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Pullen’s Lane: Langley Lodge

Langley Lodge

Langley Lodge was built on the east side of Cuckoo Lane between 1886 and 1887. Pevsner describes it as an “extraordinary house … with lots of tile hanging, big wooden balconies and jolly little lookout tower”.

Its first occupant was Philip Lyttelton Gell (1852–1926). The Gells originated from Hopton Hall in Derbyshire. After gaining a First in History at Balliol College, Lyttelton Gell, as he was known, worked in London for the publisher Cassell & Galpin. He was responsible for the publication of Treasure Island in 1883, with the result that his income rose to £1,200 a year. In 1884 the Vice-Chancellor, Benjamin Jowett, persuaded Gell, who was then only 33, to apply for the vacant position of Secretary to the Delegates of the University Press. He was duly appointed, and was the first outsider ever to hold the position.

Gell may have chosen the site of Langley Lodge because he was impressed by The Pullens, the nearby house of Sir William Markby, who as a Delegate of the Clarendon Press was well known to him. Gell’s salary was now £1,800 a year, and he used to drive down to the University Press in Walton Street from Headington each day in a coach and pair.

Gell is first listed in Valter’s Post Office Directory of 1887 (with his surname misspelt Jell). On 6 April 1889, the following notice appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal:

A marriage is arranged, and will shortly take place, between Mr. Philip Lyttelton Gell, of Langley Lodge, Oxford, and the Hon. Edith Brodrick, third daughter of Viscount Middleton, and niece of the Warden of Merton.

The 1891 census shows Gell (38) and his wife (30) living in Langley Lodge with five servants (a butler, groom, cook, ladiesmaid, and housemaid): they were to have no children. In that year Benjamin Jowett came to stay with them in Headington when he was seriously ill. When Jowett died in 1893, Gell was appointed his literary editor.

By 1895 Gell had a telephone installed at Langley Lodge, on the Oxford exchange, and his number was Oxford 40.

In 1897 Gell himself became ill with overwork, and went to recuperate in the south of France. When he came back to Oxford in April 1898, he was told that it was no longer desirable for him to remain Secretary of the Press. Gell’s friend Alfred Milner urged him to keep Langley Lodge “out of malice”, so that he could “flâner about Oxford as a gentleman at large, while they [the Press] are floundering”.

Gell remained owner of Langley Lodge for another seven years or so. He now had a new position was with the Imperial Institute in London, and he also held various directorships.

At the time of the 1901 Langley Lodge was occupied only by the Gells’ servants (a butler, cook, housemaid, and kitchenmaid). Mrs Gell was staying with her sister, Mrs Augusta Peek, at 9 Eastern Terrace, Brighton, and it looks as though Gell himself was abroad.

Gell is last listed in directories in Headington in 1904. In 1920 he regained his family seat of Hopton Hall in Derbyshire, and died in 1926.

Langley Lodge is not listed in Kelly’s Directory for 1906 or 1907, implying that it was vacant.

From 1909 to 1938 the anthropologist Professor Henry Balfour lived at Langley Lodge with his wife Edith Marie Louise Wilkins. He was appointed Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1893. They were away at the time of the 1911 census, and the house was occupied by their four servants. In his latter years Balfour kept a Rolls Royce and chauffeur to take him to Oxford. He died at Langley Lodge on 9 February 1939, and his library of several thousand books formed the founding collection of the Balfour Library.

In 1939 Rye St Antony School moved from 84 Woodstock Road to Langley Lodge, and expanded into The Croft next door at the end of the war.

Estimates for the building of Langley Lodge are held in Derbyshire Record Office

© Stephanie Jenkins

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