Note: Many thanks to local historian Kerstin Jeapes, who supplied useful information about Henry Hatch, and N. Chadwick, whose photograph of Wykeham House was first posted on the Geograph website, and can be reused on the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons licence. It has been slightly modified here for perspective.

North Oxford is a very pleasant part of Oxford, with much of its housing dating from Victorian times. It is defined as the area "from St Giles's Church in the south almost to Summertown in the north" (Hinchcliffe 1), and was originally farmland belonging to St John's College, Oxford. The housing developments there is of special interest. They were carried out by some important architects, including Charles Buckeridge, who had studied under George Gilbert Scott, and John Gibbs, who had designed the famous Banbury Cross, and was considered at the time "an architect of considerable eminence" (qtd. in Dodgson). In some ways this housing is representative of the kind of provision being made for the growing middle classes in the second half of the nineteenth century; but it is not completely typical. It is well laid out, having been "conceived and developed as a picturesque villa estate" (Hinchcliffe 90), and much thought went into the design of houses built for individual clients. Fortunately, it has not lost its character over the years. Being very close to the town centre rather than on its outskirts, and bounded by the River Cherwell to the east and the Oxford Canal to the west, it has neither sprawled nor become prey to large-scale redevelopment.

A semi-detached house in Norham Gardens, North Oxford (click on the image for more information).

The house featured here is a substantial semi-detached family house at the east end of Norham Gardens. It is rather typical of the domestic architecture here. The architect was a local man by the name of George Shirley, working for the secretary and surveyor of the Oxford Building and Investment Company, John Galpin. The same partnership accounted for several houses on this north side of the same road, all of which were built by a contractor called John Dover. It may not be one of the more architecturally distinctive residences, but it has its own interest, since it was intended to meet the general residential requirements of the time. As described elsewhere, behind the warm yellow-brick frontage were all the appurtenances of a spacious family home, spread over three floors, with a basement below. The large entrance hall gave access to the dining room, drawing room, morning room, lounge, library, and, upstairs several bedrooms and a nursery. The basement was, of course, the province of the household staff, with a large kitchen and a separate utility room. Live-in staff, including at least a cook and parlour-maid, would have their own quarters at the very top of the house. Middle-class Victorians could live very comfortably indeed in such a house.

But how many well-heeled middle-class Victorians were there? In the period 1873-76 John Dover, the contractor himself, appears as first leaseholder of four of the other properties for which he was responsible, indicating either that the building work was still in process then, or, more likely perhaps, that the leases had not yet been sold on. After all, in 1876, the leases on houses like this went for something over £1000 (Hinchcliffe 55), and Judith Flanders estimates that the "prosperous middle classes" only had an income of £200-£300 per annum (309).

Wykeham House on Banbury Road, North Oxford © N. Chadwick.

Among those who had enough funds to acquire a lease in this desirable area was Henry Hatch, listed as the first lessee of Wykeham House, in nearby Banbury Road (no. 56). This was built by Gibbs in 1865-66. It is a more impressive-looking home, more obviously and indeed strikingly Gothic, detached, and with arched windows, a tower, and a turret complete with a statue of William of Wykeham towards the top. Hatch was not an academic. Hatch's occupation was that of draper; a local independent tradesman, he is also described by Hinchcliffe as a bootmaker and theatre proprietor (211, 104). From another source we learn that he had become a "councillor for the Central Ward in 1859" (Dodgson 58). But Hatch, despite having had the property built for him, did not live in it himself. The house was first let to a Mrs Harrington, then, in 1872, to Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, who stayed there throughout his undergraduate time in Oxford until 1876 (see Dodgson 58). Hatch gave up the lease in in 1880, and from the following year Wykeham House became the home of an academic (the distinguished entomologist and future Hope Professor of Zoology, E. B. Poulton) and his wife Emily (see Carpenter).

Buyers like Hatch were "courted by speculative builders who built suburban homes on the fringes of most cities" (Crowley 109), but the take-up was limited. Galpin's joint-stock company, for example, was soon in trouble. In the end, early in 1883, there was a run on it, and at one point an effigy of Galpin was carried through the streets by investors who had lost their savings (Hinchcliffe 63). The company had to be wound up. This illustrates the dangers of speculation in this era. Oxford presented particular problems. With its generally ill-paid dons (as Jenny Wolfe has discovered, Lewis Carroll was often in the red), not to mention its tradition of celibacy for its fellows, speculative building was especially risky.

However, once the university's celibacy requirement was lifted, a gradual process which took place during the 70s and 80s, more academics did marry and move out of college accommodation into North Oxford. By all accounts, people like the Poultons lived rather enviable lives there. More prospective residents also came into the area as the business side of college life expanded, into the field of publishing, for example. According to the listing text, the Grade II listed Wykeham House is now used by Oxford University Careers Service.

Nowadays, Oxford colleges with premises already in the area, and private teaching enterprises such as English language schools, have created another kind of market for some of the bigger houses here (see Hinchcliffe 211), whether for student residences or teaching purposes. Unfortunately, institutional use has meant some significant modifications to the original buildings. According to the City Council, an example here is Gunfield in Norham Garden (see Appendix I, p. 53), which is now used by St Edmund Hall. But substantial properties in North Oxford are also much sought after by affluent London commuters.

Who lived in the house in Norham Gardens when it was first built?


Carpenter, G. D. H. "Poulton, Sir Edward Bagnall (1856–1943), zoologist." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 22 July 2020.

Crowley, David. Introduction to Victorian Style. Royston: Eagle Editions, 1998.

Dodgson, E.O. "Notes on Nos. 56, 58, 60, 62 and 64 Banbury Road." Web. 22 July 2020.

Flanders, Judith. The Victorian House. London: HarperCollins, 2003.

Hinchcliffe, Tanis. North Oxford. London & New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Oxford City Council. "North Oxford — Victorian Suburb" (Conservation Area Appraisal, downloadable from Council at time of writing). Web. 22 July 2020.

"Wykeham House." Historic England. Web. 22 July 2020.

Last modified 22 July 2020