The Rookery Walled Garden
The present Ruskin walled garden with its crinkle-crankle wall was created in the eighteenth century by the Finch family, who lived in the Rookery to the south for 200 years.
The Enclosure Award map of 1804 (detail, right) shows how close the walled garden is to the main house.
Beside the southern entrance to the walled garden is an inscription (left) reading:
D + W
M + N
W × M
It is uncertain what the D + W and M + N mean, but F W × M 1733 probably refers to William Finch (1672–1752) and his wife Mary (c.1674–1743) who were married on 26 November 1696.
William Finch inherited the Rookery from his father Abraham Finch in 1703, and they may have created the walled garden.
It is thought that this inscription was not always at this gateway but was moved from elsewhere on the Rookery site. The date 1733 may relate to major building work and/or to the creation of the walled garden.
The Finch family died out in 1858.
The house was bought in 1853 by the Revd J. W. A. Taylor, who had already started a boys’ prep school there, and in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 23 June 1866 advertised thus for a gardener: “Wanted, at the Rookery, Headington.—A gardener: he must be able to take charge of a flower and fruit garden, and understand the management of a horse and cow, and be willing to make himself generally useful.”
Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 12 August 1882 reported that Mr Wheeler, gardener to the Rev. Taylor of The Rookery, won third prize in the “Collection of cut blooms” section of the Headington Horticultural Show; and on 4 December 1886 that Mr W. S. Gibson of The Rookery won second prize in the “Six dishes of Apples, distinct” section of the Headington Winter Flower & Fruit Show.
In 1886/7 the Revd Taylor retired to Stoke House, the new house he had built on the other side of the road.
Walter Sumner Gibson bought the Rookery in c.1887 and continued running the school there until 1897.
The 1898 OS map of Headington (extract, right) shows buildings (probably sheds and glasshouses) attached to the outside of the east garden wall. No doubt the walled garden provided vegetables and fruit for the schoolboys.
The Rookery then became a private house. From 1899 to 1909 it was occupied by Mrs Bartholomew Price, whose husband, the Revd Dr Bartholomew Price, Master of Pembroke College, had died in 1898. She renamed the house Charlton Lea.
The house was then occupied from 1910 to 1925 by Dr John Massie of Mansfield College. Dr Massie employed twelve outdoor staff to look after his grounds, including the walled garden.
Left: Massie’s head gardener, Louis Dawes, in the 1920s (photograph kindly supplied by his great-granddaughter Joan Wakefield (née Dawes).
Massie had 39 St Andrew’s Road built for Dawes in about 1924. It was then known as Gardener's Cottage or “Hambledon”, and was smaller than it is today.
The 1921 OS map of Headington (right) shows glasshouses in the north-west corner of the garden.
Massie died in 1925 and his widow in 1933. The house was owned by Sir Michael Sadler until 1943, and it was then requisitioned by the War Office and used by the American army. It was around this time that the walled garden fell into disuse.
In 1947 Ruskin College bought The Rookery, which became known as Ruskin Hall. A prefabricated building used as a children’s nursery was erected at the south end of the walled garden, and a hard tennis court was created at the north end.
Above: The tennis court inside the walled garden in 1985. Note the goal post marked on the wall
Below: The outside of the crinkle crankle wall in June 1997
Left: The sorry state of the walled garden when Google Earth photographed it from the air in about 2006. The children’s nursery can be seen at the south end
View Larger Google Earth Map
Below: The inside of the garden on 30 May 2010, showing the site of the former tennis court
Abandoned plan to build inside the walled garden
Ruskin was granted planning permission (with conditions) by the North-East Area Committee on 17 June 2008 (07/02867/FUL) to remove the temporary building housing the children’s nursery plus other structures within the walled garden, and to erect a free-standing dining hall, together with hard and soft landscaping works and an ornamental pond. This idea was later abandoned.
The restoration of the walled garden
In 2009 Ruskin had the walls of the garden restored at a cost of £400,000. The nursery and tennis court were removed, and terraced levels re-created. The picture below shows the inside of the crinkle crankle wall on 9 May 2011, when work on the ground was underway:
By that date the terraces were starting to take shape:
Local people took on ten half-strips of land in the walled garden to grow their own vegetables, and they and others are working on the communal areas. The photograph below was taken on 25 August 2011, just before the volunteer gardeners got to work: