Links with Nuneham House


A brief history of Nuneham House

Nuneham House is a Grade II* listed building like the Old Ticket Office. Being originally built for Simon Harcourt, 1st Earl Harcourt in 1756 it is currently owned by Oxford University. Simon Harcourt famously had an entire village demolished in 1761 and relocated to create an open aspect for the parkland around his new villa. The 2nd Lord Harcourt, George Simon Harcourt, who succeeded in 1777 commissioned Lancelot "Capability" Brown to re-design the landscaped grounds. These were started in 1779 with alterations to the house following in 1781. Several further alterations and additions to the house followed, noteably in 1832 and 1904. As far as we can ascertain, but this may be open to correction, ownership of the house and estate was passed on through inheritance as follows. First to William Harcourt, the 3rd (and last) Earl Harcourt, then by marriage to Edward Vernon Harcourt, Archbishop of York, who took the name Harcourt upon inheriting the estate from his cousin in 1830. Then followed his elder son George Granville Vernon Harcourt and upon his death leaving no heir, by George's younger brother William Vernon Harcourt in 1861. From here the estate passed in turn to his son Edward William Vernon Harcourt and then his son Edward Aubery Harcourt who died in March of 1904. His uncle, Sir William Vernon Harcourt, inherited the estate but died himself suddenly in September of the same year. He was the first member of the family to be hit by Death Duties which he himself had introduced as Chancellor of the Exchequer a number of years previously.

Following the death of Sir William in 1904, Nuneham House passed to his newly married son the 1st Viscount Harcourt, Lewis Vernon Harcourt and finally to his son William Edward Harcourt, the 2nd Viscount Harcourt. Whilst under the ownership of William Harcourt, Nuneham House was requisitioned by the RAF in 1942 for use as a P.R.I.U. (Photographic reconnaissance interpretation unit) being known as RAF Nuneham Park. This continued until 1957 when all the buildings and roadways that had been added during that time were removed and the estate handed back to the Harcourt family. It was then sold to the University of Oxford who leased it to a number of different tenants before selling it on in early 2017.

Siting of the station

When Culham station was opened in 1844 it was originally called 'Abingdon Road'. This makes sense as it was at the place at which the GWR branch line from Didcot to Oxford intersected the main road to Abingdon and so was the closest it could get to serve the town at the time. It is however about three miles from Abingdon and lies between the villages of Culham and Clifton Hampden with nothing other than a few cottages and farms nearby. The Railway Hotel (as it was first called) followed just a couple of years later.

Just South of the station the railway crosses over the Thames which makes a big loop West through Abingdon. It crosses once more as the river turns back East before turning North again towards Oxford. Other than where it crosses the Abingdon road and the narrow Thame Lane, which it does in a deep cutting, the railway passes through open countryside. A mile or so away to the North East of the station lies Nuneham House and Park.

Members of the Harcourt family served in Government variously as MPs (both Liberal and Conservative), Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Secretary of State, and featured prominently in other walks of life too. It has been suggested that a certain influence might have been brought to bear as the station is also the closest convenient point on the railway network to Nuneham House, and as such would be ideal for travelling to and from London. It is also interesting to note that, with the exception of road bridges, the buildings at this station were the only brick structures on the line when it opened. Both Oxford and Didcot, together with the very short lived station at Appleford, were all timber built. This may be conjecture, but accounts do suggest at least that the brickwork and paint scheme of the station buildings was subject to external influence as mentioned on the 'Tour' page under the 'IMAGES' menu tab. Certainly the Harcourts were very influential land owners in the area at the time, and whilst not entering the Park the railway would have cut through farmland owned by the estate.


Map circa 1900

Section of old map circa 1900
Map published by Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton in 1900

Road to Culham station

At one time, an estate road ran from Nuneham House to the station at Culham. It is known that this route was used for many years by both visitors to and the residents of Nuneham House. A large gate house known as 'Abingdon Lodge' existed where the estate road emerged before continuing on to meet and cross Thame Lane. From there the route to the station headed in a straight line before turning towards the station forecourt outside the Ticket Office. It isn't known when the estate road was made, but it is possible that the exit to Thame Lane had existed for many years and it was extended from there to the station when the railway arrived. Almost all traces of the road from the gatehouse to the station were obliterated by the development of RNAS Hornbill with Thame Lane itself being diverted around the airfield site.

