Headington history

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The significance of Bullingdon

The Bullingdon Hundred originated in Saxon times. The Domesday Book of 1086 records here that two Hundreds were attached to the royal manor of Headington (“duorum HUNDREDORUM soca pertinentes huic manerio”). One of these Hundreds was Bullingdon, and Headington sat right in the middle of it. (The second hundred over which Headington had jurisdiction in the eleventh century was Soterlawa – later the Northgate Hundred.) The Bullingdon Hundred remained in the hands of those who held the Manor of Headington until 1803 when Henry Mayne Whorwood conveyed it to Elisha Biscoe of Holton Park.

The Bullingdon Hundred survived for well over 800 years. Even as late as 1916, Kelly's Directory described Headington as being in the “hundred and petty sessional division of Bullingdon”, and other villages such as Elsfield, Forest Hill, Horspath, Iffley, Marston, Sandford-upon-Thames, Wood Eaton and Middle, Temple, and Church Cowley have the same description. Headington continued to be described as being in the Bullingdon Hundred until 1930.

The Bullingdon Hundred was named after “Bula's Valley” or “bull valley”, which lies on the borders of Headington and Cowley. The name of the hundred has been variously spelt over the years, for example Bulesden (1179–1191) and Bulindena (1231). In 1240 the hundred of “Boledona” was described as being held on the “sheepfold of Cowley”. By the thirteenth century it was spelt Bulandene, and It is thought this was corrupted to Bullingdon Green (see below). As the so-called “green” was over a hundred acres in size, this is plausible.

Brasenose Farm was also known as Bullingdon Farm. Its farmhouse still survives on the opposite side of the eastern bypass to Aldi.

In 1930 Bulan Road and Dene Road in Headington were so named because they lie in the heart of “Bulandene” Valley, and the Bullingdon Community Centre is also very appropriately named. The Lye Valley was known as the Bullingdon Bog. Outside Headington, there are at least two more examples of places within the Bullingdon Hundred that appear to have taken its name: when Bullingdon Road in east Oxford was built in 1862 that area still lay within Cowley, and Bullingdon Prison is situated to the north of the hundred in Arncott.

The map below dates from 1605 and shows the “Bullington Hundred”, a large area to the east of the River Cherwell with “Heddendon” near its centre. (This remained the extent of the hundred until the nineteenth century, when the north end was removed: see below.)

Bullingdon Hundred in 1605

The Bullingdon Hundred over which Headington presided included the following villages:

Albury (with Tiddington)


Baldon, Marsh & Toot



Cuddesdon (inc. Denton & Chippinghurst,  Wheatley & Littleworth, and Old Wheatley & Coombe)


Forest Hill









Nuneham Courtenay


St Clement's‡



Stanton St John




* Cowley then stretched westwards to Cowley Place

† Littlemore lay partly in the Bullingdon Hundred and partly in the Liberties of Oxford

‡ St Clement's lay east of the River Cherwell and was outside the City of Oxford until 1835

Each volume of the Victoria County History covers one of the hundreds of Oxfordshire, and the Bullingdon Hundred is dealt with in Volume V. Here on the opening page of the online version there is a useful map showing the extent of this Hundred and a description of its boundaries.

On older maps of Oxford you will see the word BULLINGDON stretching over most of what is now the east of the city and the surrounding countryside, marking the Hundred.

The following extract from Jackson's Oxford Journal of 20 September 1834 concerning the revision of voters' lists shows that the Bullingdon Hundred was then divided into a North and South Division, with the far-flung villages of Ambrosden, Merton, Piddington, Arncott, and Blackthorn excluded: these were lumped in with the villages of the Ploughley Hundred, whose lists of voters were dealt with at the Kings Arms in Bicester rather than the Town Hall in Oxford:

JOJ & Sep 1834

This extract from Jackson's Oxford Journal of 5 October 1861 shows that the list of voters of the Bullingdon Hundred, including Headington, was now being revised at County Hall in Oxford:

JOJ 5 Oct 1861

The phrase “Bullingdon Hundred” even appears in the formal address of areas of Headington. Here when an application was made to the Quarter Sessions to stop up a footpath leading from Quarry to Shotover, the notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 27 September 1862 described the footpath as being “in the District Chapelry of Headington Quarry, in the Parish of Headington, in the Hundred of Bullingdon, in the county of Oxford”.

JOJ 27 Sep 1862

The end of the Bullingdon Hundred

Headington had an urban district council from 1927 to 1929, but was still described in Kelly's Directory as being in the Bullingdon Hundred. In 1929 it became a suburb under the jurisdiction of Oxford City Council, and Headington Urban District Council was abolished in a County Review Order of 1932.

The old name Bullingdon was used from 1932 for the Bullingdon Rural District Council (although this covered places to the east that had never been in the Bullingdon Hundred): this was formed under a County Review Order as a merger of Culham Rural District, Thame Rural District, part of Crowmarsh Rural District, part of Headington Rural District, and part of Henley Rural District. Hence if you want to find C. S. Lewis at The Kilns, for example, in the 1939 Register, you have to look under the Bullingdon R.D.

Bullingdon Rural District Council was abolished in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972 and now forms part of the South Oxfordshire district.

The name survives in the Bullingdon Arms pub at 162 Cowley Road, and the Marsh Harrier at 40 Marsh Road was also originally called the Bullingdon Arms. (In the 1880s there was another pub called the Bullingdon Castle on Barracks Lane (near the present William Morris Close.)

