Headington history: Non-listed buildings


The Kilns, Lewis Close

Front of house

Side of house

Back of house

Trees at the Kilns

Lake at the Kilns

Kilns auction

The Kilns was built in 1922 just outside the Oxford city boundary on the site of a former brickworks, and the lake in its eight-acre garden was a flooded claypit.

Joseph Thorne is listed in directories at this house from 1926. On 18 May 1927 it was put up for auction, with an advertisement (right) published in The Times of 28 April 1927. Thorne was listed again in 1928, but there was no listing in 1929 or 1930.

On Sunday 6 July 1930 C.S. Lewis and his brother Warnie saw The Kilns for the first time, and in his diary the next day Lewis wrote:

We did not go inside, but the eight acre garden is such stuff as dreams are made of. I never imagined that for us any such garden would ever come within the sphere of discussion. The house … stands at the entrance to its own grounds at the norther n foot of Shotover at the end of a narrow lane, which is turn opens off a very bad and little used road, giving as great privacy as can reasonably be looked for near a large town. To the left of the house are the two brick kilns from which it takes its name – in front, a lawn and hard tennis court – then a large bathing pool, beautifully wooded, and with a circular brick seat overlooking it: after that a steep wilderness broken with ravines and nooks of all kinds runs up to a little cliff topped by a thistly meadow, and then the property ends in a thick belt of fir trees, almost a wood: the view from the cliff over the dim blue distance of the plain is simply glorious.

The Kilns cost £3,300, and the ownership of The Kilns was put in Mrs Moore’s name, even though her Askins estate had borne less than half the cost. Hence in Kelly's Directory the listing of The Kilns (under Forest Hill) was under the name of Mrs J. K. Moore.

Lewis moved there with Mrs Moore and her daughter on 10 October 1930. When Warnie retired in 1932, he also came to live with them, and Alice Hamilton Moore (no relation, but an old friend of Mrs Moore’s from Ireland) also lived there.

The Kilns

The Risinghurst estate did not then exist, and Kiln Lane was in the countryside just outside the parish of Headington Quarry (whose church was a pleasant walk away before the eastern bypass cut off the area) but technically then in Forest Hill. Kiln Lane did not remain undeveloped for long: in February 1933 a dwelling house on Kiln Lane with “5 Acres of Wooded Building Land” was put up for auction.

Air-raid shelter
Air-raid shelter near the lake

The extensive wild grounds to the south of the house (comprising a lake and a wooded hill) provided the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia, which started off as a tale told to children evacuated to the Kilns from London in 1939. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was published nine years later in 1948.

Blue plaque on the Kilns
Blue plaque erected on The Kilns on 26 July 2008

On 17 January 1955 Lewis wrote to Belle Allen:

The Quarry has not been worked for forty years or more, and nothing now remains of it except some deep pits wth rugged stone walls; the brick klns too have been long abandoned, although two of them are still standing in this garden, and we use them for storing fuel and suchlike.

C. S. Lewis died in 1963.

In 1968 the Lewis Close cul-de-sac was built on land attached to Lewis's house, and his two kilns were destroyed in the process.

In 1969 BBONT (the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire Naturalists’ Trust, now renamed the Wildlife Trust) was given the lake and woodland behind The Kilns by Dora Stephen, in memory of her husband Henry.

In the 1980s the California-based C.S. Lewis Foundation bought The Kilns itself for £130,000 and has restored it to its original 1930s appearance. A bid to gain listed status for the house was rejected in February 2002.

The lake and extensive grounds that inspired the Narnia books can be visited at any time.

The outside of the house can be viewed from the road, but arrangements must be made in advance with the C.S. Lewis Foundation for tour groups to see inside.

Drive around Oxford and Headington
on a C. S. Lewis tours with Ron Brind

How to get to The Kilns from central Headington on foot or by bus

Here are instructions on how to get to The Kilns in Lewis Close, Risinghurst on foot from the centre of Headington (approx 1 mile), with an opportunity to see other buildings connected with C.S. Lewis en route. If this is too far for you, after looking at Joy Davidman’s house in Old High Street take a No. 9 bus from outside Bury Knowle Park to Kiln Lane. Note that the route below is not possible by car, but there is a public carpark in Old High Street.

  • Start outside Waitrose in Old High Street, and notice the plaque to Joy Davidman on 10 Old High Street opposite.
  • Cross the London Road via the pedestrian crossing and turn left. Walk a short way eastwards along London Road
  • Turn right into Holyoake Road (the next road after Windmill Road), and see Hillsboro at No. 14 where Lewis lived with Mrs Moore before they moved to the Kilns
  • At the end of this road turn left into St Leonard’s Road
  • When you reach the crossroads junction with Wharton Road, turn right into Wharton Road
  • Walk to the end of Wharton Road, and turn left into Margaret Road. Follow this road eastwards for its full length until it meets the old village of Quarry
  • At the junction, cross Quarry Road and take the right-hand road, Quarry Hollow, down the hill (into a former pit) and then Beaumont Road up again to the Eastern bypass (diverting to the right to see Holy Trinity Church with C.S. Lewis’s grave and the Narnia Window if you wish)
  • Cross the bypass with great care, using the pedestrian crossings to your right: the traffic is very fast
  • You will see Kiln Lane facing you and leading towards the right. Walk along Kiln Lane, and Lewis Close is the fourth turning on the right
  • The Kilns (closed to visitors unless you have booked a tour) is on the right at the top end of Lewis Close, and a wooden gate ahead of you leads into the landscape that inspired Narnia

The postcode of The Kilns is OX3 8JD
See where the house is on Streetmap

You Tube: Memories of C. S. Lewis in Headington

© Stephanie Jenkins

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