This route to the London trains via Culham station was thought by some to have fallen into disuse when Radley station was opened in 1873, even though that alternative would have involved the use of the river ferry which operated near the Radley boathouse until the mid 1940’s. However as can be seen below, reports appeared in the Local and National Press up until at least 1931 showing continued use of the land route to Culham. Possibly the ferry route could have been favoured by smaller groups of travellers and the land one by large groups or those being conveyed by carriage or motor car.

Abingdon Lodge

Nuneham House gatehouse on Thame Lane in 1906
H.W.Taunt ©Oxfordshire History Centre

The Abingdon Lodge, sometimes called Culham Lodge, formed an impressive southern entrance to Nuneham Park. This view taken by Henry Taunt in 1906 shows a very well kept scene with mature trees flanking the gatehouse. Just visible within the arched gateway is a lady, possibly from the Lodge, who lends an idea of scale. This entrance would have seen many and varied visitors over the years including Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses, and other dignitaries and politicians of the time either going to or from Culham station. Many fetes and gatherings were held in the Park just inside the gate and the road would then have been thronged with thousands of people.

Following the development and later closure of RNAS Hornbill, the gatehouse managed to survive in splendid isolation for some years before finally being demolished. We are grateful to Martin Loach for taking his camera whilst exploring the area sometime in the early 1970's as he managed to capture this unique image of the gatehouse shortly before its demolition. Gone are the trees and all trace of the estate road with an overhead power line and mast now dominating the scene.

The map is a composite of extracts from two sheets published by the Ordnance Survey Office in 1900 and shows the Nuneham Estate, together with Culham and Radley stations. An estate road can be seen to wind Southwards from Nuneham House to Abingdon Lodge which is marked on the map. From there, the road goes straight down towards the station at Culham, first crossing Thame Lane before finally turning towards the station forecourt. The distance from the House to the edge of the Estate being about twice that from the gatehouse to the station.

An estate road can also be seen heading Northward from the House before turning sharply West and down to the bank of the River Thames. A ferry is marked, and the route can be traced continuing West to Radley station.

North of the Thame Lane bridge a footpath is marked which crosses the railway line. This crossing near Thame Lane still exists, although the route of the path has changed significantly. It is ungated and is approached down a steep path either side of the cutting so is particularly dangerous especially as trains can be travelling very quickly and has been the scene of at least one fatal accident. Trains can be heard warning of their approach as they pass the 'W' signs which are the only protection.

Google maps satellite view of station
Imagery ©DigitalGlobe,Getmapping plc,
Infoterra Ltd&Bluesky,The Geoinformation Group
Map data ©Google.co.uk

Last remnant of the estate road

Perhaps surprisingly, not quite all traces of the estate road have been eradicated. This satellite view of the station in 2014 shows a curving avenue of trees just inside Culham No 1 Site which follows the curve of the estate road as shown on the map above, and leads towards the station.

These trees and a few others which border the estate road are clearly shown on the location maps submitted with the planning applications made in 1982 and 1983 as mentioned on the 'Changes at Culham' page under the 'ABOUT' menu tab.

Trees lining route from Nuneham House to the station

At ground level it is a bit harder to appreciate that the trees form a curving avenue, but closer exploration confirms that they very clearly do as these two photographs taken in early 2017 show. The first is taken from what is now the end of the avenue looking Southwards towards the station. The paved road soon peters out but the route can still be followed across what is now a grassy area before stopping at a wire fence immediately adjacent to Station House.

Trees lining route from Nuneham House to the station

This second photograph was taken from the fence looking back over the grass before the paved area starts. If one can imagine the fence not being there, the viewer would be standing on the station forecourt ready to proceed up towards Nuneham House. It is fun to imagine it being thronged by the crowds of visitors making their way to and from the Park when attending one of the fetes held there many years ago. Read more about the fetes and other comings and goings in the press reports below.

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Telephone links

Agreement of 1888

Cover of 1888 agreement for telephone at Culham station First page of 1888 agreement Payment of annual rent for telephone
Original document held by Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre www.wshc.eu

A different form of physical link between Nuneham House and the station at Culham was made in 1888 when an agreement was signed between the GWR and Edward William Harcourt allowing for the placement of 'a speaking tube or telephonic instrument' in Culham station together with its associated wiring. One may imagine that previous communication would have been made by sending someone down from the estate with a message or query. How much more convenient it would be to use the cutting edge technology of a phone! Remember that this was only ten years after the very first working telephones arrived in this country. Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone to Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1878 with calls to London, Cowes and Southampton. This itself being only two years after he filed his patent application in America.

