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Oakfield Residents Login

History

 
Oakfield Estate dates only from the late 1960s, but it owes its name to a mansion built on the site in 1852 by John Spriggs Morse Churchill, a publisher of medical books whose firm is now part of the Dutch publishing giant Elsevier.

1865 Map   The Early Days
In 1862 Oakfield appeared on Stanford’s Library map of London and its suburbs. The house is also shown on the 1865 Ordnance Survey map of Wimbledon parish (left), on which the Rose & Crown and Dog & Fox inns are also marked.

Oakfield and a number of other large houses were built in the1850s on land that was part of Wimbledon Park, previously owned by the Spencer family. Developer John Augustus Beaumont had bought Wimbledon Park from the fourth Earl Spencer in 1846 and had divided the land into sizeable plots. These were snapped up by wealthy professional men and businessmen, who employed architects to build ‘stately villas’ (as described in The Times in 1865).

In 1768 the first Earl had commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape Wimbledon Park, so it is very probable that many of  Oakfield’s old trees were planted by him.
     

Churchill lived in Oakfield until 1860, and then there is a gap in the records until 1866, when Thomas Lawrence Ward is known to have lived there. He died the following year and the house was next occupied by his brother, Rear Admiral James Hamilton Ward. After his death in 1873, his son, Robert, moved in.

John Frederick Schwann

By 1876 the owner was George Curling Joad, a well-known gardener, who bequeathed his collections of alpines and rockery plants to Kew Gardens. He stayed there until he died, in 1881, when the house was sold to a merchant banker called John Frederick Schwann. Schwann, who lived in Oakfield with his wife and six children, took an active interest in local affairs, co-founding Wimbledon Hospital and setting up Wimbledon Technical Institute (now Merton College), where a Schwann Library was opened in 1916. He also founded the London Metal Exchange.

By 1901 all but one of the children had left home, but Schwann still employed 16 servants, including 5 gardeners. The house was put up for sale in 1902 but was not sold. Nevertheless the sale particulars give a good idea of how the property was at that time (see From the Archives). The house is described as a ‘well-built mansion house’ with 5 reception rooms, 17 bedrooms (including 3 for servants), 3 bathrooms, separate stabling (3 stalls and 7 loose boxes) with coachman’s apartments, entrance lodge, two gardeners’ cottages and a ‘farmery’.  All this was set in 28 acres of grounds, with gardens, a 2-acre wood with ‘winding walks’, a kitchen garden of over an acre, and glasshouses. The house was modern for its time, with ‘electric light, gas and Company’s water laid on throughout’, and the drainage to the public sewer was ‘reconstructed under expert supervision’ in 1900.

Schwann (who changed his name to Swann in 1917) continued to live in Oakfield until his death in 1925, when the house was finally sold. The sale particulars (see From the Archives) describe its location as ‘one of the finest in the district’, and the asking price was £30,000. The features of the house had changed little since 1902, except for the addition of a ‘petrol house’ and ‘two tennis lawns’. The most notable change was in the size of the grounds, which  were said to be ‘over 7 acres’. What happened to the other 21 acres is unclear.

In 1925 the estate was bought by Robert Dashwood, a local greenhouse manufacturer and entrepreneur who the same year sold the house and part of the land for £14,800. It is unclear how much of the original 28 acres Dashwood bought. We do know, though, that between 1926 and 1928 he and a business partner built a substantial number of houses in Bathgate Road on part of Oakfield’s land. Oakfield and its remaining land, then known as Oakfield House Estate, were bought by George Burney, who sold it again 3 years later to Miss Amelia Cawthra, the daughter of a Yorkshire industrialist, at a price of £23,000.

A Kentish House
Miss Cawthra had the big house demolished, to be replaced, in 1929, with a 7-bedroom replica of her former home, The White House, in the village of Great Chart, near Ashford in Kent.  The architect of The White House, M. H. Baillie Scott, a member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, reproduced the old house for Miss Cawthra, who named her new home Oakfield.  No expense was spared to recreate the old house exactly.

