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.
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.
The crinkle crankle north wall.
The inscription beside the southern entrance.
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
SP 54312 07847