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Sandfield Cottage


Sandfield Cottage was actually a large house, sometimes more appropriately named as Sandfield House. Its grounds stretched from the present Dial House at 25 London Road in the west to the Manor Buildings on Osler Road in the east, and from the present Manor Hospital in the north to London Road in the south.

Sandfield Cottage in 1939Map of 1939 showing Sandfield Cottage. To the north are Manor Ground tennis courts and pavilion

The first appearance of Sandfield Cottage in the census is in 1871, when it was probably newly built. It was then occupied by Henry James Virgin (born in Taunton in c.1832), who had been a surgeon dentist in Oxford since at least the time of his marriage to Sarah Ferron in 1856. Henry and his wife actually spent census night at 63 High Street (where he had his practice) with six of his children, his mother-in-law Ann Durley, and three servants. His three other children were at Sandfield Cottage with his sister Miss Mary Ann Virgin (32), who was a governess and his widowed mother Mrs Ann Toyer (68), plus a servant.

Virgin's wife Sarah died in Headington at the age of 43 near the end of 1874.

The land attached to Sandfield Cottage was evidently used for farming, as an advertisement in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 9 April 1881 advertised a sale by auction on the premises of Mr Virgin of three fat heifers, a fat calf, a cow and calf, an Alderney cow and calf, two pigs, a basket trap, and a pony trap.

At the time of the 1881 census Henry Virgin, a widower of 49, was described as a surgeon dentist employing three assistants, and was living at Sandfield Cottage with his children Annie (23), Alice (20), Arthur (19), Edith 17), Kate (15), Frank (13), Clara (12), Nina (11), and Hubert (9): they had three servants.

Virgin committed suicide by drowning in the River Thames near Iffley on 19 October that year. Jackson's Oxford Journal reported on 22 October 1881:

SUPPOSED SUICIDE. — Early on Thursday morning last an overcoat was found lying on the path by the side of the river near the lasher at Iffley, and on the police being communicated with a search of the river was made, and the body of Mr. H. J. Virgin, surgeon dentist, of Sandfield House, Headington, was discovered. The deceased had been very strange in his manner for some time past, and had been closely watched by the members of his family, but he was suddenly missed on Wednesday evening, and in consequence a search was then made. Several weights were found in the pockets of the deceased, and those together with some letters, indicate that an act of suicide has been committed.

The inquest revealed that Virgin was being treated for depression, and had not been able to work for the previous five months. Hence he was in pecuniary difficulties, and his solicitor, Mr Bickerton, had just written to him telling him that he must leave Sandfield Cottage.

The family moved out soon after his death, and the house was advertised thus on 14 January 1882:

TO BE LET, “SANDFIELD HOUSE,” Headington, containing six bed rooms, 3 reception rooms, excellent domestic offices, small conservatory, large garden, stabling, and coach-house. Immediate possession. Rent, £50.

It was to be let furnished, but on 1 September 1883 its furniture was advertised for sale by auction:

HEADINGTON, NEAR OXFORD, SANDFIELD HOUSE.
The whole of the excellent HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, comprising brass-mounted bedsteads, beds, bedding, marble-top washstands, chests of drawers, wardrobes, and other bed room appendages, drawing room suite, walnut and other occasional tables, Brussels carpets and rugs, extension dining table, oak dinner wagon, china, glass, kitchen requisites, and other miscellaneous effects.

In that year Sandfield Cottage was listed as being occupied by Theodore Henry Ford.

In 1884 it was occupied by Major A. Finch Noyes.

In about 1888 Mrs Eckford moved from Hill Top House to this address, and she remained here until about 1896. The 1891 census shows Elinor E. Eckford (41), a widow, living here with her son Ashton Eckford (12), and her sister Mrs Amelia Luard (47) and her son Geoffrey Luard (11), plus two servants.

By 1898 the house was occupied by Mrs Priestly Birch, whose son-in-law was Cecil Sharp: his meeting with William Kimber at this house on Boxing Day 1899 led to the English Morris Dance and Folk Music Revival of the early twentieth century. The 1901 census shows Dora Dorothy Birch (74) living here with her daughter Mary Caroline Birch (4), plus one servant. She died in early 1902 and her funeral was at St Andrew's Church on 14 January, but Kelly's Directory continues to list her at the house until 1904.

William Blackburn, the clergyman headmaster of St Columba's College, bought Sandfield Cottage with a view to his retirement, and let it out. The 1911 census shows the jeweller Richard Rouse Sydenham Rowell (29) and his wife Margaret Fletcher Rowell (28) living here with their daughter Helen (3) and two servants. He was listed at the house until 1919, when he moved to Barton End.

William Blackburn died on 18 November 1919, and his widow gave the current tenants a year's notice to leave. She moved into Sandfield Cottage with her children. Her daughter Barbara Blackburn (who was to become famous as the dog-trainer Mrs Barbara Woodhouse) returned home from agricultural college and started the Headington Riding School and Boarding Kennels in its grounds:

Riding School and Boarding Kennels

Mrs Blackburn continued to run the Sandfield Dog Boarding Kennels by herself until about 1960.

Sandfield Cottage was demolished in March 1965 (picture). Its large site is now occupied by the 39 houses of Horwood Close, the service entrance to the Manor Hospital, the Headington telephone exchange, and the petrol station with its shop.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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