The house in Great Chart still exists, although its name was changed some years ago to Yeomans.  It was built in 1916/17 and still retains its formidable elegance, with linenfold panelling, some Delft tiles and original fireplaces.  A resident in the village recalls visiting Oakfield before the Second World War, when she was able to see the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) from an upstairs bedroom window.

Sale particulars from 1950, when Oakfield was put up for auction following Miss Cawthra’s death (at age 85), describe the south-facing house as a ‘most attractive reproduction of a charming Kentish yeoman’s house’. Indeed, with its tile hanging and oak half timbering, it would have been a house of character and great charm.

 

The house was set, according to the sale particulars, in ‘this most beautiful site’ of about 7 acres.

  Painting of Oakfield as in 1950
     


The property was bought for £15,000 by George Davies, who the following year sold part of the land to the adjacent AELTC for extension of its car park. The house and the remaining land were bought in 1951 by Harold Barnes for £10,000 “to include the benefit of a war damage claim”.



The End of an Era
The house was at one stage used as a school for foreign students but was eventually demolished.  The two cottages, which still retain many of Baillie Scott’s original features, stand today as a single property – no longer part of Oakfield but a neighbouring house also, confusingly, called Oakfield.

By the early 1960s the era of grand old houses was coming to en end, and new developments were springing up everywhere. In 1960 the London Borough of Merton gave consent for the development of 5 acres of Oakfield’s land for 27 houses, but this was never acted upon and the land was sold to Raymond Sargent for £78,000. He in turn sold the land to a firm of developers, Howard (Mitcham) Ltd, who subsequently built on it the Oakfield flats and the 29 town houses of Cedar Court.  In 1963 the firm was granted permission to put up “two 11 storey tower blocks of flats, each block containing 44 flats with garage accommodation at basement and lower basement levels, 3 three storey blocks of flats, each containing 6 flats, and 18 lock-up garages, together with the provision of surface parking for 33 cars, the whole of the development consisting of 106 flats, containing a total of 380 habitable rooms, 112 garages and 33 off-street parking”. 

Award-winning Flats
The buildings of both Oakfield and Cedar Court were erected to the design of a London firm of architects, Building Design Partnership (BDP), who later designed the new buildings of the AELTC. The flats were completed in 1966 and were sold on 99-year leases, those in Burghley and Somerset Houses costing around £16,000 and those in the three low-rise blocks about £12,750. The sole selling agent was a London firm, Keith Cardale, Groves & Co, who described Oakfield in its sales brochure as being "situated in the finest residential quarter of Wimbledon Common". Oakfield, it added, "offers a unique opportunity of a high class residence in country setting, only seven miles from Central London".

 

In 1968 Oakfield and Cedar Court together won commendations for good design, one from the Ministry of Housing, the other from the Civic Trust. 


Oakfield Residents Ltd
Oakfield was initially run by a firm of managing agents, but eventually the Residents Association negotiated the purchase of the freehold, and in 1986 Oakfield Residents Ltd (ORL), a private limited company wholly owned by the leaseholders, was established to manage the estate.  The following year the leases were changed by a Deed of Variation to 999 years.

To buy the freehold, Geoffrey Palau, then Chairman of the Residents Association, had to collect £3000 from the leaseholders of every high-rise flat (and a lesser amount from the low-rise), a task that took him six months.  About £315,000 was raised, of which £297,000 was paid for the freehold, leaving less than £20,000 for the Directors of the newly formed ORL to start managing the estate.

We thank the Wimbledon Society for help with the preparation of this history and BDP for access to their archives relating to the design and building of Oakfield.  We are especially grateful to Hampton & Sons Ltd, estate agents, who were involved in all the sales of Oakfield from the end of the 19th century to 1960, for allowing us to reproduce material from their records.