Headington history: Streets

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Jack Straw’s Lane

The land lying to the east of the Marston Road was part of Headington until the twentieth century, and was thus in the parish of St Andrew’s Church. Under the Headington Enclosure Award of 1804/5, the Lord of the Manor of Headington acquired Plot 64, which measured 280 acres and included the whole of Jack Straw’s Lane and the brickfields on the Marston Road.

Until well into the twentieth century, the lane had no name, and was originally simply a track at the end of Pullen’s Lane leading to Jack Straw’s Castle.

In 1876, as the extract below from the Ordnance Survey map of that year shows, there were still only three buildings in Jack Straw’s Lane:

  • Jack Straw’s Farmhouse (popularly known as Jack Straw’s Castle) towards the north-west
  • A house that later became known as Hillside to the east of the farm
  • The present 33 Jack Straw’s Lane to the west of the farm.

This map also shows the old clay pit and brickfields to the west of Jack Straw’s Castle. The six brick workers cottages on Marston Road (then known as Marston Lane) are off the map.

Jack Straw's Lane in 1876

In 1898 Cowley House (now a children’s nursery) and the adjoining Cowley Cottage were built on the south side of the lane. The 1899 map below shows there had been no other changes since 1876:

Jack Straw's Lane, 1898

On the 1921 map shown below, the building to the east of the farm is now named as Hillside, and the old brickfields appear to be a nursery garden, but there is no new development. The road still has no official name:

Jack Straw's Lane, 1921

In 1925 the recently retired Principal of Ruskin College, Henry Sanderson Furniss (later 1st Baron Sanderson of Hunmanby), built North End in Jack Straw's Lane.

The 1939 map below shows that by the end of the 1930s, Rushwood and Noyon were built behind the houses to the north. To the south there was Milham Ford School, and six new houses: Carolside, St Michael’s, Bowling Green House, Little Orchard, Field House, and Oakgate.

Jack Straw's Lane, 1939

Jack Straw’s Castle or Farmhouse (later Belle Vue Lodge)

Jack Straw's Castle in 1960
Above: Jack Straw’s Castle in 1960. The photograph was taken by the late
Dick Gray of Jack Straw’s Lane and appears by kind permission of Mrs Val Gray

The eponymous Jack Straw is traditionally supposed to have been a farmer of that name who lived on “Headington Hill” (a term used for all sides of the hill that went up in the Headington direction). The story is that although many highwaymen were caught in this area, their leader was never found. But when Jack Straw died, the cellars beneath his farm kitchen were found to contain rolls of silk, gold, silver, spices, and other valuable goods which had been stolen from travellers and merchants. No one named Straw, however, was buried at St Andrew’s Church.

The Headington ratebook of 1850 shows that Jack Straw’s Castle and farmland were then owned by the Lord of the Manor (William Peppercorn) and leased to John Plowman. As well as the farm, Plowman leased the brickyard on the Marston Road, a total of 129 acres and 38 roods, with a gross estimated rental of £179-13-9 and a rateable value of £167-10-0. Plowman also owned and let out to his workers all six Tilehurst cottages on the Marston Road, and owned another house near the Britannia in central Headington. Although Plowman’s Brickyard is named in the preamble to the 1851 census for Old Headington, Plowman himself is not listed as living in Headington: possibly at this time the farm was in the hands of James Burrows, the farm bailiff listed among the brick makers around the corner. Plowman was a gentleman: in the 1841 census, when he was living in St Peter-in-the-East parish in Oxford, he was described as an architect. He was primarily a brickyard-owner rather than a farmer: in the 1847 directory the firm is listed as Plowman & Luck, brick burners, but simply as John Plowman by 1854.

The 1861 census for Old Headington shows that Jack Straw’s Farm itself then covered 105 acres. John Plowman (54), is now for the first time described as a farmer rather than a brick-burner, and employs five men and one boy. He is also actually living in”Jack Straw’s Castle”, and staying with him is his married daughter Mrs Annie Bickerton (21), who had married Joseph Jones Bickerton, the Town Clerk of Oxford.

The following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 18 May 1866:

Wanted. A Middle-aged Person as servant in a respectable family, who understands plain cooking and can manage a small dairy. Apply to Mr John Plowman, Jack Straw Castle, Headington.

By the time of the 1871 census, the farm had shrunk to 100 acres, and was now being run by John Plowman junior (32). He and his wife Mary Ann had eight children baptised at St Andrew’s Church: Stuart James (1866), Marian and Helen (1867), Rupert Edward (1868), Minnie Grace (1869), Roland Gilbert (1871), Cuthbert Charles (1872), and Edith Annie (1879).

