Oakwell Park


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Oakwell Park, Thorn, Dunstable, LU5 6JH


Ordnance survey map of Oakwell Park
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Statutory Address:
Oakwell Park, Thorn, Dunstable, LU5 6JH

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
Houghton Regis
National Grid Reference:


Small country house built by 1937 to the designs of Frank Crossley-Holland and Harold W C Shaw.

Reasons for Designation

Oakwell Park, a small country house built by 1937 to the designs of Frank Crossley-Holland and Harold W C Shaw, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: it is an accomplished and meticulously detailed house with a striking composition incorporating many finely crafted elements. * Historic interest: it is a notable example of the sort of small country house of the period, built for an antiquarian owner that embodied the homely ideal of a quiet life in the country; * Interior: the Tudor idiom is continued in the great hall and dining room which are characterised by panelling, depressed arch fireplaces and decorative window glass. The great hall is particularly evocative of the Tudor period with its dramatic spatial quality and finely carved oak; * Degree of survival: the principal rooms and the external elevations of the house have survived with a remarkable degree of intactness, as has the original garden within a woodland setting; * Group value: it has locational group value with the scheduled remains of a medieval moated site located within the grounds.


Oakwell Park replaced an earlier farmhouse that had become dilapidated at the time of valuation in 1926 under the 1925 Rating and Valuation Act. The third edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1925 shows the rectangular farmhouse and L-shaped outbuilding to the north-east, both occupying the west corner of an area of land with woodland to the north and north-east called Thorn Spring. The new house was commissioned by Dr Frank Crossley-Holland (1878-1956), a barrister, High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, and eminent pharmacologist who led scientific missions to Russia and Yugoslavia, and made numerous contributions to political, legal, scientific and medical journals. In the Nomination of Sheriffs reported in The London Gazette (19 November 1937) Crossley-Holland is listed as ‘of Oakwell Park’, indicating that the house was built by that time.

The origins and design of the house are described in an excerpt from an unpublished typescript biography by Crossley-Holland’s son, Peter Crossley-Holland (1916-2001), Professor of Ethnomusicology at UCLA, and famous internationally as an ethnomusicologist, composer, and teacher. He explained that a depth of knowledge and research went into the planning of the house which was designed by his father and the Dunstable architect Harold W C Shaw. Little is known about Shaw, who has no listed buildings to his name, except that he was a commercial jobbing architect based at 105 High St South Dunstable from the 1930s to the 1950s. He was mainly responsible for designing small developments of 1-4 houses as well as extensions and alterations for commercial and domestic clients. The Builder (1919, Vol 116, p 849) contains references to two small schemes of domestic alterations by 'Mr Harold Shaw' at Willesden, which may refer to the same architect.

Peter Crossley-Holland recounts how local craftsmen carved the oak spandrels in the hall. His father said ‘nothing shall vie with our woodwork’, as he ‘at last realized his Tudor dream’. The nearby outbuildings included his father’s workshop and a room for the electric generator. Peter’s account describes the work his mother carried out to clear the woodland of fallen trees and undergrowth, and how she ‘created enchanting gardens in front of the house and to its eastern side’, including the lake shown on the OS map of 1960. The oak, hornbeam, ash and elm of historic field boundaries were retained, particularly along the historic east site boundary, abutting the ancient woodland of Thorn Spring; and specimen exotic trees were introduced. The driveway was lined by a sycamore avenue, and the screen-belt separating the parkland/ paddock from the garden was also planted.


Small country house built by 1937 to the designs of Frank Crossley-Holland and Harold W C Shaw.

MATERIALS: local red brick laid in English bond with brick dressings and some applied timber framing. Roof covering of red clay plain tiles.

PLAN: the house has an approximate U-shape plan with the great hall occupying the principal south-east range, the study occupying the short south-west wing, and the dining room at the south-east end of the north-east wing with the service rooms at the north-west end.

EXTERIOR: the two-storey house is in the Neo-Elizabethan style, characterised by crow-stepped gables, heraldic stained glass windows and clustered chimney stacks. The steeply pitched roofs have laced valleys and two plain chimney stacks passing through the north-east slope over the service end of the north-east wing. The more elaborate chimney stack to the fireplace in the great hall passes through the rear slope of the main range and consists of three clustered octagonal stacks with oversailing brick courses, resting on a brick base. The fenestration consists of casement windows with a variety of glazing patterns, some diamond or geometrical, with particularly elaborate patterns in the windows to the great hall and dining room. The windows are set in brick frames with chamfered brick mullions and tile creasing above some of the lintels. The windows to the service rooms have wooden frames and a mixture of square and diamond leaded lights. The original cast-iron rainwater goods with fleur-de-lys decoration on the hoppers survive.

