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the late 1960s, Hill Top’s extensive grounds were much reduced when six houses facing the London Road were built in its garden, and by the early 1980s the house itself was in multiple occupation.

In 2002 the main house was refurbished and converted into six flats, and although in January 2001 Oxford city council had granted planning permission for a detached terraced block of 5 two-storey, one-bed mews houses in its back garden, on 27 June 2002 Martin Young, chairman of Headington Hill Residents’ Association, successfully challenged this plan in the Appeal Court on the grounds that the council had failed to consider a policy statement by English Heritage. The application to build the five houses was eventually approved by the full city council on 17 February 2003 after being called in. The voting was close (16 for and 16 against), and the Lord Mayor’s casting vote decided the matter.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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