The agreement stipulates an annual fee of 10 shillings for the privilege. This however seems to have gone up considerably as attached to the agreement is a note from Edward Harcourt dated November 28th 1889 agreeing to pay £2.2s per annum 'for the privilige of placing my telephone at Culham station'. There is no indication when this agreement was terminated, but it is possible that it continued for a good number of years.

Such arrangements for private communication were not confined to those between Nuneham House and Culham station. Waddesdon Manor which was built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1870s apparently also had a telephone link established between the house and Waddesdon (originally called 'Waddesdon Manor') station on the Metropolitan line.

Agreement of 1908

Cover of 1908 agreement for telephone at Culham station Detail of 1908 agreement
Original document held by Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre www.wshc.eu
Possibly in addition to the telephone installed at the station another agreement was entered into in 1908 to facilitate a telephone at the Railway Hotel. This agreement allows for the installation of a telegraph pole on GWR land with an easement for two telephone wires to cross the railway and Company land. The wires were to cross the railway line attached to brackets fixed to the outside parapet of the over-bridge and thence on to the Railway Hotel. There is no indication as to the purpose of the telephone link between the Railway Hotel and Nuneham House but it was short lived as the agreement was terminated as of December 1912. The fee for this easement was set at £1 per annum payable in advance each January.

Included with the agreement is a scale drawing which shows the proposed route for the wires. This plan usefully documents what the track layout was at the time and also the relative position of the railway buildings. No visible signs remain, but reference to the plan reveals what looks to be two gate posts and a gate which would have marked the entrance to the private drive to Nuneham House.

It is noticeable that the agreement of 1888 is written out in full by hand in beautiful script, whereas the one of 1908 utilises a pre-printed form with manually added detail. The GWR always chose to use the spelling 'shewn' as opposed to 'shown' in all publications and this form is used in the 1908 agreement when it states the position and direction of the wires is 'shewn on the plan hereunto annexed'.

All the original agreement documents are held in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

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Press reports

There were many comings and goings to Nuneham House which did not merit press coverage, however there do exist a number of reports concerning visitors to Nuneham House travelling via Culham station. This list is not exhaustive, but here are some snippets that we have been able to find.

August 1857

Many reports on Nuneham Park being chosen to host the annual fete for the Provident Society of the GWR in aid of the Widows and Orphans Fund on Tuesday August 4th. With alterations to trains which will greatly facilitate the transmission of the thousands of visitors expected. Apparently commodious omnibuses ran from Culham station to the centre of the park where large marquees were erected for dancing and refreshments with the added promise of unusual attractions. However it was also noted that the park was 10 minutes walk from Culham station. A ticket to the event apparently also allowed holders to proceed to and return from Culham on any train. There was even a special from Paddington leaving at precisely 8.25am. calling at intermediate stations and not leaving on the return until 8.30pm.! Combined rail and entry tickets from Oxford or Abingdon were advertised as 2s First Class and 1s Second Class. Visitors from the neighbourhood not travelling by train paid 1s entry with children being charged full price.
The volume of people attending seems to have caused some problems, with the Reading Mercury reporting that 'special trains arrived at Culham in rapid succession, bringing parties from Paddington, Slough, Taplow, Reading, Didcot, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Weymouth, and a number of other places on the line and its tributaries. From Oxford alone, we understand some 5000 excursionists were taken up'. This mass of people descended upon Culham station at the end of the fete, and as the report continued 'So great was the crowd with return tickets to various parts that it was 2 o’clock on the following morning before the remnant was cleared off. Some had waited at the Culham station for 6 hours'.

July 1860

The Odd Fellows Grand Fete and Gala Day had exclusive use of the park and gardens at Nuneham on 17th July. Its promotors enlisted the services of some professional artistes, whose performances added greatly to the amusement of the day. Half-a-dozen bands were also engaged, including those of the Second Life Guards, the University Rifles, and the City Rifles. In addition to the usual trains calling at Culham Station, excursion trains were also run which conveyed a great many passengers from Oxford. Other excursion trains were also started from Birmingham, calling at Warwick, Leamington, Fenny Compton, Banbury, Aynho, Somerton, Heyford, Woodstock Road, and Oxford, on their way to Culham; and from London, calling at Slough, Maidenhead, Twyford, Reading, Wallingford Road, and Didcot.

