Hill End forms part of the original Wytham estate purchased in the 1920’s by Raymond Ffennell and his wife Hope, a philanthropic couple interested in creating opportunities for disadvantaged young people.
They set aside Hill End for use as a school for ‘Delicate’ children, based on the principal of learning outdoors being beneficial for health.
The Ffennell family started renting Wytham Abbey in 1916 and fell in love with the area. Between 1920 and 1925, Raymond (pictured) and Hope Ffennell bought the Wytham Estate and used it as a holiday and weekend camping site with large and lavish tents.
Raymond Ffennell (born Schumacher) was an innovative man, with big ambitions. Educated in banking and finances from Harrow & Eastbourne, he earned his money in the gold mining company H. Eckstein & Co. in South-Africa, where he was appointed as director in the 1890’s.
Raymond Ffennell was also an author. During the 1900s, he published several articles and two books about Oxford, called: “Town Planning in Oxford” in 1926 and “Oxford As It Was, Now Is And Never Should Be” in 1930. Besides being an successful gold mining director and author, Raymond was also an active member of the British forces. In 1917 he was a Major in Oxford University Training Corps, attached to No:4 Officer Cadet Battalion, possibly at the same time as C.S. Lewis.
The Ffennell’s had one daughter, Hazel, who was always interested in the world around her. She had a reputation for keeping unusual pets, among them a chameleon. In 1930 the Green & Blue Dragon were built, the names inspired by Hazel’s pet chameleon. These facilities were, and are still, used as classrooms.
Hazel died in her 20’s and her parents continued to fund opportunities for disadvantaged children to come and visit and learn at Hill End in her memory.
During the 1930s 300 children a day from London & Oxford visited Hill End Camp, which the centre was called until 1984. The number of children halved in the winter period due to the inclement weather conditions.
In 1934 the Fairy-ring (pictured), now known as the High Dormitory, was built. The building included a dormitory, classroom, kitchen & toilets facilities. During World War II a bomb was dropped behind the newly built Fairy-ring, which managed to avoid any damage.
British Pathé has a short news piece on their website showing children at Hill End in 1939 enjoying the outdoors and swimming pool, which is still there!
During World War II (1941-1945), Oxfordshire Scouts ran camping holidays at Hill End as an escape for children from badly bombed cities.
Oxford & Cambridge University arranged a international Scout camp, for about 500 scouts from countries such as America, France, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Switzerland.
Due to World War II there was no need for a warden on site, until 1947 when Frank Corbey was appointed. From 1947, Mr Corbey implemented a renovation programme for the existing buildings.
1950s and 1960s
In 1956 Oxford City Council leases Hill End Camp for the next 21 years.
Due to the tragic loss of Raymond’s wife Hope in 1956 the ‘Hope Ffennell Trust’ was created in 1959.
In 1968 the Field Study Unit was formed and the first two full time teachers, along with the first technician were appointed.
1970s and 1980s
During 1974, Oxfordshire County Council took over the Hill End Camp lease from Oxford City Council. They have managed the site according to the conditions of the Ffennell Trust ever since.
From 1981 to 1984, accommodation was improved to allow use in the winter months including heated showers.
In 1984 Hill End Camp became Hill End and amalgamated with the Field Study Unit.
In 1988 the upper hill was granted S.S.S.I (Site of Special Scientific Interest) status, giving Hill End well-deserved recognition for its beautiful and varied habitats.
From 1990 to 1992 bathroom facilities for disabled visitors was added to the staff block, and laundry facilities added to the Green Dragon.
From 1994 to 1997 the surrounding habitats went through a period of change. This included 2000 trees being planted to celebrate the Children of the Millennium, along with the Willow Maze and sculpture trail.
2000 and beyond
The new millennium continued with change and new initiatives. Projects included an innovative garden concept. In the early 2000s the Sound, Sensory and Water Conservation Gardens were established, proving popular with visitors of all ages.
The willow “Willenium Dome” was built in 2000 and the Challenge Trail was constructed in 2006.
In 2001 Hill End began running Forest School training. Due to the success of the training, Oxfordshire Forest School Service was permanently based at the centre in 2005.