Headington history: People

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Brian Aldiss (1925–2017)

The world-famous author Brian Wilson Aldiss was born in Dereham, Norfolk on 18 August 1925.

He served in the Royal Signals in the Far East during the Second World War, and first came to Oxford in 1947 at the age of 22 to work as a bookshop assistant at Sanders at 104 High Street.

In 1948 he married his first wife Olive Mary Fortescue, secretary to the owner of Sanders, and his father bought them a Taylor Woodrow house in Kidlington as a wedding present. Brian continued to work at Sanders until 1955. He disliked his Kidlington house, and in the late 1950s the family moved to 69 Victoria Road in Summertown, where he wrote his first science-fiction novel Non Stop.

He and Olive had two children – Clive Aldiss (1955) and Caroline Wendy Aldiss (1959) – but his first marriage ended shortly after the birth of Wendy, as his daughter was known.

From 1958 to 1969 Brian was the literary editor of the Oxford Mail, and in the 1960s he lived alone in the Jericho area. In 1965 he married his second wife Margaret Ethel Christie Manson, secretary to the editor of the Oxford Mail, and they also had two children: Timothy Nicholas Aldiss (1967) and Charlotte May Aldiss (1969). They lived outside Oxford in the 1970s, but had to sell their house in 1981 to pay a large sum of back tax. Following the publication of Helliconia in the 1980s, they were able to buy a house on Boars Hill.

In 1995 Brian & Margaret Aldiss bought 39 St Andrew's Road in Old Headington. This house, originally named Hambledon, was built in 1914 on the site of dilapidated cottages by Dr Massie of the Rookery, and is shown below shortly after it was built.


The architect of this house was Nathaniel William Harrison and the builder William Matthew Gray. It house was described in the Oxford Chronicle of 9 October 1914 as a gardener's cottage in roughcast and stone, and the first occupant was Dr Massie's gardener, Louis Dawes. .

Brian had this house renovated, adding a courtyard and a large study with book room over.

His second wife Margaret died of cancer in 1997, and he continued to live here for another twenty years until his own death in 2017.

Despite being an atheist, he was good friends with Father Michael Brewin, the Vicar of St Andrew's Church. In an interview for the Guardian he said:

One of the things I disliked when I came to Headington was that it was a very Christian community. But the vicar is all right. When Margaret was dying, he was round here often. He was a good man with red wine.

Brian Aldiss died at his Headington home on 19 August 2017, the day after his 92nd birthday, and wanted his funeral to be held at St Andrew's Church in Headington.

There is a full entry on Brian Wilson Aldiss in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The ODNB online is available free to many public library users, including those in Oxfordshire:
enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box.

He also has a Wikipedia entry.

Brian Aldiss and Headington

Headington Poetry Competition 2001

Brian was always a good sport, and was persuaded to enter the Headington Poetry Competition in 2001 with this entry:

Headington at Home

Someone sits drinking in the Café Noir –
Known to punters as the Latin Quarter
Of Headington. Thinking of how he lives
He naturally prefers strong wine to water.

Daily he treads the treeless London Road,
Sensing almost tangibly meanwhile
The people’s discontents; Estate agents
Show how we seek a better “domicile”.

Nowhere a decent restaurant! Only
Cheap food joints and pubs that serve dear hooch.
People dropping litter in the street,
Into the many charity shops they mooch.

Who wants an iron bed, a funeral
By Co-op? Friends, life is just a kind of code!
Be philosophical. Concrete must yield
To mind – and Oxford’s only down the road.

The entries were judged anonymously by Professor Paul Muldoon (President of the Poetry Society and Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford), and the contest excited local press interest when mechanic Reg Burnley of Barton knocked Brian into second place. Undeterred, Brian entered the Headington Poetry Competition again in 2002.

Brian Aldiss


The Queen's Golden Jubilee, 2002

Brian threw himself into preparations for the celebration of the Queen's Golden Jubilee at a street party in St Andrew's Road, Old Headington on 3 June 2002, and attended many meetings at the church.

His hopes for a “Miss Headington” competition were, however, dashed.

He presented the prizes (right) at the street party, and his daughter Wendy Aldiss, who is a professional photographer, took some excellent pictures (but not this one).

Books relating to Headington in 2004 and 2013

Brian published two books with a Headington connection while he lived here:

  • Affairs at Hampden Ferrers: An English Romance (London: Little, Brown, 2004).
    This novel is loosely based on Brian’s experiences in helping to organize the Queen’s Golden Jubilee street party in Old Headington in 2002
  • Comfort Zone (Harper Collins, 2013)
    This is set in Headington, where there is a proposal to turn a loosely disguised Black Boy into a mosque. When interviewed here by the Guardian about the book, he said: “There's a certain lowliness about Headington.”

2010/11: Save Headington Library

Library protest

Detail of Brian at library protest

Brian Aldiss played his part in the campaign to save Headington Library in Bury Knowle House when the County Council was planning to close it down in 2010/11.

He can be seen holding an orange placard reading “Save our Library: We use it!” at the top of the steps in the snowy protest on Saturday 18 December 2010 (above, and detail right).

On Saturday 7 February 2011 he gave a talk at the library to the adults during a special Read In for children.

Shark's birthday

Shark's 25th Birthday Party

This was held at 2 New High Street on 9 August 2011. Brian is pictured below with Bill Heine.

Aldiss with Heine

Hear Brian giving his speech (Facebook)

Ruskin walled garden

Opening of Ruskin College

The official opening of Ruskin College in Old Headington took place on 27 October 2012.

Brian attended the ceremony, making a speech and reading a poem that he had specially written about the walled garden.



Left: Brian at the entrance to the Ruskin walled garden

Open Gardens

Open gardens

Brian frequently opened his garden for the Friends of Old Headington Gardens Open Day held each year in June.

The notice on the right exemplifies his quirky sense of humour


Picture of Brian in his garden


© Stephanie Jenkins

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