OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

Raymond FFENNELL (1871–1944), Philanthropist,
with Hope his wife and daughter Hazel

Hill End Centre, Farmoor

Raymond ffennell
Raymond ffennell, with Wytham Abbey
in background, by Harold Speed

Raymond Schumacher was born in Kensington to Erwin Schumacher, merchant, originally from Arolsen near Kassel, and his English wife Lucy (née ffennell) in 1871. After attending Harrow School he made a career and a fortune in gold mining in South Africa. He was made honorary colonel of the Witwatersrand Rifles and was instrumental in creating the Johannesburg suburb of Parktown. He married Ellen Hope Weigall (1877–1956) and their only child Hazel was born in 1905. On leaving South Africa in 1915 they gave their house to be the Hope Convalescent Home for Children. The family adopted the surname ffennell by royal licence in 1917 and came to live at Wytham Abbey, managing the 3000-acre estate of farmland and woodland purchased in 1920 from the Earl of Abingdon.

A man of vision ahead of his time, Raymond passionately believed that children should experience and understand the natural environment and conceived the idea of Hill End Camp for outdoor learning and education. From 1926 schools were invited to come for day visits so that children could go on nature-walks, play and enjoy picnics. In the 1930s buildings were converted for school use and eventually a number of large dormitories were built, with cooking facilities and showers. The project received enthusiastic support from neighbouring education authorities and also from London County Council. Beyond the bounds of Wytham he demonstrated his belief in the importance of green spaces, not least in an urban environment. He presented Raleigh Park to Oxford City Council in 1924 and was a founding father of the Oxford Preservation Trust, helping to negotiate the survival of South Park in the city as a precious green enclave.

Hazel ffennell
Hazel ffennell, by Harold Speed

Raymond, Hope, and Hazel participated in the activities at Hill End and were popular with the children. Hazel, a life-enhancing personality, loved animals and once introduced her pet meerkat and chameleon to King George V. The memory of the chameleon lives on at Hill End through the two buildings named after it, the “Green Dragon” and the “Blue Dragon”. In Wytham village she organised many parties and outings for the children and set up a mouth-organ band for the young men. A talented actress and director she created the Wytham Players and produced films such as Days of Chivalry set locally. Her parents were devastated by her early death in 1939 at the age of 33 and in her memory they gifted Wytham Woods, to be known as the Woods of Hazel, to Oxford University in 1942, arguably the largest benefaction it had received since the Middle Ages. Raymond and Hope required the University to preserve and maintain the great natural beauty of the woodlands and use them for the instruction and research for which they have become world renowned.

Hill End

The same deed of agreement enabled the eventual acquisition of the whole estate by Oxford University on the understanding that outdoor learning and education should be maintained at the Hill End site. Oxford City Council leased it until 1974 and since then Oxfordshire County Council has continued the lease of this important educational asset. There are some 9000 visitors each year, children and adults, engaged in learning and training courses. Enquiries about courses and open days at Hill End Centre: 01865 863510.

Sources:

  • The Changing Faces of Wolvercote with Wytham and Godstow by Ann Spokes Symonds, pp. 139–157
  • The informative website of the Rudgwick Preservation Society: see History–Pallinghurst (Rudgwick near Horsham also has a strong connection with the Schumacher/ffennell family)

The plaque was unveiled on The Barn at Hill End Centre on 20 August 2016 by Simon Ffennell, great-nephew of Raymond ffennell. Other speakers were David Millin, Land Manager at Hill End; Mervyn Hughes, volunteer; and Nigel Fisher, Conservator of Wytham Woods.

Photographs taken at unveiling ceremony:

Picture awaited

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

Raymond ffennell
1871–1944

with Hope his wife and
daughter Hazel

created Hill End Centre for outdoor
learning and education in 1926

and later gifted Wytham Woods
to Oxford University.

Friends of Hill End

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

 

Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com