March 2024 meeting: Rose Hill – an Oxford suburb of surprising contrasts and great historical interest

Our speaker, Liz Woolley, began her talk by pointing out that Rose Hill is often thought of as a modern settlement but in fact the area had been occupied throughout the centuries. During the development of the northern part of the estate in 1935, Iron Age ditches and two Roman pottery kilns were discovered. Later in medieval times, this area was mainly surrounded by fields and some forest existed to the south known as ‘The Grove’ (mentioned in the Doomsday Book) and a few oak trees from this grove still survive.

In the 18th century, Rose Hill was a small hamlet between the villages of Iffley and Cowley on the road to London. It was noted as a desirable place to live based on its elevated location overlooking the city of Oxford. In the 19th century, it gained a Methodist Chapel and by this time the ‘King of Prussia’ public house was well established. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Rose Hill Cemetery opened.

In the 20th century after the First World War, there was a clear need for houses in the local area, but the City Council had always been reluctant to get involved in providing housing. This reluctance was overcome by the 1930 Greenwood Act, which empowered local authorities to identify and clear slum areas and replace poor housing with new builds. The growing car industry in Oxford also created a large demand for cheap housing for the working population and, by 1931, there were over 5,000 applications on the City Council’s register for housing.

The City Council responded by building council houses at numerous locations including Rose Hill. The Planning Office took considerable care over the design to ensure the estate had a sensible housing density and pleasant open spaces so that the houses got enough sunlight, as well as the estate having a uniformity of design. The first estate of 145 houses was completed in 1935, while the second part of the estate was mostly finished four years later. The final part of the development of the Rose Hill estate took place after the Second World War when most of the houses were prefabricated due to a shortage of labour and skills in the post-war period.

Today the estate features a primary school, a community centre, allotments and, nearby, the Rivermead Nature Park. It has changed much since its original inception, but still enjoys many of the open spaces and green communal areas established during its development. You can find out more about Rose Hill through the Oxford Preservation Trust’s website, including a historical walk around the area.