Historical context

The house, originally named The Rookery, was built by the Finch family around 1660 and occupied by them until 1858. Subsequently the property had several owners, and at times many gardeners, until requisitioned by the War Office in the 1940s. Ruskin College bought the property in 1947, when it became known as Ruskin Hall and was used originally a hostel. The college initially occupied buildings in the city centre, but relocated to Ruskin Hall in Old Headington in 2012, becoming the college’s primary location.

Walled Kitchen Garden

The walled garden was created in the 18th century by the Finch family and it was productive until the 1940s. The 0.15 ha garden is square with a crinkle crankle (zigzag) wall to the north comprising straight, angled sections. The north, east and west walls are stone built although the north wall has a brick lining to the inside and stone quoins at the angles of these walls. The crinkle crankles on this south facing wall maximise the surface area exposed to the sun, whilst the brick lining provides extra warmth for fruit growing.

Beside the southern entrance to the walled garden is an inscription reading: D+W / M+N / F W×M / 1733. The last part might refer to William and Mary Finch, who married in 1696 and would have inherited the Rookery from William’s father Abraham in about 1733; but it is thought that these stones were moved from elsewhere on The Rookery site.

The 1st edn (1880s) OS map shows buildings and conceivably glasshouses attached to the outer east wall, within an area that seems to become a slip in the 20th century. Other glasshouses appear here and within the walled garden in the early 20th century, but these all disappear by 1950. In 2009, the College restored the walls and re-created terraced levels running east-west across the garden, which then became known as the Chris Wilkes Garden dedicated to a former Ruskin principal. Local residents and college staff and students formed the ‘Ruskin Crinkle Crankle Club’ (RCCC) to work the garden communally. The garden was formally handed over to the RCCC in August 2011.

Current use

The walled garden is now divided into communal areas and allotments and is managed by local volunteers (RCCC). It is planted with trained fruit trees, an apple walkway, fruit bushes and vegetables.

Special features

The crinkle crankle north wall.

The inscription beside the southern entrance.

Designation status

The crinkle crankle walls of the kitchen garden, and also the house, are both listed Grade II by Historic England as being of special architectural or historic interest: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1047296

Degree of completeness

The walls are extant but the glasshouses and other features do not survive.

Ownership and access

Within the grounds of Ruskin College and managed communally by local volunteers (RCCC).

Open occasionally for the National Garden Scheme.

Sources of information

Ruskin College – Chris Wilkes’ Garden



Unpublished site survey undertaken by Oxford Gardens Trust volunteers, 2013.

Name of district

City of Oxford

Grid reference

SP 54312 07847

Arrival 27th July 1921

The Botanic Gardens

Magdalen College

The bike ride from Woodstock to Oxford would have been along the same road as today but a much quieter road. The 1921 [Oxford and District special edition one inch map] shows the road  passing by Yarnton, over the Oxford Canal, through Peartree Hill, past Upper Wolvercote and down the Woodstock Road. As Loyal and Sam arrived in Oxford on the afternoon of the 27th July, it was possibly quite a leisurely ride.

The following day they manage to squeeze in visits to the Botanic Gardens, Magdalen College, a glimpse of Merton, lunch at the University Museum, a flash past Wadham, St John’s College, the Bodleian (Duke Humphrey’s), the Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College.

In the Botanic Gardens Loyal was able to identify a tree that he had been unable to at Blenheim – (possibly) the ‘Cypress’ planted by ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The specimen he recognised at the Botanic Gardens was a Taxodium disticheum – the cypress that Loyal may have been familiar with from the swampy south eastern States of America.  The tree planted in 1840 was unfortunately severely damaged by a freak gust of wind and the top snapped off.  It had to be felled in 1995.  To celebrate the 400 anniversary of the gardens (2021) it has been decided to plant a Taxodium very close to the original spot where the first tree grew.

Just over the road at Magdalen College, Loyal was greatly impressed with the ‘most beautiful tower  . . .but the finest thing there is the meadow with the deer, the walk along the Cherwell and best of all Addison’s walk with the beautiful trees overhanging’