Headington Hill Park was the gardens of Headington Hill Hall at the top of the park.
The Morel family (note the original French spelling) originate from the Alsace and were involved in viticulture. Branches of the family spread around Europe setting up vineyards, and another branch came to England as brewers.
In 1782 James Morrell Snr. (1773-1855) and brother Mark formed a partnership to run the Lion Brewery in Oxford.
In 1817 James Snr. purchased grazing land on Headington Hill, and in 1824 built a house overlooking Oxford. His son James Morrell Jnr. (1810-1865) had grander ideas and in 1856-8 added the present, 51 room, Italianate Headington Hill Hall together with landscaped grounds and an arboretum. This included 4 lodges, a vegetable garden, stables, coach house and a dairy, The Hall was designed by architect John Thomas, and the arboretum by the then curator of the Oxford Botanic Gardens – William Hart Baxter.
The only child of James Jnr, was Emily Morrell (1854-1933) who married her 3rd cousin George Herbert Morrell (1845-1906) and purchased the adjoining farm land in 1876, In 1920 they leased an area of land to the north as allotments to The St Clements and District Allotment Association, which continues to this day.
In 1953 their son James Morrell III sold the Hall and gardens to Oxford City Council, and the gardens are the present Headington Hill Park and cover approximately 8 hectares (20 acres)
The farmland was sold to the Oxford Preservation Trust in 1932, who in 1959 donated it to the City Council to become the adjoining South Park.
The Hall was used as a military hospital during WWII. Since then the Hall was leased to Robert Maxwell and family for many years, during which time he restored much of the house which had fallen into considerable disrepair. Since 1992 it has been leased to Oxford Brookes University. The stables, two of the lodges and the dairy are also preserved along the roadside boundary. These are now converted into residential properties.
Since 1953 Headington Hill Park has been maintained partly as an arboretum, and as a public park with many new trees added. Many of the specimen trees from the original 19th century arboretum survive, and give the park its distinctive character and historic setting. There are around 1,000 interesting trees in the park: the Friends have compiled a list and map showing the most interesting, old and rare species: see the tree trail on this website. See also a walk around the Hall and through South Park.