Tuesday, 16 August 2022

History of military hospital revealed

AN exhibition about the military hospital that once occupied the site of the Oratory School in Woodcote has opened at the village library.

Mike Willoughby began researching the history of Woodcote House, which served as a convalescent home for wounded servicemen during the First World War, while looking into the life stories of villagers who died during the conflict.

Much of the information for the exhibition came from the diary of Marjorie Denys-Burton, who worked there as a nurse. This was found in the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London and Mr Willoughby was allowed to take a copy.

He also obtained several editions of the magazine of the independent Waynflete School, which occupied the premises for about a decade from 1898, and researched the histories of former pupils who died in service.

The exhibition, which opened on Saturday, also includes postcards of Woodcote from the 1900s to about the Forties from the collection of Rev Duncan Carter, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Henley.

Mr Willoughby, who lives in West Chiltern with his wife Lesley, said: “As a long-standing Woodcote villager, that house has always been a bit of a mystery as nobody has written much about it.

“I was also drawn in by its military connections. It was fascinating to research.”

The property off the A4074 was built as a private residence in the mid-18th century and it is claimed that the ghost of a coachman from this period still parades along the main drive at night.

Rev Philip Nind, vicar of St Andrew’s Church in South Stoke, ran it as a school from the early 1870s before Waynflete School moved there following a cholera outbreak in Bristol, where it had been based.

The building returned to private hands in 1908 but about six years later the War Office took it over and ran it as a satellite service of the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. Servicemen were operated on at the main hospital and then went to Woodcote to recover.

The building became a house again after the Armistice and remained so until the Oratory School moved from its old base at Caversham Park in 1942.

The exhibition runs for several weeks. For more information, search for “Woodcote library” at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk

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