Hunsdon House Garden School - History

 Hunsdon House School has been called one of Oxford’s best kept secrets, although it has featured in a guide to Oxford by a Japanese parent. 

The school was started by Katherine Woods, a pioneer in the education of young children, in her own home (called Hunsdon House) in Stephen Road, just after the First World War, with a handful of children. To meet growing numbers in 1928 she built a wooden school house in the extensive gardens of the house (hence the name 'Garden School') and originally taught children up to age 12.  By 1933 the school was extended further by purpose built brick classrooms and took children between 2 and 8 years old.

  Katherine Woods' belief in the value of children’s natural creativity and their ability to develop fully in the right surroundings was reflected in the structure of the school buildings, with sliding south facing doors opening out into a garden of flowers, shrubs and trees. The garden was a place for exploration, play and the appreciation of nature. Children were encouraged through painting, drawing and music as well as more formal learning in small groups to develop all their abilities. Music was especially encouraged, with children learning how to make and play bamboo pipes. The very name of the school comes from an English folk tune collected by Cecil Sharp who had started his collection in Headington.

 When Katherine Woods retired in 1943, the running of the school was taken on by Archie and Mary Utin who were both professionally trained artists.  They brought their own particular talents to the school which they ran as a pre-prep school. They moved into the flat above the school, where they brought up their own family and created a happy family atmosphere while still keeping to Katherine Woods' child centred philosophy.  In 1965 they made the decision to run the school as a Nursery School only.

 When, in their turn they retired in 1973, Katherine Woods sold the school to Rosemarie Deepwell, a Froebel trained graduate teacher whose own children had attended the school and who had worked for some years with the Utins. This meant that the traditions and philosophy behind the school could continue. Like the Utins, Rosemarie Deepwell assisted first by Pat Cowey and then by Lynda Clarke, added her own personal approach to the running of the school, maintaining its child-centred ethos.

 The school and its teachers have many fond memories for the children who were its pupils over these years. Many former pupils have subsequently sent their own children to the school, and others who come back to visit Oxford, especially from abroad, make a point of visiting the school with their families to show them where their first school years were spent.

 Helle Angeleri who is the current Head Teacher, a linguist who speaks four languages, has 35 years teaching experience. She has enhanced the international flavour of the school, with festivals, educational talks for parents, and children's concerts, while still continuing to uphold the spirit of its previous heads and of its founder. Under her direction the nursery is hosting regular charity events, such as art and craft exhibitions and sales, annual Christmas markets, musical concerts and cake sales in aid of the Amos Trust, our regular charity which cares for street children in Africa. She has also continued to develop the beauty of the gardens, with regular new plantings of beautiful shrubs and flowers, raised vegetable beds and a gracefully curving ramp up to the main door.


We recently received a wonderful surprise: a letter from a former Hunsdon House child who is none other than the granddaughter of Mary and Archie Utin! She grew up in the rooms above the Nursery and spent her early years here as her first school, being taught by the Utins and the founder of our school, Katherine. A piece of our history come alive!

These are her words:

To all those at Hunsdon House,

After scrolling through each and every picture, I would like to thank you for posting them. My grandparents were Mary and Archie Utin and I grew up in those very rooms in Hunsdon House. My mother, Deborah Utin Drewery, and I have on numerous occasions, during our travels to England, driven down Osler Road, but the possible disappointment of a changed nursery has kept us in the car. But as I look through your wonderful website, I see now many things are still the same, thank goodness.

Mary and Archie, along with Mrs. Woods, who remained an integral source of inspiration and guidance to them until her death, inspired many children to their utmost potential. Whether a child from down the lane or an African prince or daughter of a business magnate, each child was given the simple beginnings of wonder there in those gardens and window-filled classrooms. I cried as I looked at the photo of the children, each with a book in their hands. I was a librarian for 10 years and my love of books began right where those children were seated. My only regret is that my own 6 children didn't have the opportunity to be introduced to the world of learning at Hunsdon House.

So, as a colleague of the "learning" profession, I would just like to say thank you for continuing the wonderful service you're providing the children there.

Nina Thompson
Rancho Cucamonga, CA, U.S.A