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Pullen’s Lane: The origins of the lane


The main section of the present Pullen’s Lane between the white gates is a relatively new road, laid out in the late nineteenth century. Before then the only part that existed was the short and ancient section leading from the top of Headington Hill to Cuckoo Lane, known for at least 200 years simply as “the road by Jo Pullen’s tree”.

Until the 1780s, the only route from Oxford to London via Headington was Old Road, so carriages ascended only part of Headington Hill before turning right into Cheney Lane. The other road that continued up to the small settlement at the top right of Headington Hill turned left at the top to reach Cuckoo Lane, then the main thoroughfare from Oxford to Old- Headington.

The walk up to Headington was popular with the University, and in about 1700 Josiah Pullen not only planted his famous tree at the top of the hill but was also responsible for the University funding the raised footpath leading up Headington Hill.

The creation of the new turnpike road to London through the fields at the top of Headington Hill led to mansions such as Bury Knowle and Headington House springing up quickly in Old Headington. But the Lords of the Manor of Headington held on to the land in the area of Pullen’s Lane, which was known as Brockless Field (a map of the area made by Corpus Christi College in 1605 shows the field as Brockalls or Brockalles Field), and it remained agricultural land.

In 1824 James Morrell started to build Headington Hill Hall: this was in St Clement’s parish, with its main entrance near the foot of Headington Hill, so it turned its back on the Pullen’s Lane area.

In 1832 the Parliamentary Borough of Oxford (but not the city boundary) was extended to “Jo Pullen’s Tree”.

When Thomas Henry Whorwood junior became Lord of the Manor in 1835, he inherited great debts and soon put the whole of Headington Manor (345 acres) up for auction with Peppercorn & Wilkinson, solicitors of St Neots. The plan in the sale catalogue of 3 August 1836 (below) shows a proposed new road extending the whole length of the present Pullen’s Lane and a little beyond. This arbitrary division enabled Brockless Field to be split up into eleven lots (six to the west and five to the east); and a new foot-path (which runs across the top of the present William Street) was at the same time proposed along the western boundary.

Pullen’s Lane in 1836

At the sale in 1836, George Davenport bought most of the land lying between Cuckoo Lane and the Headington Road, including the “newly erected Cottage or Dwelling House” on Lot 18, while Wadham College bought the land to the west of Pullen’s Lane. Much of the rest of the manor did not sell, however, and on 13 July 1838 the remaining land was transferred to George Alexander Peppercorn, solicitor. This included “all those three several pieces or parcels or arable land in Brockless Field”, measuring respectively just over 31 acres, 24 acres, and 36 acres, as well as the eleven acres of Bushy Piece.

Ten years later in 1846, over 163 acres was put up for sale again. This comprised Holley’s Farm and the other “compact farm” that occupied the triangle of land between to the north of Cuckoo Lane and east of Pullen’s Lane (Lots 24–30 in the original sale map shown above). George Davenport died in that year, but it appears that his widow bought this farm.

The land to the west of Pullen’s Lane (Lots 19 to 23 inclusive) was not put up in this sale, but was at some point bought by William Peppercorn (who must have been connected to the solicitors Peppercorn & Wilkinson of St Neot’s who organized the sale of the manor land). In 1849 he also bought the title of Lord of the Manor of Headington for himself.

Frederick King, recollecting this period in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 24 February 1894, said that he had spent a great deal of money planning a bridge across the River Cherwell and a road from north Oxford over Norham to Joe Pullen’s Tree, but had been “severely opposed by St John’s College”.

In about 1850 George Davenport’s son, John Marriott Davenport, built Davenport House on Lot 18, with its land stretching as far as the Boundary Brook (now the site of Headington School). This house faced on to Headington Road, and the Pullen’s Lane area remained undeveloped, with the new road still unmade.

The 1850 rate book showed that Peppercorn then owned 35 acres 2 roods and 31 perches on Headington Hill (with a gross estimated rental of £35-2-31 and a rateable value of £89-8-0). It also states that he owned a house on this land, let out to Richard Wootten, which is the small farmhouse now known as Pullen’s Gate.

