Headington history: Listed Buildings/Structures

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Warneford Hospital, Warneford Lane

Front of original Warneford Hospital

List entry for main hospital building: 1245464
List entry for chapel: 1245465
List entry for mortuary building: 1245348
List entry for nurses' home: 1245349
List entry for Lodge, front garden area wall, and gate piers: 1245350

The photograph above shows the front of the original 1826 Warneford Asylum, designed by Richard Ingleman. The one below shows the newer 1877 extension by William Wilkinson, which now forms the entrance to the Warneford Hospital

Warneford Hospital

When the Radcliffe Infirmary opened in 1770, its five-acre site off the road to Woodstock was in a rural setting well outside the city boundary. But by 1812, when there was a proposal to build a sister institution, the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum, the area around the Infirmary was already becoming too built up.

At a meeting on 10 March 1819 it was agreed that a ten-acre site in Headington, where land was cheaper as well as more plentiful, would be purchased for a Lunatic Asylum. It was described thus: “The situation is healthy and retired; in Headington South Field, being the first of the new enclosures on the right hand adjoining the old road over Shotover Hill, distant about one mile from Magdalen Bridge.”

Funds had to be raised first, so the foundation stone of the Radcliffe (or Oxford) Lunatic Asylum was laid on 27 August 1821. Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported as follows on 1 September 1821:

The foundation stone of the Oxford Lunatic Asylum was laid on Monday last, by the Bishop, in the presence of the President of Trinity, the acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor, the Provost of Oriel, Sir Joseph Lock, the Proctors, Dr. Williams, Dr. Bourne, Dr. Kidd, and other Gentlemen of the University and City. The Principal of Magdalen Hall … availed himself of the opportunity of observing that such an Institution was peculiarly desirable here, as none had been erected within a day’s journey of Oxford. He also remarked that it had been ascertained by parliamentary returns, that insanity was a much more common malady than was generally supposed. He stated that the erection of such a building had been in contemplation since 1813, but that the deficiency of subscriptions had hitherto prevented the execution of it; and that though the committee had at length ventured to begin it, was in reliance on a liberal support from the public, without whose aid it would be impossible to complete the design. A coronation medal of his Majesty was deposited in the foundation stone, and the Bishop concluded the ceremony with an appropriate and impressive prayer for the divine blessing upon the institution.

We understand that it is the intention of the committee to erect the centre and one wing, but that Mr. W Evans had contracted to complete the whole, if 2000l. additional can be raised. Each of the Proctors made a donation of 5l. and we may expect that in the ensuing Term their example will be followed by many of the Gentlemen of the University. Several of the colleges have subscribed most liberally in their corporate capacity, and 500l. has been granted by vote of Convocation out of the University Chest. The city has also presented to this charity a donation of 300l. The following is the inscription on the foundation stone:–

Edward Lord Bishop of the diocese
laid this first stone
of the Oxford Asylum,
for the reception and cure of the Insane,
on Monday the 27th August, 1821,
in the second year of the reign of George IV.
May Almighty God
incline the hearts of the benevolent
to complete this Institution,
commenced in reliance upon his Providence;
and may He bless the design
by restoring the objects of this Charity
to their friends and to society.

The Asylum opened in 1826, the first of a number of hospitals to move to Headington in search of fresh air and open countryside.

In Jackson's Oxford Journal on 14 June 1828 when Vaughan Thomas appealed for donations to a fund for “the poor curable lunatics of the county of Oxford”, he began by describing the asylum:

It is probably known to most of those whom I have the honour of addressing, that a Lunatic Asylum was opened on Headington Hill, near Oxford, about two years ago—that it was built at an expense of £20,000, voluntarily contributed; that its centre-house is reserved exclusively for patients of superior condition, but that its wings are open to patients from the middling and lower stations of life; and that its whole system is conducted upon a principle of benevolence, and not for the profit of individuals.

It was renamed the Warneford Lunatic Asylum in 1843 after the Revd Samuel W. Warneford, Rector of Bourton-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire (who contributed the huge sum of £70,000 to it over his lifetime).

Warneford Hospital, Leamington


It was not, however, the first hospital to bear Warneford's name: there was another one in Leamington, Warwickshire, as this inscription (right) in the old Radcliffe Infirmary shows

The hospital aimed to recreate the atmosphere of a gentleman’s country house. An 1847 directory states:

On the summit of Headington Hill is the Warneford lunatic asylum, opened in 1826, for the accommodation of lunatics selected from the higher classes of society.

(After 1846 unselected “lunatics” from the lower classes of society went to the Littlemore Asylum. By the 1920s, the terminology had changed: advertisements in Kelly's Directory stated that the Warneford was a hospital for the treatment and care of mental patients belonging to the educated classes.)

More land was purchased, and the grounds of the Warneford Hospital once stretched as far as the present Churchill Hospital.

Most censuses list the inmates of the asylum by their initials only, giving their marital status, sex, age, occupation, and place of birth. The 1871 census lists 58 inmates, ranging in age from 26 to 72, each described as “lunatic”. Of the 29 men, two are clergymen and four are clergymen’s sons; one is a farmer and three are farmer’s sons; and one is a surgeon and two are medical students.

When the patients who had been abandoned by their relations died, they were buried in the parish in which the asylum stood, which until 1849 meant the churchyard of St Andrew’s in Old Headington and from 1849 to 1894 the churchyard of Holy Trinity in Headington Quarry; the latter has at least 113 such burials: see list.

Warneford chapel


Left: The Chapel at the Warneford, begun in 1841 by Thomas Greenshields of Oxford and completed in 1852 by J. M. Derick


Below: The date of 1877 inscribed over the main entrance of the Warneford. A substantial extension (now forming the entrance) was built in two stages (1877 and 1887).

Date on the Warneford


List of staff and initials of patients at the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum in 1841
(PDF file)

Warneford in 1876

Above: the original Warneford in 1876. Below: the Warneford in 1899,
with the 1877 extension to the north-east now forming the main entrance.

1899 map showing Warneford Asylum

In 1889 the municipal borough of Oxford was extended eastwards, bringing the Warneford into the city of Oxford. In 1894 it was taken away from the parish of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry and annexed to the parish of St Clement’s.

In 1907 an electricity substation was built at the Warneford and it was supplied with electricity for the first time.

The meadow to the south-east of this map was purchased later by the Warneford when Southfield Farm was sold in the 1920s.

Warneford advertisement, 1935

The advertisement above, from Kelly’s Directory of Oxfordshire in 1935, shows that the phrase “mental patients belonging to the educated classes” had replaced the “lunatics selected from the higher classes of society” of 88 years before.

More information about the Warneford Hospital is on the Oxfordshire Health Archives site, including lists of records available and some tales from the archives.

Above: the lodge of the Warneford Hospital on Warneford Lane
Below: the chapel and gardens of the Warneford in 1909

© Stephanie Jenkins

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