On 15 February 1879 John Plowman junior placed an advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal stating that he was moving to Oxford, and listing all the household items he had for sale, as well as a nearly new seven-horse-power steam engine and thrashing machine. The newspaper of 8 March 1886 it was reported that he had died at Hastings at the age of 48.

From 1879, it appears that the Castle was let out as a private house, and the land farmed separately. The 1881 census describes it as “ ‘Belle Vue Lodge’ (formerly Jack Straw’s Castle”), and it is occupied by an unmarried French lady aged 54 whose name looks like Andrée Maneer and who taught foreign languages, and boarding with her were Elizabeth Behr (65) the wife of Professor Behr, Edith Behr (12) and Louis Behr (4), and an annuitant called Sidney Wright (69), who is listed as female. They have a cook, nursemaid, and housemaid.

By 1889 the house was occupied by George William Thompson Omond, who in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 17 August 1889 was reported as being “of Jack Straw’s Castle, Headington Hill” when it was reported that he was fined 1s and 4s costs for “ineffectual dog muzzling”. In the 1891 census (when this area is listed for the first time under New Marston), Omond is shown as aged 44 and living on his own means, with his wife Alice (41) and children Edith (10), Helen (8), John (6), and Alice (4), plus three female domestic servants: all of them were born in Scotland.

By 1893 and 1894 the Revd Charles Morris, the Vicar of Marston, lived here with his family until his death on 9 July 1899: his brother George swore an affidavit that his home at the time of his death in 1899 was “Belle Vue Lodge, Headington Hill, alias Jack Straws Castle”. (Marston had no vicarage house from this time until 1912, and a later vicar, John Hamilton Mortimer, lived at Red Gables in Headington proper.) It appears that the land of Jack Straw’s Farm was then being farmed by a man named Bishop, as Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 13 October 1894 advertises an auction of hay and straw from “Plowman’s Farm, Marston”, to be sold “by direction of Mr Bishop, who is leaving”.

At the time of the 1901 census, “Jack Straw’s Castle” (as the house was once more named) was occupied by William Cleaver (36), a self-employed surgical bootmaker, his wife Agnes, and his sons Arnold (19, chemist’s apprentice), Herbert (16, insurance clerk), and Hugh (14), and his daughter Alice (17). There is no “trade” listing for the Pullen’s Lane/Jack Straw’s Lane area in directories, so they do not include the Castle during Cleaver’s occupation.

In 1911 all the land to the north and east of Jack Straw’s Lane (including the farm, the brickworks, and the six Tilehurst Cottages on the Marston Road) were offered for sale by auction. In the years leading up to 1911 the farm and brickworks were leased to Mark Carter, who lived at 29 Ferry Road.

From 1926 “Plowman’s Farm” is once again listed in Headington directories, and Arthur Wyatt was then the farmer there. By 1935 the farmer at Plowman’s Farm was Lewis Field.

The site of Jack Straw’s Castle and Hillside is now occupied by the Rectory Homes development at Nos. 35–43.

Doris Field Close was named in 1993 after Doris Field, Lewis Field's daughter, who died in 1988 and founded the Doris Field Charitable Trust. The Doris Field Memorial Park off Jack Straw's Lane was created as a memorial to her mother, Harriet Field.

Cowley House (now Dorothea Beale House)

Cowley House

Cowley House was built in about 1898. It was occupied by Hugh Hall, M.A., F.G.S. from 1899 to 1902, but only his cook, parlourmaid, and housemaid were at home at the time of the 1901 census. Mrs Valpy lived here from 1903 to 1907, and Miss Michaelson from 1909 to after 1929. She was accompanied by Mrs Cuthbert Eccles between 1910 and 1926, and it was Miss Eccles who signed the 1911 census form, but only their visitors were in the house on census night.

In 1936 Oxford’s Youth Hostel opened here. It moved into purpose-built accommodation near the railway station in 2001.

In 2001 Bryant Homes’ plan to demolish the building and replace it with flats was rejected. In 2002 St Hilda’s College hoped to turn the building into flats, but eventually they converted it into their college nursery (run by Kids Unlimited). It was rechristened Dorothea Beale House after one of the college’s two founders, and its address is now 32B Jack Straw’s Lane.

Field House

Field House in 2010

Field House, to the right of Dorothea Beale House, was built in about 1930. It was designed by the architect Herbert Luck North (1871–1941), who had formerly been an assistant to Sir Edwin Lutyens.


This house is shown on the 1876 map of Headington, when it appears to have been part of Jack Straw’s Farm. It is not listed in directories until 1909, when it is occupied by Henry Habberley Price. He was succeeded by his son of the same name (born in 1899), who was Wykeham Professor of Logic: he lived here until his death in 1984.

The house was later numbered 69 Jack Straw’s Lane, and the photograph of it below was taken by David Turner of Jack Straw’s Lane in about 1970.


