Headington history: Streets

Go backwards
Go forwards

Windmill Road: Overview

Old High Street and Windmill Road
© Newsquest (Oxfordshire) Ltd; reproduced by permission of the Oxford Mail

Windmill Lane (as the road was known in the nineteenth century) would have been the path that the people of Old Headington took to reach both their windmill and the old road to London. With the new London Road disguised by adjacent buildings, the aerial picture above taken in 1993 indicates how originally Windmill Lane must have curved unbroken down into Old Headington village.

The 1805 Enclosure Award treats Windmill Road and the Slade as one road, describing it thus:

Also one other public Carriage Road and Driftway of the like breadth of forty feet numbered III likewise branching out of the said new Turnpike Road [London Road] at High Cross Bush aforesaid and extending in a Southward direction across Wood way furlong into the antient Turnpike Road [Old Road] leading from London to the City of Oxford and continuing over a certain place called “Harry Bears Bottom” and extending from thence along the Slade near to a Farm house belonging to the President and Scholars of Magdalen College and their Lessee John Townsend [Wood Farm] being part of the public Road leading from Headington aforesaid towards Garsington

Jeffries 1769 map

Jeffries map of Headington in 1769 (right) shows Windmill Lane before the London Road was created through the fields. There are two footpaths running from west to east: Cuckoo Lane to the north, and another to the south roughly along the line of the present London Road. Windmill Lane probably then began at Cuckoo Lane.

The 1876 OS map shows Windmill Lane flanked by fields along its entire length. At the south-east corner is the pit known as ‘Crossroads Quarry’ (now Rock Edge), and across the lane, facing Old Road, is the Wingfield Convalescent Home, built for the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1872. Further north, East Road (Bateman Street), then with just one house, leads west to the village of New Headington. The most significant change since medieval times is the sudden curtailment of Windmill Lane at the north end by the London Turnpike Road, built around 1790. The windmill had already fallen into disuse by 1876, but was still standing.

Over the next 40 years Windmill Lane was transformed from a medieval lane into the suburban street that it is today. The development began slowly in 1878 at the north-east end when a ten-acre site (marked 197 on the 1876 map) was put up for sale by Mrs Maria Ballachey of Bury Knowle House. This plot had been awarded to her father, Sir Joseph Lock, under the Headington Enclosure Award of 1805.and originally she had continued to rent it out as allotments. It was advertised as suitable either for a gentleman’s mansion or for villa residences, but only a small plot appears to have sold, as only one villa materialized: Rosslyn Villa (No. 7, now the two right-hand shop units in ‘The Parade), built in about 1883 for the newly retired John Durran, who was formerly an “ironmonger, smith and bell-hanger” in Oxford at 53 High Street.

Mrs Ballachey died in 1884, leaving her land to her nephew, Edward Seppings Lock, with instructions that it should be sold upon his decease and the proceeds divided amongst his children. Her nephew appears to have died soon afterwards, because the following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 2 April 1887, announcing the auction of the plot, which was said to be “capable of unusually easy and extensive development” because it was adjacent to London Road and Windmill Lane:

[By direction of Trustees.]


Within two miles from the centre of the City of Oxford.

Important Tract of FREEHOLD BUILDING LAND, extending to
about 10A. 3R. 4P., suitable for immediate building development,

At the Roebuck Hotel, Oxford, on Wednesday, April 27, 1887, at Three for Four o’clock in the afternoon (by direction of the Trustees under the Will of the late Mrs. Ballachey), in one or more lots.

The attention of Builders, Investors, and Speculators is invited to this Property. The land lies at a considerable elevation on one of the best and most healthy suburbs of the City. It is level, and from its shape and the contiguity of the public roads capable of unusually easy and extensive development. Water is by a peculiar natural advantage procurable in abundance a few feet below the surface.

The Property now produces, as Allotment Ground, an annual rental of £42 1s. 1d.

Particulars, with plans and conditions of sale, may be obtained at the place of sale; at the offices of Thomas M. Davenport, Esq., solicitor, County Hall, Oxford; or of Messrs Vernon and Son, land agents, &c., 26, Great George-street, Westminster, S.W., and High Wycombe, Bucks.

Daniel Clarke, a gentleman from High Wycombe, bought the site and sold it in separate lots to individual buyers.

The preamble to the 1891 census stated that the village of New Headington now included the following: “all the new houses between Police Station and John Hunt’s house, & Mr Mattock’s new house in Windmill Lane”. The police station was the former toll house on the north-east corner, soon to be replaced by the Co-op, and John Hunt’s house was the old mill house to the south. The “new houses” in between were the twelve houses at the north-east end of Windmill Lane just to the south of Rosslyn Villa (Nos. 13–19 and 25–39 respectively). These were more modest than had been originally planned, but still superior to most of the terraced housing in the rest of New Headington village: they were either semi-detached or in groups of three, and set back from the street. “Mr Mattock’s new house in Windmill Lane” was much further down on the opposite side (No. 88). John Mattock, whose nursery to the south of Wilberforce Street in New Headington village had expanded eastwards to meet Windmill Lane, had built a smart detached house for himself and his new wife, leaving his children (aged from 13 to 28) behind in the old cottage in Wilberforce Street.

