Bury Knowle House
The new London turnpike road built in the late eighteenth century made Headington, which until then had been rather inaccessible, an ideal place for the gentry of Oxford to build their country retreats. In about 1800 Bury Knowle House was built for Joseph Lock (1760–1844), an Oxford goldsmith and banker of All Saints Parish who was Lord Mayor in 1813 and 1829.
The 1804 Enclosure Award granted him about 17 acres of land in central Headington, comprising Plot 28 (the north-east end of Windmill Road), Plot 58 (the south-east corner of Old High Street), and Plots 54, 55, 57, and 57a (roughly comprising the present park). Plot 57, the part of the park between the house and London Road, is described thus:
And to and for the said Joseph Lock in lieu of his copyhold eighteen acres of arable land held under the Manor of Headington (except the right of Common belonging to the said eighteen acres of land) also purchased by him of and from the said John Owen One Plot of Land or Ground numbered 57 containing six acres one rood and four perches situate in Sheepcut Furlong bounded on the North by the Mansion House and premises of the said Joseph Lock on part of the North East by an Allotment numbered 54 on parts of the South East by the Allotment numbered 55 and a cottage and garden belonging to the said Joseph Lock on the south by the road numbered I and on the North West by the Allotment numbered 57(a)
In 1804 Lock erected the present wall that bounds the park, but in such a way that it formed a barrier across the footpath that runs behind the Old High Street car park. As this was then the coffin route from the outlying hamlet of Headington Quarry to St Andrew’s Church, it made him very unpopular with the people of Quarry. In 1809 he leased the coach-house and stables of the Hermitage, and these later became part of the growing Bury Knowle estate.
The diaries of Mary Latimer of Headington House reveal that the Sir Joseph and his family were living at Bury Knowle House in the 1820s; but in his latter years (and perhaps ever since his wife’s death in 1822) Sir Joseph lived in his town house in All Saints parish, Oxford, where he died in 1844. At the time of the 1841 census his son Edward was living in Bury Knowle House with his family, but he must have moved out before his sister Maria’s marriage on 11 May 1843 to George Baker Ballachey, because the diaries of John Hill (Vice-Principal of St Edmund Hall, whose son married Ballachey’s daughter by his first marriage) show that the Ballacheys were already entertaining there in August of that year. In 1844 Sir Joseph’s property was divided between his two surviving children, with Edward inheriting the Oxford house and Maria (Mrs Ballachey) all the Headington property and land. Edward did not remain in Oxford, however, and at the time of his son’s marriage in October 1859 he was living at Halson Lodge near Taunton.
Mrs Ballachey often allowed the park to be used for worthy events such as annual school treats and temperance fetes: for example on 24 July 1845 the Vice-Chancellor of the University and the Principal of St Edmund Hall, no less, helped the Ballacheys carve roast beef and mutton in the field in front of the house, and this was served with plum pudding to 36 parishioners of Headington aged above 60. Many eminent people were entertained inside Bury Knowle House: for example on 19 June 1848 (the day the National School was opened and the foundation stone of the church at Headington Quarry laid), the Bishop of Oxford, the Provost of Worcester, and the Warden of New College were among those who dined there.
After Mrs Ballachey’s death in 1884, Bury Knowle House was inherited by her brother’s son, Edward Seppings Lock. He had not yet come of age, and the following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 10 May 1884:
TO BE LET. The excellent COUNTRY RESIDENCE at Headington, lately occupied by Mrs Ballachey.
The house was sold the following year.
