Garth House is a former hunting lodge built in the 1840s. Today it is set in some 9 acres of parkland and formal gardens. In May 1946, on the death of the private landowner, Garth House and the surrounding estate was purchased by the then Bicester Urban District Council at a cost of £6,500 becoming the new landowner. Some of the money was donated by notable local dignitaries of the time. A plaque in the park is a reminder of their generosity.
In 1972, as a result of local government reforms, Bicester Urban District Council became Bicester Town Council and Garth House and the park were transferred into the ownership of the new Town Council.
The original estate was larger than it is now. Bicester Urban District Council sold some of the land on Launton Road, opposite what is now Garth Park for housing development. It is unknown how much it was sold for or what the income was used for. Much more recently, in 1997, Bicester Town Council negotiated the sale of the area known as Langford Farm to a housing developer to build New Langford.
The monies raised by the sale of Langford Farm have been used to provide sports, recreational and other facilities for the people of Bicester e.g. building the Pingle Field pavilion and modernizing and improving the pavilion at Sunderland Drive.
Over many years Garth House had suffered slow but accelerating decline and had fallen into a state of some disrepair, with the roof causing particular problems. Although the house stretches over three floors, the top floor had suffered significant water damage and was unusable.
However, 2012 saw a change in the fortunes of Garth House. The Town Council decided to have the house completely re-roofed, making it wind, water tight and weather proof. With appropriate planned maintenance, this should protect Garth House for generations into the future. However, although now safe and potentially usable, the top floor does not meet modern usage standards so will be refurbished in the future to provide office space and storage space.
In 2014, Garth House was fortunate to benefit from a considerable government grant that allowed some innovative refurbishment of the Town Council used part of the building. Bio Regional was the partner to Bicester Town Council in this project. This means that part of the house has been brought up to modern standards of insulation and double glazing, without compromising the period features.
Garth Park is the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ as far as parks and open spaces are concerned in Bicester! It boasts magnificent award winning formal gardens, a cafe , a stunning traditional bandstand, areas of informal open space, children’s play area and a well used skateboard park. Public toilets are available outside the cafe (please note, the cafe toilets are only for patrons).
The entrance to the park has magnificent wrought iron gates. At the entrance hangs a historic bell cast by Edward Hemins at the former Bicester Foundry in 1732. It used to be the call bell at the old Town Hall and Shambles until these were demolished in 1826. A six-rink Bowling Green and tennis court are leased to Bicester clubs.
The park hosts many activities and concerts, some free of charge. These activities in a typical year include a children’s activity day, musical concerts to suit all tastes, sometimes even a beer festival and various community events. It varies from year to year, so watch the events diary to see what’s coming up.