June 1863

Visit by Prince and Princess of Wales to Oxford. They left London on June 16th by special train from Paddington and arrived at Culham at 11.30am where a detachment of the County Police were stationed to carry out the necessary arrangements. The Yeomanry Cavalry of Oxfordshire were in attendance to form guard honour, commanded by the Duke of Marlborough, who appeared in his uniform as Lord-Lieutenant of the county. From there they were driven in an open carriage through Nuneham Park escorted by the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Yeomanry Cavalry then onwards to Oxford.
The scene at the station must have been very impressive, as the Hampshire Chronicle reported 'From Culham station towards the bridge a spacious tent had been erected, and two stages were placed beneath it, leaving a space between them which was covered by a crimson carpet. Upon these stages sat a select company, principally consisting of the ladies of the neighbourhood. From the inside of the tent roof streamed the flags of England and Denmark, and the platforms on each side of the railway were covered with a profusion of geraniums, azaleas, and other exotics'.

July 1863

The 8th annual fete for the Provident Society of the GWR in aid of the Widows and Orphans Fund was held on Tuesday 28th July. The public were 'respectfully appraised that no boats will be allowed and conveyences from Culham station were forbidden to pass through the entrance gate'. Special trains ran as usual from numerous stations on the Great Western line at low fares, and by the middle of the afternoon the little station at Culham presented a most lively appearance as throngs of visitors arrived and wended their way under a broiling sun to the park.
The Reading Mercury reported that 'Twenty-five coaches, as the Railway officials now term the carriages, came from London, well filled, and the train from Hungerford, Newbury, and Reading, &c, consisted of 18 carriages, all heavily laden with human freight, and the trains from the various other parts also conveyed large numbers to the Culham Station, and altogether there were about 7,000 or 8,000 on the grounds'.

September 1865

On Thursday 7th September the Oxford City Rifle Corps acompanied by their band travelled by train to Culham where they were met by Colonel Harcourt mounted on horseback in his uniform of Colonel of Artillery. They then proceeded to be met at the House by the Harcourt family.

July 1867

The Oxford City Rifle Corps once again visited Nuneham House. The Corps accompanied by their band marched from Culham station and were welcomed by Mrs Harcourt and V.Harcourt,Esq.,Q.C. Several batallion movements were gone through in the grounds, and dinner was served on the lawn.

July 1869

Three special trains left Oxford for Culham on Tuesday 6th July along with other specials for the 14th annual fete for the Provident Society of the GWR in aid of the Widows and Orphans Fund. Fete tickets would act as a pass to and from Culham and for admittance to the park. Various reports stated that 'For two hours the carriage road from Culham station to the Park, distance of a mile, was filled with a compact mass of humanity. As may be imagined the number of persons present during the day was exceedingly large'. This year it was advertised that boats could land visitors to the fete from Oxford or Abingdon. The weather that day was reported as being favourable.

Various newspapers report on the fact that as a result of the fete £1,100 was credited to the fund, this being the highest sum raised so far. It was a huge sum indeed as it has been calculated to be the equivalent of about £100,000 today.

Illustration from The Graphic weekly newspaper
The Graphic, July 20th 1872, Author's collection

July 1872

This year, Tuesday 9th July saw the 17th annual fete for the Provident Society of the Great Western and Bristol and Exeter Railways in aid of the Widows and Orphans Fund hosted by the Nuneham Estate. The weekly publication The Graphic, in its issue of 20th July, included on page 44 this series of engravings illustrating the event. As the Abingdon Road bridge can be seen in the background, the crowded platform must be platform 1 full of passengers heading back to Oxford.