Until 1868, the boundary of Oxford was marked by the stone in Cuckoo Lane just below the path to John Garne Way; but in that year 216 acres of Headington near the top of Headington Hill were taken into the city.

On 4 February 1874 (George) Herbert Morrell married his third cousin Emily Morrell (who had inherited Headington Hill Hall ten years earlier at the age of ten), and he bought the land to the west of Pullen’s Lane from the Peppercorn estate. It is possible that he bought it to avoid having neighbours too near the Hall – he bought South Park in 1876 for this reason – and this could explain why the west side of the lane was not developed until later.

The Ordnance Survey map of 1876 shows Pullen’s Lane as existing in some form, but Pullen’s Gate still remains the only house.

In 1876 the distance that students could live from Carfax was extended from one mile to a mile and a half, thus bringing the Pullen’s Lane area into the ambit of the University. It appears that the dons were also subject to this regulation, because Lady Markby, wife of the first don to arrive in 1880, wrote, “We soon decided that Headington Hill was a desirable spot whereon to pitch our tent and so it came about that we bought a few acres of land within the sacred limits of the University. (Similarly, when the university limit was extended to two and a half miles in 1923, dons started to populate the eastern part of Old Road).

The first house to be built in the lane was The Pullens in 1879. At the time of the 1881 census, Pullen’s Lane was anomalously included in the New Headington census, and there were only two dwellings: The Pullens and the earlier cottage (Pullen’s Gate), which was now uninhabited. The Croft is listed as in the process of being built.

By 1886, the whole of the east side of the lane was occupied by four large houses, all occupied by dons. These were followed before the end of the nineteenth century by three more on the west side.

As the houses were erected northwards, each new owner extended the road that had first been mooted in 1835 as far as his own house, and the section of Pullen’s Lane running from Cuckoo Lane to Jack Straw’s Lane is still a private road.

Gates at south end of Pullen's Lane

Above: the gates leading into Pullen’s Lane from the south; Below: the remaining gateposts where Pullen’s Lane suddenly turns into Jack Straw’s Lane (with Harberton Mead to the left)

Southern gateposts

In 1889 boundary of the city of Oxford was extended as far eastwards as the Boundary Brook, bringing it in line with the parliamentary boundary. Thus the Headington Hill area (including Pullen’s Lane) was now part of Oxford rather than Headington. Boundary stones put up on behalf of the Mayor in 1892 mark this event. In 1894 Pullen’s Lane was taken away from the parish of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington and annexed to the parish of St Clement’s.

Thus from 1892, Kelly’s Directory no longer lists Headington Hill under the village of Headington in its County directories, but treats it as an extension of St Clement’s in its Oxford directories. The top of Headington Hill did, however, remain in the parish of St Andrew’s Church, so its inhabitants continue to be listed in the Headington censuses.

In 1894, Wadham put up for sale the land on the west side of the lane, as this advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 17 March 1894 shows:

Sales of west side of Pullen's Lane

This advertisement from Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 21 April 1900 shows another plot of land up for sale in what was now known as “Joe Pullen’s Tree” Road:

Morrell land for sale in 1900

The catalogue for the sale of the Manor of Headington in 1911 by the Trustees of W. Peppercorn, Esq., deceased includes as Lot 4 “Building land near Pullen’s Road”.  This “important area of building land” measured over 22 acres and was considered suitable for “a garden city”. It is described as:

having an extensive frontage to the “private occupation road” and being bounded on the south by the residential property known as “Torbrex”, and overlooking the newly developed Harberton Mead.

The map attached to that 1911 sale catalogue (GA Oxon b 91) uses the name Pullen’s Road for the whole of the present Pullen’s Lane. But until 1925 Kelly’s Directory continued to list the houses on both the north and south sides of the top of the hill simply as “Headington Hill”, and the term “Pullen’s Road” is not used in directories until 1926.

In 1929 the Oxford boundary extended further east again, bringing the whole of Headington under Oxford.

In the mid-twentieth century the inhabitants of Pullens Lane discouraged the use of their road by people who did not live there, and closed the gate across the road once a year to keep it as a private road.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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