Radley College (St Peter’s College, Radley)

Historical context

Radley Hall

Radley Hall from the South-East 1789 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D00049

The Radley estate was owned by Abingdon Abbey from the 12th century until the Reformation when it was eventually purchased by the Stonhouse family. Sir John Stonhouse replaced the old manor house with Radley Hall, built by William Townsend in 1721─7. Sir John died in 1768 when his son William inherited the estate. The Stonhouse family occupied the Hall until the 1840s when it was leased as a school. In 1847 Radley College was founded (purchased 1889) since when it has remained a boys’ public boarding and day school, with recent extensive development.

Brown’s influence

In the early 1770s, soon after inheriting the estate, Sir William Stonhouse employed Lancelot Brown for landscaping work. Brown’s only surviving account book and his bank accounts show payments made to him for £600 in 1770─71 and a payment of £72 in 1773. However, it is unclear what these payments were for although early maps and paintings suggest that these may have included the lake, a ha-ha, shelter belts and clumps of trees.

Brown's Account Book

Entry in Brown’s account book showing payment by Stonhouse for work

There was already a lake or fish pond in existence and it seems plausible that Brown may have remodelled this, perhaps also adding the sluice for drainage. Evidence for a ha-ha comes from a painting by William Turner made in 1789 of Radley Hall from the south, which shows a ha-ha curving around the house front. The ha-ha is not visible on Rocque’s map of Berkshire published in 1761 and therefore it may well be a feature that was implemented by Brown. Rocque’s map shows two main double avenues of trees running to the north and to the west. These avenues do not exist in later maps (except the recently replanted west avenue) and it has been suggested that Brown selectively removed trees in order to create his signature clumps of trees. The Ist edn OS (1830s) map shows shelter belts to the west, south-west, and south-east, and again these may have been part of Brown’s design. A few ancient oak trees survive, some over 400 years old. Lime and elm trees were felled in 1970s, of which some were tree ring dated to about 1729. Others were dated to about 1769 so these were possibly Brown plantings.

Current use

Boarding and day school including ornamental lake and private golf course.  Area of the modern grounds is around 800 acres (324 ha).

Special features

Lake and listed buildings

Designation status

The parkland is not included in Historic England’s Register of Parks & Gardens.

Buildings and structures of special architectural or historic interest listed by Historic England are:  Radley Hall (Grade II*), Chapel (Grade II*), dining hall and cloister walks (Grade II), Racquets Court (Grade II), Cloister and upper dormitory, Octagon and schoolroom (Grade II), The Cottage (Grade II), and Memorial Arch (Grade II).

Ownership and access

Private school grounds

Name of district

Vale of White Horse

Grid reference

SU 510 995

Sources of Information

Radley College archives in School Bursary

Drysdale, P., Ford R., Groser, P., Orchard, M., Parkes, A. and K. Williams, The History of Radley, (Radley History Club, 2002)

Stroud, D., Capability Brown (Faber & Faber, 1975), p. 237

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’