It is interesting to include some extracts from a report on the fete which appeared in the Reading Mercury the following Saturday.
'The Great Western Railway Directors, as in former years, generously granted a number of special trains from Paddington, Windsor, Henley, Reading, Basingstoke, Wycombe, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Swindon, Oxford, Wolverhampton, Warwick, Abingdon, and other towns. Several of the engines were gaily decorated with evergreens and flags, and on front of one we noticed the words Faith, Hope, and Charity.'
'Towards noon on Tuesday the clouds dispersed, and the weather was most favourable. Arriving at Culham Station, the crowds of people proceeded to the Park. The distance is not great, and may be termed a constitutional walk. Several of the Oxfordshire police were stationed at intervals along the route, and the greatest order prevailed. Printed notices were posted about the Park, warning the public to beware of pickpockets. Notwithstanding this caution pockets were picked, and at the Station a gentleman lost his gold watch and a lady her purse.'
'The rain kept off until the evening, when it began as the crowds of people were flocking to the railway station, and there was such an array of umbrellas as had never, we should think, been seen at Culham before. The platform and every available spot of ground adjacent was densely crowded. As the crowd increased the difficulty of despatching the trains increased in proportion, and the confusion was considerably augmented by a heavy shower of rain. If the people had been kept at some distance from the platform by strong barriers, much of the over-crowding and confusion would have been prevented. As it was, people were anxious to reach the trains, and as soon as the doors of the carriages were opened a rush was made to gain a seat. Fortunately, no accident occured, and after some little delay, the trains proceeded on their journey.'

July 1875

The 20th annual fete for the Provident Society of the GWR Fund in aid of the Widows and Orphans Fund was hosted by the Nuneham Estate. The festivities were arranged near the entrance from Culham station 'with amusements on a large and liberal scale with a select Company of London artistes having been arranged'.

October 1875

Reports were published following the wedding of Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham to Edith Harcourt, daughter of Edward William Harcourt on the 27th at the church in Nuneham Courtenay and reception at Nuneham House. The Oford Journal of Saturday, Ocober 30th tells us that ... 'At about four o'clock the happy pair left the house for Culham station in a carriage drawn by four greys with two postillions, amid a perfect shower of rice and hearty expressions of good will and life-long happiness, and proceeded to London.'

June 1883

On 16th June, both the Oxford Times and the Oxford Journal reported on a Royal visit by the Prince and Princess of Wales. They arrived in Oxford by train and after completing various engagements in the city, the Oxford Times reports that 'the Duke and Duchess of Albany partook of luncheon at the Deanery, Christ Church, and subsequently went by water, in the British Queen houseboat, to Nuneham, accompanied by a select party. The weather was beautifully fine, and the trip was greatly enjoyed.' It concludes 'Their Royal Highnesses travelled to London in the evening by express train, which was stopped at Culham Station especially to take them on'.

June 1883

The Oxfordshire Weekly News of Wednesday 20th June covered a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Albany to various functions in Oxford. Their daparture was covered thus ... 'After leaving the High School, the Duke and Duchess of Albany partook of luncheon at the Deanery, Christ Church,and subsequently went by water in the British Queen houseboat, to Nuneham accompanied by a select party. The weather was beautifully fine, and the trip was greatly enjoyed. Slapoffski's Band was engaged for the occasion. Their Royal Highnesses travelled to London in the evening by express train, which was stopped at Culham Station especially to take them on.

The Duke was Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and some newspapers refer to the couple as 'the Prince and Princess'. They married in 1882, but sadly he had haemophilia and died in 1884 but not before his wife, Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, had given birth to a daughter. Their son was born posthumously.

October 1883

The Oxford Journal of 6th October carried the following report - 'Thursday last the City Companies, under the command of Capt. Dudley, who was the only officer present, had a march out. The new band turned out in good strength, and the total muster was 70 of all ranks. The force proceeded by train to Culham Station, and from thence drilled through Nuneham Park to the village, where they partook of refreshment at the Harcourt Arms, at the invitation of Capt. Dudley. On leaving Nuneham the men were drilled along the road to Oxford.'

April 1884

The Reading Journal of Saturday 26th April reported on some military action - 'The Easter Monday manoeuvres of the 2nd Oxon Rifle Volunteers took place in Nuneham Park, and consisted of a sham fight between attacking force, made up the Oxford City, Chipping Norton, and Bicester Companies, and an enemy consisting of the Banbury, Headington, Thame, Henley, and Caversham Companies who were supposed to have seized Culham Railway Station. The former force was commanded by Colonel Hall, and the latter by Major and Adjutant E. A, Holmes a'Court. After the order to cease firing had been given at the close of the operations, Hall addressed a few words to the men, who, he said, had behaved very steadily on the whole, though the companies might have kept their distances better.'
It is fun to visualise what gave cause for that remark! Whilst not mentioned in the report, it is probable that many of those involved travelled to Culham by train, although the relieving force may well have marched from Oxford.