The 1899 OS map shows the further development that took place in the seven years following the 1891 census. On the north-east corner is the Headington Co-op, opened with a fanfare of trumpets and much celebration in 1893, and nearby a new large detached house at No. 5. There are more new houses further south (Nos. 59, 71, 73, 75, 87, and 93). Across the road, in the land below Bateman Street belonging to New Headington village, Samuel West from Old Headington had built No. 74 in front of his large nursery, and just to the south there are another four new houses (76, 82, 84, and 86), while Nos. 64/66 are shown in the process of being built.

Growth continued apace in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1900 eleven acres of building land with a frontage of 789 feet were bought at auction by Charlie Morris, a builder who lived at 1 Stoke Place in Old Headington. With the help of a loan of £750 he laid out 36 lots, each 20 feet wide, on the east side of the road, in the field numbered 203 on the 1876 OS map, just to the north of Windmill Cottages. The result was Nos. 95–157 inclusive. Morris carefully left spaces for two roads to facilitate the development of the hinterland of the estate, and in due course Margaret Road and Gathorne (originally Alexandra) Road were slotted in.

The north-west side of Windmill Road remained undeveloped for longer than might have been expected, because it was part of the field bounded by London Road, Windmill Lane and Bateman Street that had been retained by the Revd. William Latimer when his family sold land for the development of New Headington village in 1848; and although in 1878 William Banting bought the land from the Revd Latimer, it appears that he too resisted development for thirty years: hence Nos. 2–58 Windmill Lane were not built until between 1909 and 1916. (The last house in this group to be erected, No. 34, is still inscribed with its redundant name, “The New House”.) A gap was left between No. 34 and No. 36 to allow access to Sampson Smith’s market garden, which then occupied the field that was destined to become Kennett Road in the late 1920s; No. 34A was later slipped into that gap.

So the 1921 OS map shows a very different Windmill Road, no longer described as a lane. It is flanked by well over a hundred desirable villas with fanciful names such as Ferndale, Cranford, King’s Wood, Kia‑Ora, Lynwood, Druidstone, and Myrtle View. Despite the street’s pretensions, however, its road and pavements were unpaved and muddy before the First World War. A description of life in a detached Windmill Road house in the 1930s is given here.

As the houses came, so did the shops and businesses. In the 1930s, as well as the old Co-op on the corner, Kelly’s Directory shows Grose the butcher at No. 51, Mrs Butler the grocer at No. 59, Vallis the timber merchant at No. 61, and Mrs Wilkins the grocer at No. 107. Across the road there were Dring’s Coaches at No. 2, Mrs Barton the draper at No. 6, Skey the grocer at No. 8, Danbury the newsagent at No. 12, Whitchelo the tobacconist at No. 14, Nutt the coal merchant at 46, Ashby the butcher at No. 58, Grain the tobacconist at No. 72A, West’s Nursery at No. 74, Whitehead the boot repairer at No. 78, Harris the greengrocer at No. 82, and Mattock’s Roses at No. 88.

The last field to be developed was to the south of Windmill Cottages, where Nos. 159–173 were built in the 1930s: they are shown on the 1939 OS map. One piece of land remains untouched until this day: the site now occupied by the St Leonard’s Road car-park used to be a playground, apparently purchased by soldiers returning from the First World War as a gift for the children of Headington.

Two more recent developments fronting Windmill Road have been the building of Mattock Close on John Mattock’s rose nursery in the 1970s, and the replacement of Headington Labour Club in 1996 by  a block of maisonettes. Windmill Road is now so busy with traffic that the maisonettes turn their backs on it, and vehicular access to the flats is by Holyoake Road only.

Windmill Road has always been a thoroughfare rather than a village street, and never properly belonged to any of the three villages of Headington, being an outpost of both Old Headington and Quarry. When New Headington village grew up in the second half of the nineteenth century it was tacked on to it, and came under the parish of Old Headington; but when the new parish of Highfield was created in 1910, Windmill Road was split between that parish and Quarry. Although Headington was not absorbed as a suburb of Oxford until 1929, the villas of Windmill Road (with their fancy gates, bay windows, and frilly gables) seem to have anticipated this event at the turn of the century.

Oxfordshire: Within Living Memory (Countryside Books/Oxford Federation of Women’s Institutes, 1994), has two excellent descriptions of life in Windmill Road:

© Stephanie Jenkins

Headington home Shark Oxford History home