Milham Ford School

The new Milham Ford School, which opened in 1938, was built on a 16-acre site between Jack Straw’s Lane and Harberton Mead. It became a maintained grammar school for girls in 1944, and a single-sex girls’ comprehensive in 1974. In 1985 it had about 750 pupils.

The school was closed in 2003 and was sold to help fund the city’s re-organisation programme from a three-tier to a two-tier system of education. In 2004 the School of Health Care of Oxford Brookes University took over the building. The green area between the school (now Brookes) buildings and the Marston Road has been kept as a nature reserve, known as Milham Ford Park.

In 1997 Dorset House merged with the School of Health Care Studies of Oxford Brookes University, forming the new School of Health Care. and in 2004 this took over the former Milham Ford School.

Church of St Michael and All Angels

This church was built in 1954/6 to replace the mission church in Ferry Road that had served New Marston since 1911. It was designed by Laurence Dale and built by Kingerlee & Sons. There is a statue of St Michael inside by Michael Groser of Kirtlington. The ground for the new vicarage in Jack Straw’s Lane was bought in 1952, but building did not take place until 1966/7.

Kelly’s Directory: Jack Straw’s Lane

North side: from Marston Road to Staunton Road

Name of house





Norman Hewlett


[Presumably old brickworks]

M. Carter & Son,
coal merchants



T. R. Johnson (Oxford) Ltd, builders & sanitary engineers

9 (Hailbury)

Fred Hughes

31 (Corallian) [now Doris Field Close]

Francis P. Insley, B.A.

33 (Sunnyside)

William C. Bown

35 (Wayside)

George H. Matthews

Plowman’s Farm

Lewis Field, farmer


Harry Seaward

Cyril William Carter,
Fellow, Queen’s College


Cyril William Carter, M.A., B.M.
Fellow, Tutor & Praelector in Physiology, Queen’s


John E.

Leslie C. Mein



Alfred Edward Armour, M.A.

Josep Trueta, M.D., D.S.C.

St Mary’s

Arnold J. Forster, M.B.E.,
M.A., Fellow & Estates Bursar, Magdalen


Col. Frederick Stewart Keen, C.B., D.S.O.

Arthur James Oak


Henry Habberley Price sen.
Henry Habberley Price jun., B.Sc., M.A., F.B.A.,
Fellow & Wykeham Professor of Logic, New College

South side: from Marston Road to Staunton Road

Name of house




2 (Westview)

Robert R. Willis

12 (Leopolis)

L. Wielochowski

18 (Minchenden)

Peter Holmes

20 (Carolside)

Arthur Godfrey Jenkinson

22 (St Michael’s)

Revd Canon Edward John Walford D.D.

24 (Bowling Green House)

Sir John Fischer Williams, C.B.E., K.C., J.P.

Lady Williams

26 (Little Orchard)

Lt.-Col. Charles
F.G. Low

William John
Anderson, C.B.E.

William Smalley Holden,
Physician & Surgeon

28 (Field House)

Henry A. Smith, J.P.

Herbert Patrick Victor
Townend, C.I.E.

32 (Cowley House)

Not listed:
presumably vacant

Youth Hostels Association

East side (from Staunton Road to Pullen’s Lane)

Name of house




103 (Battledown)

William Edward C. Offer

105 (White Wings)

William F. G. Turnbull

107 (High Gables)

William H. Beckett, M.A.

109 (Littlecroft)

Cyril W. Moon

Philip T. Burton

113 (Cotswold)*

John Allen

115 (Larch Bank)

James E. Busfield

44 (North End)

Mrs J. L. Lewis

West side (from Staunton Road to Pullens Lane)






40 (Cowley House cottage)

[Stables/coach house
to Cowley House: not listed]

Lewis Field

42 (Oak Gate or Oakgate)

Lewis Field

Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, Professor of Social Anthropology


Mrs R. P. Hayes
(Howard House)

Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
(The Ark)

Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard

(Howard’s House)

* When Jack Straw’s Lane was first allocated numbers in c.1955, Cotswold was 111; but in 1956 Ronald George May (who ran a hardware shop in St Clements and May’s Carpets on the Cowley Road) built a new house between Littlecroft and Cotswold and his new house was given the number 111, and Cotswold was renumbered as 113.

See also:
  • 1861 census for Old Headington
  • 1871 census for Old Headington
  • 1881 census for New Headington: RG11/1496/77
  • 1891 census for New Marston: RG12/1163/038
  • The Changing Faces of Marston, Book 1, pp 87–90 (details of 1911 sale catalogue, including picture of Jack Straw’s Farm and a map)
  • Will of John Plowman the elder, gent. Oxford 1844, Oxfordshire History Centre W.Bd. (2) Ren. 103.283, 109.160; 237/2/13; 246

© Stephanie Jenkins

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