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Oxford Park

As its name suggests, this estate followed the tradition of "rus in urbe" (bringing the country into the town), with houses overlooking an open space and landscape. The earlier terraces of Hillsborough, Adelaide and Montpelier, (which still has sheep grazing on its paddock) have magnificent views with open spaces in front of them. Ilfracombe was following the tradition of Bath with its Royal and Lansdown Crescents, but it had the advantage of seascapes as well as landscapes.

Oxford Park came late in the day and it overlooked the back of Adelaide Terrace, but it was given a park of its own and was elevated enough to look over the rooftops to the channel. By the time it was built in the 1880's, the fashion had moved from terraces to villas, as is evidenced in Torrs Park, so here, on a more modest scale, there are six semi-detached houses with a block of three (now Clovelly Apartments) at the end.

This was part of the development of W.H. Gould which began on the High Street with the buildings below the clock tower and ran steeply up the hillside with Oxford Grove. Here there are tall, on the street, town houses, once in richly coloured brickwork, now painted: those on the left original, those opposite with bay windows a later addition above the Oxford Hall. The top opens out into what was a nursery garden, with a wonderful array of greenhouses and frames and above that an ornamental park which was most likely only accessible to the residents of the houses above. The sketch shows an elaborate pond around what looks like a statue of Flora (there seems to be an armful of flowers) and neatly laid out flower beds and walks with a south facing shelter. The shared garden was a feature of early suburban developments, later suburbs provided private gardens for each house, isolating and insulating people more from one another. Here there are small front gardens to set the houses back from the road, but only yards at the back. Here in Oxford Park the backs face on to Highfield Road, making it merely a back lane, which lowers the tone of what should be, and is, an important thoroughfare. The top of Oxford Grove and the earlier Springfield Road make three sides of a square, looking out to sea, marking off a distinct area of the town.

The Park has lost most of its ornaments, all but a grotto which is being restored by the Civic Society. This is part of the plan to enhance the car park, which covers the lower garden and nursery area, This project follows on from vast excavations South West Water made to insert a drainage tank in 1996. Above, there is a small play park for children, but as in so many other cases, the Terrace in front of the houses is full of parked cars.The houses themselves are solidly designed with prominent gabled dormers over ground floor bays.

These latter are brick built and so have survived the attentions of the double glazing merchants. In one case (numbers 6 & 7) bays have been added on the first floor and ironwork railings inserted to link them. Clovelly Apartments has a Mansard roof and square headed dormers and it has preserved its ironwork in a better state than the other houses. Its side wall is beautifully slate-hung. Gould built the houses in brick, alternating red and buff. This has almost entirely been lost because of painting and rendering. The brick that has survived shows signs of the harsh weathering these houses must endure in this exposed position. Only here and there do the ironwork crowns to the bays survive, and the decorative barge boarding on the dormer gables has all but been replaced by plain boarding.

There is a derelict area at the top of Oxford Grove where one can see the last remnants of what must have been a magnificent nursery. Could this, like the car park, be tidied up? Can anyone tell us more about the nursery, its proprietors, and when it closed? I understand that the annexe built on to the back of what are now Clovelly Apartments was originally the boy's department of Adelaide College, a private school for girls which was located in the old Borough House off Highfield Road.

Answers to FOCUS in the library please.

Jim Bates - May 1999

Created 20/4/99