The principal south-east elevation has, from the left, a two-light window on both floors, followed by a projecting double-height, crenellated canted bay window which lights the great hall. This has thirty-two panes, divided by brick mullions and transoms, containing heraldic stained glass and representations of zodiacal figures relating to the birthdates of each member of the Crossley-Holland family. The door, positioned to the right of the canted bay, has applied panelling of nine small chamfered and pegged square panels with three long glazed panels in the top half. There is a small two-light window above. To the right is a projecting gabled bay embellished with crow-stepped gables and diaper work in vitrified brick creating a continuous diamond pattern around the double-height, crenelated canted bay window which lights the dining room. This has fourteen lights on the ground floor, some with heraldic stained glass and some painted with images from the natural world, and seven lights on the first floor. The left return of the projecting bay is lit by a five-light window, with the same decorated glass as the canted bay, and a two-light window above.

The elevation of the short south-west wing has four-light windows on both floors, followed by a crow-stepped gabled bay which forms the gable end of the main range. This contains the principal entrance under a large projecting canopy with a pitched roof and parapets at the gables. The openings have a false three-centred arch with a slight camber and are wide enough for a vehicle to pass through. The opening on the south-west side has a decorative iron screen with a central opening surmounted by an overthrow of three bifurcated scrolls. The canopy has diagonal buttresses with tumbled in brickwork at the corners and a floor laid in decorative brickwork. The double-leaf, four-centred arch door has moulded fillets and carved spandrels incorporating the initials of the original owner. It has upright handles, and the original doorbell and letterbox survive to the right. Either side of the canopy roof are corbelled angled windows under tiny tiled roofs which light the minstrels’ gallery in the great hall. Above, the group of three arched windows have an elaborate glazing pattern with painted glass. Attached to the south-west side of the entrance canopy are splayed dwarf walls flanking a flight of three brick steps.

The elevation of the long north-east wing has, from the left, the large dining room chimney which projects from the wall and is surmounted by two octagonal clustered stacks. This is followed by a gabled bay, flush with the wall, which has applied timber framing in the gable head infilled with white square panels. Next, a timber door with two glazed panels (now blocked) leads into the former butler’s pantry. On the right of this is a three-light window with two windows above, all in wooden frames, as are the other windows to the service rooms. This is followed by a single-storey projection under a hipped lean-to roof which has a tall square chimney stack on the left, a three-light window and a plank door. Small windows flank the chimney stack at first-floor level, and there are three more windows at this level, and two below.

The north-west gable ends of the two wings have applied timber framing in the gable heads, similar to that already described, and two single-light windows on the first floor. The gable end to the north-east wing has a servants’ entrance under a projecting gabled porch with a false three-centred arch and a parapet at the gable. The vertical plank door retains its original handle. To the right is a three-light window. The ground floor of the gable end to the south-west wing has a single-light window and a three-light window. The area formed by the U-shape at the north-west end of the house has been covered by a carport. The first floor elevations have applied close studding and casement windows in wooden frames.

INTERIOR: the two rooms of principal interest are the great hall and dining room. The double-height great hall has wainscoting with square panels and a king post roof truss with collars and two purlins. The lower ends of the principal rafters are carved with intricate designs and terminate in corbels carved in the form of faces. At the north-east end there is a minstrels’ gallery which has a balustrade with twisted balusters and square posts surmounted by finials. This is echoed at the north-east end by the dogleg stair which has the same balustrade design. The wide fireplace has a three-pointed arched surround of moulded stone and is lined with herringbone brickwork at the back. It has a metal hood, grate and tiled hearth. The study which leads off from the great hall retains fitted bookcases on the north-east wall.

The dining room has moulded bridging beams and joists with square moulded bosses, and full-height square panelling which continues onto the jambs of the inglenook. This large rectangular opening is framed by substantial timbers which appear to have been finished with an adze. The brick chimneypiece has corbelled jambs and is lined with herringbone brickwork at the back. The fireback bears the date of 1635. Above the firehood is a timber lintel surmounted by a three-panel overmantel with a heraldic symbol set under a three pointed brick arch. The right jamb of the inglenook is pierced by a recessed circular window with an elaborate glazing pattern

The windows throughout the house retain their decorative ironmongery. The service rooms and bedrooms have plain skirting boards, coving and doors with one large recessed panel, some of which have scrolled handles. The bedrooms have picture rails. The fireplaces have been blocked up and it is not known if they remain.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: to the north-east of the house there is a small, single-storey building which may have been part of the outbuilding range belonging to the former farmhouse. It is partly constructed of red brick laid in English bond and has some structural timber framing, including posts and braces along the north-east and south-east sides. It has a roof covering of slates and a tall brick chimney stack rises through the north-east slope. It is lit by casements with leaded lights. Internally, there is a large brick chimneypiece with some tile creasing and a small grate. The building is partially overgrown with ivy.

A brick mounting block is located south-west of the entrance canopy.


Books and journals
Cornforth, J , The Inspiration of the Past Country House Taste in the Twentieth Century, (1985)
Girouard, M , Life in the English Country House, (1978)
Pevsner, Nikolaus, O'Brien, Charles, The Buildings of England: Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough, (2014)
‘A Tudor Dream: Early Years at Oakwell Park’, unpublished typescript by Peter Crossley-Holland


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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