The pleasure grounds of a suburban development laid out in the mid C19 by Samuel Lipscombe Seckham, with landscaping by William Baxter snr, formerly Superintendent of the Oxford Botanic Garden (qv).
The land for the Park Town development was purchased c 1853 by the City Architect and Surveyor from the Guardians of the Oxford Poor, who had in turn bought it from New College (qv), the owners since the C15. Preceding the major development of the Victorian suburb of North Oxford by at least a decade, the proposed residential estate of Park Town offered all the advantages of a situation in the country, combined with the comfort and security of the town. The young local architect Samuel Lipscombe Seckham (1827-1900) designed the villas and terraces, built between 1853 and 1857, which, in an early example of mixed social planning, provided for several income groups in the 'middling classes'. His plans for the development, dated 1854, show the Centre Garden in its basic form. William Baxter snr (1788-1871), former Curator of Oxford Botanic Garden and author of British Phaenogamous Plants (1834-43), was appointed in 1854 to lay out the three ornamental pleasure grounds which were well stocked with trees and flowering shrubs. The area remains (1998) a facility for the use of the surrounding residents.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Park Town lies 1.5km north of the centre of Oxford, east of the Banbury Road which forms the west boundary. The c 1ha site is bounded to the north, east and south by the contemporary mid C19 development (listed grade II) of detached, Palladian, symmetrical villas, in their own well-planted grounds, together with rows of terraced houses (The Terrace to the east, and The Crescent at the centre) which directly overlook the central and eastern gardens. The site is largely level, set within the later C19 development of North Oxford.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
Park Town is approached directly from Banbury Road to the west, via a crescent road forming the west end of Park Town road, backed to the east by several detached villas set in their own spacious, mature gardens. The Crescent and Banbury Road enclose the Half Circle, a raised semicircular lawn planted with mature specimen trees, particularly pines and hollies. The lawn is bounded by a low brick wall topped by stone coping, presumably formerly the seating for iron railings (now gone). The Half Circle overlooks Banbury Road to the west, and to the east the axial element of Park Town road which extends from the centre of The Crescent to the remainder of the development.
Park Town is roughly symmetrical about the central Park Town road which extends east past the Half Circle to the oval Centre Garden, between which it is flanked by detached villas set back in their own gardens. Here the road divides to encircle this central area, flanked to north and south by the two terrace blocks of The Crescent, the fronts of which open directly onto the road. The Centre Garden (restored late C20) is bounded by 1990s iron railings set on a stone plinth surrounding a perimeter clipped hedge (largely holly) and shrubbery. Within this a perimeter path extends around the whole area, with spurs to north and south giving access to the road beyond, via iron pedestrian gates with lamps surmounting overthrows (1990s restoration). Within the oval perimeter path four cross paths, flanked by lawns planted with mature shrubs and specimen trees, lead to a small, circular central panel of lawn planted with a specimen Atlantic cedar. Other trees form the remains of a small, mid C19 pinetum, including Bhutan pine (Pinus wallichiana), Scots pine (P sylvestris) and Chile pine (Araucaria araucana), together with yew, copper beech, holm oak and other species. This pinetum is comparable with another small pinetum laid out by Baxter in the mid C19 at the Botanic Garden, alongside Rose Lane, the planting of which has largely been lost.
At the east end of the Centre Garden the road re-joins to continue east to a second crescent, the Terrace Garden which fronts the curved Terrace houses at the eastern end of the estate. To either side of the central road leading to the Terrace Garden stand further detached villas set back in their own gardens. The Terrace Garden was laid out as a balancing green space to the Half Circle, and to serve the Terrace dwellers as a 'Shrubbery and Pleasance', as laid down in their title Deeds. The area is bounded in parts by a low, clipped box hedge enclosing a dense shrubbery with mature trees, including several false acacias (Robinia pseudoacacia). A short, central path crosses the Terrace Garden from west to east, aligned on an archway inscribed 'Park Town 1855', which straddles a passage dividing The Terrace into two halves. This passage leads to the service lane running along the rear of The Terrace back gardens.
The Park Town layout is a late example of the planning tradition seen, for example, in parts of London, Bath, Bristol, Brighton and Cheltenham; that is, with the development designed by a single architect, with communal gardens, and with the title deeds ensuring uniformity of design. Sale particulars of the 1850s for the estate show the flanking crescents laid out as shrubberies, with a proposed layout for the Centre Garden. As proposed at this time, it was to be entered from the north and south, the entrances leading to a formal layout of circular paths at each end connected in the middle by four curved paths enclosing a central lawn and specimen plants. It was probably not laid out to this pattern, or, if so, had been modified by the mid 1870s (OS 1876) when the present layout of the Centre Garden was shown as it now (1998) stands.
N Pevsner and J Sherwood, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (1974), p 320
Country Life, 167 (20 March 1980), pp 888-9
M Batey, Oxford Gardens (1982), pp 162-3
T Hinchcliffe, North Oxford (1992), pp 32-7, 67-70
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1876
Description written: September 1998
Register Inspector: SR
Edited: March 2000