Bullingdon Green, the Cricket Club there, and the infamous Bullingdon Club

Bullingdon Green was a large common pasture measuring about a hundred acres stretching from Headington to Horspath and Cowley. It included what is now the eastern part of the Oxford (formerly Southfield) golf course between the Boundary Brook and Hollow Way and the flat land further east again towards Horspath. The Court of the Bullingdon Hundred met here, probably somewhere near the point where Cowley meets Horspath.

Thomas Crosfield, Fellow of The Queen's College, wrote in his diary on 7 June 1626, “Training & appearing of horsemens furniture at Bullington Greene”, and on 22 July 1629, “Training of souldiers at Bullington Greene”.

In May 1644 Charles I stood at the top of Magdalen Tower and watched the troops of the Earl of Essex on Bullingdon Green.

By the eighteenth century it had become a popular place for the people of Oxford to visit for cricket and horse-riding. James Woodforde wrote in his diary on 9 June 1763:

Took a ride this evening with Cotton to Bullington Green, to see a Match at Crickett, between some Milton Men and some Gownsmen, Eleven on a side. It was not decided this afternoon, but will be next Thursday. N.B. The Gownsmen had beat the MIlton Men before at Milton.

Then on 22 January 1776 he mentions Bullingdon Green again:

Captain Williams & myself took a Walk this morn' before Breakfast to Shotover Hill to the very Top of it and back again by a little after ten. Gave a poor little & almost naked Girl whom we met in our going to the Hill on Bullingdon Green 0: 0: 6.

This 1777 map showing the land owned by Christ Church in Cowley parish has “Bullington Green” clearly defined.

These images from PictureOxon show the Green in the nineteenth century(can be very slow to load):

The Bullingdon Club began life in 1780 as a cricket club on Bullingdon Green, from which it took its name. G.V. Cox in Reminiscences of Oxford writes under the year 1805:

The game of cricket was kept up chiefly by the young men from Winchester and Eton, and was confined to the old Bullingdon Club, which was expensive and exclusive…. The members of it, however, with the exception of a few who kept horses, did not mind walking to and fro: there were no cabs, no char-a-bancs, no 'drags' in those simple days!

This notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 28 September 1805, however, suggests that people from Oxford unofficially playing cricket on either Bullingdon Green or Cowley Marsh commons would be prosecuted:


WHEREAS several Persons from Oxford, and other Places, do make a Practice of playing at CRICKET and other GAMES, to the great Detriment of the Commons of Bullingdon Green, Cowley Marsh, &c. This is therefore to give Notice, that whoever shall hereafter be found trespassing upon the said Commons, without first obtaining Leave of Us, whose Names are hereunder written, for and in Behalf of the other Commoners of Cowley, or making Agreement or Satisfaction for the same, will be prosecuted to the utmost Rigour of the Law.


The first recorded match on the Bullingdon Green cricket ground took place in 1843, when the University of Oxford played the Marylebone Cricket Club. Cricket fixtures continued there until 1879, but from 1851 onwards the Oxford v Cambridge cricket match took place at Lords instead.

In about 1840 William Turner of Oxford painted this View looking over Cowley Marsh from Bullingdon Green, near Oxford. Ian Waites in his book Common Land in English Painting, 1700–1850 writes: “He would have painted Bullingdon Green near Cowley in the knowledge that this uncultivated piece of rough common grazing land was also the site of the court of Bullingdon Hundred in the Middle Ages.”

Horspath was enclosed in 1835, but Cowley was not enclosed until 1849, and much of Bullingdon Green remained common land after that date. In the nineteenth century Brasenose Farm was often known as Bullingdon Green Farm.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century two turf mazes were cut into the grass of Bullingdon Green.

On 6 May 1860 The Era reported that the Bullingdon Club had opened its cricket season on Bullingdon Green (“which the late Mr Lillywhite and others professional described as the best ground they had ever played on”, and that the Price of Wales (later Edward VII) was a member of the club.

When in 1876 Cowley Barracks were built on the enclosed land that used to be part of Bullingdon Green, they were originally named Bullingdon Barracks. The Bullingdon Club had to move, and on 20 May 1876 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported that their new cricket ground was near New Headington.

The importance of the Bullingdon as a sports club began to decline, and by the 1880s it was the most exclusive social club in Oxford. It was composed of members of Christ Church, Merton, and Brasenose, with the club evening dress consisting of blue coat and brass buttons, blue trousers, and white waistcoats, with white Derby hats with blue and white bands in summer. Its dinners were often accompanied by destructive behaviour on Christ Church property. This article in The Burlington Free Press of 1 July 1887 shows that its reputation had already spread to Vermont:

Burlington Free Press 1887

On 14 May 1894 the Derby Daily Telegraph reported on the destruction of 458 window panes in Peckwater Quad:

Derby Daily Telegreaph 1894

All fifteen members of the Bullingdon Club were sent down as a result of this destruction.

At about this time Vincent's took over as the club for sporty undergraduates.

The extract below from the 1900 Ordnance Survey map shows a small area south of the Open Brasenose marked as Bullingdon Green.

Bullingdon Green in 1900

In 1928/9 the Bullingdon area was taken into the City of Oxford, which built the Bullingdon Field estate on land it had purchased from Pembroke College.

The photograph below (Historic England EPW022539) shows the Bulan Road estate looking south from the air on 11 August 1928 when it was nearly complete. The Slade is on the left, and Hollow Way (with the Barracks) runs off to the right.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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