Edward Brocklehurst Fielden (1857–1942) bought the house from the Locks in 1885. He was a civil engineer who from 1882 had been employed by the Thames Conservancy and was lodging in Oxford, but his circumstances changed much for the better in 1884 when he married Mary Knowles, the daughter of a wealthy colliery proprietor in Wigan. He also bought a farm adjacent to Bury Knowle. He was a Yorkshireman descended from the Fielden spinning dynasty and became an Oxfordshire Justice of the Peace, and from 1887 to 1894 he was Master of the South Oxfordshire Foxhounds. He renamed the house Brocklehurst (presumably after his mother, Ellen Brocklehurst of Macclesfield), and his four children were born there and baptised at St Andrew’s Church between May 1886 and June 1893. To accommodate them (and his large retinue of six indoor female servants and a butler), he added the large rear wing and conservatory. From 1888 he had been involved in managing the family business in Todmorden, Yorkshire, and in 1894 he moved up to Shropshire, first renting Longford Hall and then in 1895 buying Condover Hall from the Cholmondeleys for £120,000.
The next occupant of Bury Knowle House in 1894 was Colonel Howard Kingscote, Commander of Cowley Barracks, who renamed it The Beeches. Unfortunately four years later the colonel was made bankrupt by his extravagant wife, Adeline Kingscote, a novelist who wrote under the pen-name of Lucas Cleeve. The whole contents of the house were auctioned in situ in July 1899, and the sale catalogue gives a wonderful picture of life in Bury Knowle House in the late nineteenth century.
Major Charles Miskin Laing owned the house from 1899 to 1923, and reinstated its original name of Bury Knowle: he declared in the 1911 census that it then had 24 rooms. Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 13 January 1900 reports how Messrs Hill, Upton & Co of George Street installed “a complete electric light plant, with engine, dynamo, and accumulators at Bury Knowle, for C. M. Laing, Esq.”. He and his wife, who was the photographer Mrs Etheldreda Janet Laing (nee Winkfield), and their two daughters had five female servants, plus a governess. Etheldreda had her own darkroom at Bury Knowle House, and in 1908 she took photographs of her two young daughters in its garden: examples include Two girls on a balcony, Girl with a parasol sitting on a bench; Two girls together in a garden; Girl with a bunch of flowers.
The last private owner of Bury Knowle House was Henry Mark Beaufoy. Born in Dorset and educated at Eton and Cambridge, he was the chairman of Beaufoy & Co., vinegar manufacturers, of Lambeth. His family business held the monopoly of supplying vinegar to the Royal Navy (who used it for preserving meat on ships) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His first home in Oxfordshire was Elmthorpe in Temple Cowley, but he moved to Bury Knowle House in 1926 with his wife, Gwendolyn Wood, and his daughter Prue (now Mrs Guild). Mrs Gwendolyn Beaufoy is immortalized in the foundation stone of the new building of St Andrew’s School, which she laid in 1928. Henry Beaufoy sold Bury Knowle House, together with its large park, to the City Council in 1931 and moved to Hill House in Steeple Aston. He became Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1944, and died in 1955.
Oxford City Council has thus owned the house and its grounds since June 1930. The baby clinic moved there from the British Workman and the public park opened here in 1932, and Bury Knowle Library (rechristened Headington Library in 1999) opened in 1934. The county council now rents the ground floor of the house from the city council and continues to use it as a public library.
This drawing of the Lodge to Bury Knowle House was sketched in 1868 by Miss Mary Eliza Ballachey, later a pupil of John Ruskin, who labelled it “The Lodge, Grandmama’s House, Headington”.
This pretty cottage near the London Road has since been converted into public conveniences.
The premises are divided up thus in the Leases and Tenancies book of Oxford City Council in 1933:
- Branch Library: Library Committee, £180 p.a. on a yearly term
- Clinic (Infant Welfare): Public Health Committee, £130 p.a. on a yearly term
- Stables: Miss J. B. Turner: £39 p.a. on a quarterly term
- Stable, pig-sties, greenhouses, & kitchen gardens: G. Mold: £26 p.a., for three years from 29 September 1933
- Flat (Lower): J. J. Pullein: £65 p.a., on a quarterly term
- Flat (Upper): D. M. Gregory: £65 p.a. on a quarterly term
See also: Rhona Walker, “Bury Knowle House in context: its history, design, and architecture”, Oxoniensia 72 (2007), pp. 37–54
Bury Knowle outbuildings
(Coach house, barn, and stables)