Headington history: Schools

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Hunsdon House Garden School

Hunsdon House Garden School was founded in a room in a house in Stephen Road just after the First World War. It moved briefly to a garden room on the site of Sandfield Cottage, and finally to its present premises in Osler Road (then called Manor Road) in the late 1920s.

The founder of the school, Miss Katharine Seymour Woods was born on 17 September 1887 in Oxford, where her father was a Fellow of St John’s College. She was educated at at the Corran Collegiate School in Watford (run by Eleanor Frances Jourdain, who was later to become Principal of St Hugh’s College). When her father was appointed Rector of Bainton near Driffield her family moved up to Yorkshire, but following his death in 1915 she moved back to the area with her widowed mother so that she could become a mature student at the University of Oxford. They lived at Rogate on the London Road, Headington (on the site of the present Iceland shop).

After the First World War Mrs Woods bought a plot of land in the newly built-up Stephen Road in memory of Katharine’s brother, Eric Woods, who had been killed in the war, and had a home built for herself and Katharine (between Nos. 19 and 25) which they named Hunsdon House. This house had a long back garden which stretched all the way to Osler (Manor) Road, which had not yet been built up.

Miss Woods started teaching in the dining room of Hunsdon House in Stephen Road, and when numbers grew to 15, she rented the garden room of Mrs Blackburn of Sandfield Cottage, a large house which occupied the site of the present Horwood Close.

Katharine Woods’s mother died at the age of 69 near the end of 1928, and Katharine inherited her house. She immediately had the present school built in its back garden, and Kelly’s Directory for 1929 has the following listing:

Hunsdon House Garden School (for children under 12)
(Miss K. S. Woods A.R.C.M. principal), Manor Road.

Hunsdon House had windows and doors which could open wide to the south and east, and other nurseries regarded it as a model. In 1931 there were fifteen children at the school, aged between 2 and 8.

In the early 1930s Miss Woods moved from Stephen Road to live on the school site in Osler Road. As well as teaching, she was the author of several books, including The rural industries round Oxford: a survey made on behalf of the Institute for Research in Agricultural Economics, University of Oxford (1921); Rural Crafts of England (1949); Young children and traffic dangers (1952).

The following report appeared in the Oxford Times of 1 June 1934:


Parents and friends gathered at Hunsdon House Garden School, Headington, yesterday, when a new open-air building was opened. Coun. J. R. Benson (chairman of the Education Committee) presided.

Mr. Colin Sharp (headmaster of Abbotsholme School) said the atmosphere of a school should be an extension of the home atmosphere. It should not be an “ordering about” kind of atmosphere. The relationship between people of different ages should not be lost at school by the segregation of children of different ages.

An entertainment was given by the children, who also formed a band of home-made pipes, dulcimers and cymbals.

The Headmistress (Miss K.S. Woods) read a letter from the Secretary of the Education Committee (Mr. A. C. Cameron) in which he said the Committee had resolved that when private schools had been inspected and certified efficient, it would be prepared to record their names in a list of schools as forming part of the education system of the City.

“You are at the moment,” the letter continued, “the only private school of your particular range in Oxford which has had an official report by the Board of Education, and I shall have much pleasure in inscribing you as No. 1 on our list.”

From 1943 until they retired in 1974, the school was owned by Mr & Mrs Archie Utin. They ran it as a pre-prep school until 1965, and then as a nursery school only Archie, who was also an artist and teacher with the Bury Knowle Art Group, died in February 1977.

Mrs Rosemarie Deepwell bought the school in 1973.

Hunsdon House Nursery School is still going strong and now caters for children aged from 2½ to 5. The current Headteacher and Proprietor is H. Angeleri.

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© Stephanie Jenkins

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