August 1886

The Oxford Journal of Saturday 7th August reported that - 'The fourth annual fete, arranged by Messrs. Porter, of St. Aldate's, in aid of the Radcliffe Infirmary, took place on Bank Holiday, the spot selected this year being Nuneham Park, near the Cottages, the use of which was very kindly granted by E. W. Harcourt, Esq., who also threw open the beautiful gardens for the inspection of the visitors. The weather was all that could be desired during the afternoon, although in the morning the sky had been overcast and there appeared the probability of rain falling. A long and varied programme of stage amusements was provided, beside which there were the Dorchester Brass Band, the Stanton St. John Band, and a stage band, so that there was no lack of attractions for the pleasure-seekers, who had the option of travelling to the Park by road, river, or rail. The house-boats, Nelson and British Queen, and three of Messrs. Porters' steamers conveyed over 800 persons from Oxford and Abingdon, and hundreds went by rail to Culham and Radley, the nearest stations to the Park, and many went by road. There was thus a large concourse of people, but owing to their being so scattered it is difficult to estimate their numbers with anything approaching to accuracy, but there could hardly have been less than 5000 persons present.'

March 1893

The Oxford Journal carried a lengthy report entitled 'RIFLE VOLUNTEER SHAM FIGHT' and starts 'On Saturday afternoon last the 1st and 2nd Volunteer Battalions of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry were engaged in operations of an instructive character in Nuneham Park.' Cadets from the Oxford Military College were also involved and the whole contingent numbering well over 200 were carried by special train from Oxford to Culham where they were met by the Culham College Company. From there they all marched to Nuneham Park to carry out the exercise.

August 1894

On Saturday 28th July Jackson's Oxford Journal carried an advertisement for the Oxfordshire Grand Temperance Fete at Nuneham Park which was due to take place on the August Bank Holiday. The issue of Saturday 11th August carried a long report on the fete which was held at Nuneham Park for the first time. Whilst choirs and a great many Temperance Bands from the local area and beyond attended, the fete would appear not have been quite as well supported generally as was hoped for as attendance was described as being 'up to the average'. This was put down to there not being as many attractions as in previous years and the rain which fell during the early morning. Attractions advertised did include 'Fire Balloons, Fireworks, excellent Brass Bands, Athletic Sports and Bicycle Races'. An entrance fee of one shilling per race was charged, but this did entitle competing athletes free admittance to the fete and Park, and there were quite substantial prizes to be won (40shillings for the winner of the 3 mile bicycle handicap for instance).

The July advert concluded 'Excursion Trains & Cheap Fares from all Parts. Cheap Trips down the River by Boats from Oxford.' It may be inferred that the excursion trains ran to Culham, although this was not clear.

August 1895

Jackson's Oxford Journal issue of Saturday 10th August once again carried a long report on the 'Temperance Fete at Nuneham Park'. A large number of Temperance Bands were reported as attending and 'the programme was full, was well arranged, and excellently carried out'. Once again attendance did not live up to expectations, being described as average. The article did go on to suggest that considerable change to the attractions would be needed in future years if the fete were to maintain its popularity, with stormy weather over the holiday weekend also playing its part. It seems that this may well have been the last visit of the fete to Nuneham Park as no further reports have been found.

One interesting note is that 'five balloon ascents' were made. These would possibly have been by an early form of hot air balloon, as the previous year mention was made of 'fire balloons' at the fete. Oxford's connection with hot air balloons went back many years even in the 1890's as in 1784 James Sadler, a pastry chef in Oxford, had become the first ever Englishman to fly. He took off from Christ Church meadow on the 4th of October in a home made balloon of silk lined with paper, heat being provided by a fire on an open grille. He rose to over 3,000 ft, flying for about 30 minutes before landing six miles away in Woodeaton. His exploits and other scientific advances make for interesting reading.

