Ancestry UK

Penhurst, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

In December 1903, the National Children's Home (NCH) opened its Penhurst home on New Street, Chipping Norton. Penhurst grew out of a pair of adjacent houses which were subsequently supplemented by the gift of a neighbouring property and its lodge. By 1912, the home could accommodate 100 children. The establishment's first matron was Sister Lydia Woolcock who had previously held the post at the nearby Chadlington home.

From the outset, Penhurst was used as a home and residential school for convalescent and physically disabled children. Amongst its first intake were a victim of severe hemiplegia, a child suffering from spinal curvature, and others who were 'deficient in the primary limbs or muscular power'. The aim of the home was to help such children to become mobile and capable of future independence.

A rear view of Penhurst, Chipping Norton, c.1908. © Peter Higginbotham

Children in the garden of Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

The grounds of the home included a covered shelter where the children could work or play when the weather demanded. A school building was subsequently erected at its rear.

Covered shelter at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

School and shelter at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

A Sister and children off for a drive at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

One form of income for the home was the funding of an individual bed which carried a plaque to commemorate the donor, as can be seen in the picture below.

Children with toys at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

For children needing medical care, the home had its own small infirmary.

Infirmary at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

Impromptu first-aid demonstration at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

As well as basic education, the children at Penhurst were taught various skills that they could make use of in later life. The older girls received training in the home's laundry and hospital. Physically disabled children learned crafts such as basket-weaving and rug-making.

Children making baskets and rugs at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, c.1905. © Peter Higginbotham

Emphasis was also placed on the development of musical skills. This included activities such as singing and the playing of instruments such as the violin, dulcimer and mandolin.

Children singing and playing instruments at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

Children and their toys at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

Scouts and Brownies at Penhurst, Chipping Norton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1953, the home became Penhurst School, providing specialised care for severely disabled children. It continued in the role for sixty years until falling numbers finally led to its closure in 2013.

A famous 'old boy' of Penhurst was the artist John Buchanan (1908-1953), who was born without hands8. He was placed in care in after his parents were unable to cope with his disability but later gained an international reputation for his work. The home's chapel contained a memorial to Buchanan.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Action For Children (formerly the National Children's Home). Can provide access to their own records for individuals who were adopted through the charity or who resided in one of its homes. Help also for those searching for family history information.


  • Bradfield, William The Life of the Reverend Thomas Bowman Stephenson (1913, Kelly)
  • Curnock, Nehemiah The Story of the Children's Home (C.H. Kelly, 1901)
  • Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
  • Horner, Francis Shadow and Sun (Epworth Press, 1920)
  • Howard, Philip J Philip: a Strange Child (Dalkeith Publishing, 2007)
  • Philpot, Terry Action For Children (Lion, 1994)
  • Walpole, Cecil F. Golden Links (Epworth Press, 1941)