John Stansfeld was born in Walworth, Surrey, in December 1855. Immediately after leaving school he held several jobs in the City before entering the Civil Service where he worked for thirty years. In 1877 the Civil Service transferred him to an Oxford office. After his father’s death in 1886 he decided to study medicine and matriculated at Exeter College at the University of Oxford. Until 1909 he continue to earn his living working for the Civil Service, but then decided to take Holy Orders. He served as vicar of St Ebbe’s in Oxford from 1912-1926.
In 1918 his wife Janet died at the age of 47 from influenza and Stansfeld used money they had been saving for a trip to the Holy Land to buy land off Quarry Road. He used this to give children from the St Ebbe’s slums the opportunity to camp in the country at the weekend. This land he initially called St Ebba’s, after his church.
During this time, there were also opportunities for families from St Ebbe’s to visit for a country holiday – with the advantage that the breadwinner could still walk down the hill to Oxford. In addition, boys from the parish of St Saviour in Birmingham and schoolchildren from London also visited the centre.
When Stansfeld left Oxford in 1929 the Birmingham Education Committee rented the land from him to establish an open-air school for Birmingham school children. In 1933, after the death of his only son, the land was part-sold to the City of Birmingham. Stansfeld died in 1939 and Birmingham acquired the rest of the land.