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Sandfield Cottage


Sandfield Cottage was actually a large house, sometimes more appropriately named as Sandfield House. Its grounds stretched from the present Dial House at 25 London Road in the west to the Manor Buildings on Osler Road in the east, and from the present Manor Hospital in the north to London Road in the south.

Sandfield Cottage in 1939Map of 1939 showing Sandfield Cottage. To the north are Manor Ground tennis courts and pavilion

The first appearance of Sandfield Cottage in the census is in 1871, when it was occupied by the family of the Oxford dentist Henry James Virgin.

The land attached to Sandfield Cottage was evidently used for farming, as an advertisement in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 9 April 1881 advertised a sale by auction on the premises of Mr Virgin of three fat heifers, a fat calf, a cow and calf, an Alderney cow and calf, two pigs, a basket trap, and a pony trap.

At the time of the 1881 census Virgin, now a widower of 49, was living at Sandfield Cottage with his children Annie (23), Alice (20), Arthur (19), Edith 17), Kate (15), Frank (13), Clara (12), Nina (11), and Hubert (9): they had three servants.

Virgin committed suicide in October 1881, and the house was advertised thus on 14 January 1882:

TO BE LET, “SANDFIELD HOUSE,” Headington, containing six bed rooms, 3 reception rooms, excellent domestic offices, small conservatory, large garden, stabling, and coach-house. Immediate possession. Rent, £50.

It was to be let furnished, but on 1 September 1883 its furniture was advertised for sale by auction:

HEADINGTON, NEAR OXFORD, SANDFIELD HOUSE.
The whole of the excellent HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, comprising brass-mounted bedsteads, beds, bedding, marble-top washstands, chests of drawers, wardrobes, and other bed room appendages, drawing room suite, walnut and other occasional tables, Brussels carpets and rugs, extension dining table, oak dinner wagon, china, glass, kitchen requisites, and other miscellaneous effects.

In 1883 Sandfield Cottage was listed as being occupied by Theodore Henry Ford.

Between 1884 and 1887 it was occupied by Major Augustus Finch Noyes, who in February 1888 at St Andrew's Church married Katherine Woodtten, daughter of the late William Wootten Wootten of Headington House.

In about 1888 Mrs Eckford moved from Hill Top House to this address, and she remained here until about 1896. The 1891 census shows Elinor E. Eckford (41), a widow, living here with her son Ashton Eckford (12), and her sister Mrs Amelia Luard (47) and her son Geoffrey Luard (11), plus two servants.

Mrs Birch at Sandfield Cottage, and the famous meeting there
between her son-in-law Cecil Sharp and William Kimber

By 1898 Sandfield Cottage was occupied by Dora Birch, who was born Dora Hoghton on 12 September 1826 at Bold Hall, Warrington, Lancashire, the daughter of Sir Henry Bold Hoghton. She married Priestley Birch at St George's, Hanover Square on 10 November 1857 and they had six children (Lionel Lea Townley Birch, Mary Caroline Birch, Constance Dorothea Birch, Walter de Houghton Lea Birch, and Alice Amy Birch). Priestley Birch died at Woolston House, near Kingsbridge, Devon on 9 June 1867 at the age of 38, and his effects came to under £600. Mrs Birch was living with her children at Lyme in Dorset in 1871, and at Hastings, Sussex in 1881, and at Clevedon, Somerset in 1891.

In 1893 Mrs Birch's daughter Constance married Cecil Sharp, and when they paid a visit to Mrs Birch at Sandfield Cottage at Christmas 1899, Sharp by chance met William Kimber at this house on Boxing Day, and this led to the English Morris Dance and Folk Music Revival of the early twentieth century. The 1901 census shows Dora Dorothy Birch (74) living here with her daughter Mary Caroline Birch (4), plus one servant. She died at Sandfield Cottage on 10 January 1902, and her effects came to over £15,113, considerably more than her husband had left. She was buried in Headington Cemetery on 14 January 1902 after a funeral service at St Andrew's Church. Her headstone shows that her daughter Alice, the wife of Captain Ravenhill Stock, who died on 21 June 1931 at the age of 65 was later buried with her.

(Kelly's Directory continues to list Mrs Birch at Sandfield Cottage until 1904, presumably because it had not yet been sold)

Mrs Blackburn and her daughter Barbara Woodhouse
at Sandfield Cottage

William Blackburn, the clergyman headmaster of St Columba's College, bought Sandfield Cottage with a view to his retirement, and let it out. The 1911 census shows the jeweller Richard Rouse Sydenham Rowell (29) and his wife Margaret Fletcher Rowell (28) living here with their daughter Helen (3) and two servants. He was listed at the house until 1919, when he moved to Barton End.

William Blackburn died on 18 November 1919, and his widow gave the current tenants a year's notice to leave. She moved into Sandfield Cottage with her children. Her daughter Barbara Blackburn (who was to become famous as the dog-trainer Mrs Barbara Woodhouse) returned home from agricultural college and started the Headington Riding School and Boarding Kennels in its grounds:

Riding School and Boarding Kennels

Mrs Blackburn continued to run the Sandfield Dog Boarding Kennels by herself until about 1960.

Sandfield Cottage was demolished in March 1965 (picture). Its large site is now occupied by the 39 houses of Horwood Close, the service entrance to the Manor Hospital, the Headington telephone exchange, and the petrol station with its shop.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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