A history of Hill End

100 Years of the Wytham Estate

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Wytham Estate – a joint celebration of the University of Oxford’s Wytham Woods and the Hill End Outdoor Education Centre.

The Wytham Estate was purchased in 1920 by the philanthropic ffennell family, who established Hill End ‘Camp’ and later gifted the whole Estate to the University of Oxford.

Generations of Oxfordshire children have visited Hill End for school trips, and these memories are a very special part of the Estate’s history.

You can read more in our new joint leaflet – available to download here.

Anniversary events started on 22 January 2020 when the Estate will plant the first of 100 new trees to mark 100 years. These will create a new woodland wildlife corridor between the two sides of the Estate and demonstrate a lasting commitment to their partnership. We will be encouraging 100 visiting schools to get involved in this project – you read more about this and get invoved here.

The Estate is calling on the local community and supporters to get involved this year, to donate to fundraising campaigns or volunteer their time.

Update: Due to the current coronavirus situation many of our planned events and celebrations in 2020 have been postponed. We are hoping to run these again when the time is right! More details will be published online throughout the year.

If you are able to donate to the Hill End Charitable Trust in these difficult times, your help is very much needed and appreciated – visit our donation page for more information

Why is this year important?

The need to engage young people with nature and the environment has never been more pressing.

Outdoor learning allows children and adults understand and value the natural world, improves mental and physical health, and offers a great opportunity to promote practical change.

At the Wytham Estate, outdoor education has been valued for 100 years. The ffennells embraced new and innovative educational methods in the 1920s to get children outdoors – which is just as relevant today.

The Estate is committed to developing the ffennell legacy for future generations. This year will see new fundraising activities and new partnerships to secure the work of the Estate for the future.

A History of Hill End

Wytham Woods and Hill End together make up the Wytham Estate, a beautiful and unique educational resource.

1910s

Raymond and Hope ffennell, a wealthy couple who enjoyed the outdoors, started renting Wytham Abbey in 1916 and fell in love with the area.

Raymond Ffennell (born Schumacher) was a successful gold mine director and author. He 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.

During the First World War, the Wytham Estate was used for training local Oxfordshire soldiers and the practice trenches were dug. You can find out more about the trenches and our recent Heritage Lottery-funded project to open these up to local communities and schools here.

1920s

In 1920 the ffennell family bought the Wytham Estate and used it as a holiday and weekend camping site with large and lavish tents.

They were also a philanthropic family, committed to outdoor education and influenced by the philosophy of Steiner. Over the next decades they created innovative outdoor classrooms and dormitories at Hill End.

1930s

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 as a young women 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 up to 300 children a day from London & Oxford visited Hill End ‘Camp’.

British Pathé has a short news piece on their website showing children at Hill End in 1939, enjoying the outdoors.

1940s

During World War II a bomb was dropped behind the newly built Fairy-Ring (now called the High Dormitory), which managed to avoid any damage.

From 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.

In 1947 Frank Corbey was appointed as the Warden. He implemented a renovation programme for the existing buildings.

1950s and 1960s

In 1956 Oxford City Council leased Hill End Camp for the next 21 years.

Following the death of Hope in 1956 the ‘Hope Ffennell Trust’ was created in 1959.

In 1968 a Field Study Unit was formed.

1970s and 1980s

During 1974, Oxfordshire County Council took over the Hill End Camp lease from Oxford City Council, managing the site according to the conditions of the ffennell Trust.

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.

1990s and 2000s

In the 1990s the builidngs continued to be improved, including bathroom facilities for disabled visitors.

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 Challenge Trail.

In 2001 Hill End began running Forest School training and the Oxfordshire Forest School Service was permanently based at the centre in 2005.

2017 and beyond  

In July 2017, Hill End passed from Oxford County Council management to become a new independent charitable trust.

The Hill End trust continues to provide unique outdoor learning activities to all ages, and embraces opportunities to develop the site in novel and interesting ways.

In their centerary year, Wytham Woods and Hill End will focus on moving forward together to deliver the highest quality outdoor education for future generations.

Read the press release for our launch event on 22 January 2020.

Further reading:  Hill End: The Happy Journey, second edition