Origins of the hospitals of Headington
Headington has numerous hospitals within the same square mile. The old local saying “Down in Oxford the air’s like stale beer; up in Headington it’s pure champagne” gives one reason why Headington initially proved a magnet for hospitals. Here is a brief history of the main hospitals, in the order of their date of foundation.
Warneford Hospital (1826)
The Radcliffe Infirmary opened in 1770 on a five-acre site on the road to Woodstock, in a rural setting well outside the city boundary. But when there was a proposal in the 1812 to build a sister institution, the Oxford Lunatic Asylum, there were problems in finding a suitable site in the area around the Infirmary. The asylum eventually opened in 1826 on a site in the countryside off Old Road, where land was cheaper. Later renamed the Warneford after a major benefactor, the asylum aimed to recreate the atmosphere of a gentleman’s country house. Thus Headington acquired its first hospital.
Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre (from 1872)
The relocation of Oxford University Press in Walton Street in 1830 led to the development of Jericho, whose tightly-packed terraced houses doubtless produced plenty of smoke. So when Mrs Hannah Wingfield gave £1500 in memory of her husband for a convalescent home for the patients of the Radcliffe Infirmary, the original site no longer provided the fresh air deemed necessary for recovering patients, which probably explains why in 1872 the Wingfield Convalescent Home was built in Headington, on an isolated plot on the corner of Old Road and Windmill Road. In 1914 it was converted into a twenty-bed military hospital, and in 1918 the commandant of the hospital, Miss K. J. D. Feilden of High Wall, Pullen’s Lane, paid for additional buildings, and the site became the 100-bed Wingfield Hospital. The work of Gathorne Girdlestone led to its development as a specialist orthopaedic hospital, and in 1931 (after a gift of £70,000 from the then Sir William Morris) it was renamed the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital. The name was updated in 1950 to the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital.
John Radcliffe Hospital (from 1927)
In 1919 Headington Manor House was sold with its remnant of 75 acres of land to the Treasurer of the Radcliffe Infirmary (the Revd R. B. Cronshaw), especially to develop tuberculosis facilities. The British Red Cross Society gave £15,000 (left over from wartime appeals) towards the cost of the land, and the Osler Pavilion (named after Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine from 1904 to 1919) was opened in 1927.
In 1930 the convalescent home in Hollow Way known as Sunnyside, together with its estate of 50 acres, was sold, and a new 30-bed convalescent home called Sunnyside (below) was built in the grounds of the Headington Manor House. In 1954 it was combined with the Osler Pavilion to form the Osler Hospital, and it closed in 1969.
The hospital now only occupies about half of the original land, as the governors were forced by financial worries to sell off adjoining chunks for building.
It was not until 1963 that serious planning for developing the site began, and in 1971 Phase I (a maternity unit with 180 beds and cots) opened. Phase II (the main hospital) cost £30m to build and opened in 1979.
The third phase was completed in January 2007, when the last departments in the original Radcliffe Infirmary closed and the West Wing and the Oxford Children's Hospital opened on the JR site.
Park Hospital for Children (1936)
When the grand mansion Highfield Park off Old Road and its 28 acre estate came up for sale in 1933, its then next-door neighbour, the Warneford, bought the house and its 28 acres for £18,000, and in 1936 it opened as a convalescent villa for 16 women. In 1939 Highfield House was converted and became the Park Hospital for Functional Nervous Disorders with 26 beds; in 1958 it became a children’s psychiatric hospital; and since 1986 it has been a general children’s hospital, incorporating the National Centre for Children with Epilepsy.
It has always been part of the same administration as the Warneford Hospital, and is now Boundary Brook House.
Churchill Hospital (from 1940)
Named after the then Prime Minister, the Churchill opened as an Emergency Medical Services Hospital in 1940. In 1942 it was taken over by the US Medical Services, and at the end of the war it was placed under the administration of the Management Committee of the Radcliffe Infirmary.
A member of the Women’s Institute wrote: “Standing by the Wingfield roundabout at the junction of Windmill Road, The Slade and Old Road in Headington, we threw cigarettes and magazines to the lorry loads of wounded soldiers and airmen as they were brought to the Churchill Hospital. The hospital was used by the Americans during the war, and as a Girls’ Training Corps cadet in my spare time, we were asked to visit the wounded and put flowers on their lockers beside their beds.”
Both of these began life in north Oxford, but followed the John Radcliffe Hospital to Headington.
The Manor Hospital (formerly the Acland) moved to the Manor Ground site from the Banbury Road in 2003.
St Luke’s Hospital moved from Linton Road to Latimer Road in 1982. McMaster House is also run by the St Luke's Housing Society Ltd.
Right: Grave of Ian McMaster in Holywell Cemetery