Travel arrangements to the fete were reported thus 'Special arrangements were made with the Great Western Rail Company to convey passengers at cheap fares to and from Radley and Culham, the nearest stations to Nuneham, and house boats and steam boats passed between Oxford and Nuneham during the day conveying fairly good loads of passengers'. The use of Culham station would be common practice for events at Nuneham Park, but those arriving at Radley station would have faced a fair walk down to the river and then a trip across on the small ferry before reaching the Park.

October 1904

In early October newspapers carried reports of the sudden death of Sir William Harcourt who passed away in his sleep whilst at Nuneham House and mention the return of his two sons who met at Culham station and were then driven from there to the house. The funeral took place at Nuneham on the 6th with many visitors reported as wending their way from the station to Nuneham House and 'an extra stock of conveyances was kept in readiness at Culham station for such passengers to Nuneham as desired to use them'.
The Derby Daily Telegraph in its edition of the 7th covers the internment and comments that the villages that lie on the outskirts of the Park are sparsely inhabited. It adds 'One of them, indeed Culham - would seem to consist of little besides its railway station and an old fashioned inn'. The reporter obviously not appreciating that many rural stations such as Culham could be located some distance from the community after which they were named.

June 1907

The King spent the last weekend of June at Nuneham House as the guest of the Right Hon. Lewis Harcourt M.P. and Mrs Harcourt. His Majesty arrived at Culham station at five o'clock on the Saturday evening to be met by the Culham College Company of the 2nd B.V. Oxfordshire Light Infantry who formed a guard of honour. He then motored through the park to Nuneham House. One report also includes the Queen and 'other Royal Ladies' as being in the group.

July 1909

On July 10th the King once more visited Nuneham for the weekend. Whilst no mention can be found of how the King travelled to Nuneham House, there is a report that he arrived back in London by train arriving at Paddington at 11.53am. on the Monday morning. Presumably he left via Culham station. Whilst at Nuneham the King and most of the house party motored to Abingdon in the afternoon. The procession was reported to consist of 6 motors which entered the town over the bridge, so it may be inferred that they left Nuneham House by means of the estate road, thence either along Thame Lane or past Culham station.

June 1911

Together with National newspapers, the Oxford Journal Illustrated reported on a prestigeous event at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, and the later garden party at Nuneham House which took place on Saturday 10th June. The report reads 'On Saturday last Mr. Lewis Harcourt, M.P., held a very enjoyable garden party in his beautiful grounds at Nuneham. Included in the distinguished gathering were the Colonial Premiers, who motored over after having received the honorary degrees of D.C.L. conferred upon them in the Sheldonian Theatre. Our picture shows the arrival at Culham station, by special train from London, of some of the guests, who were driven from there to Nuneham House in specially provided vehicles.'

June 1931

The Banbury Advertiser of Thursday 21 May 1931 carries a report on an 'Old English Fair' to be held in June. Cheap rail tickets to Culham confirms use will again be made of the road connection to Nuneham Park. This fair offers the modern excitement of an air display.

The report reads - 'OLD ENGLISH FAIR. Arrangements are well advanced for the old English fair to held in the beautiful park and gardens of the historic mansion at Nuneham (by kind permission Viscount Harcourt) on Wednesday and Thursday, June 10th and 11th in aid of the Oxfordshire Nursing Federation. Among the attractions will be a Royal Air Force display, including a mimic bombing raid and counter attack of enemy fighters. This will be given with other spectacular stunts by No. 33 (Bomber) Squadron and Oxford University Air Squadron (by kind permission ot the Air Ministry). There will also be exhibition tennis by famous Wimbledon stars, the celebrated Martin Harvey in miming, and the bands of H.M. 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars and 4th Batt. Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. Culham Station (G.W.R.) adjoins the park, and the railways will issue cheap tickets within 60 miles, while also Salter's will run special steamers at cheap fares and there will be a frequent bus service from Oxford.'

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Busy river traffic at Lock Cottage
Postcard published by Savage, Carfax Oxford
Author's collection

Lock Cottage and bridge

As a final point of interest we include this undated postcard marked as being published by Savage, Carfax Oxford. Many press reports mention access by river. The area was a favourite place for picnics and river jaunts, and parties were allowed to land on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the season with Salter's steamers running scheduled services from Oxford at the time. This postcard shows a very busy scene with pleasure boats large and small congregating near Lock Cottage which served teas to the visitors. An ornate bridge links Nuneham Park with an island, both of which can be seen in the map above.