Headington history: Miscellaneous

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The old funeral path from Quarry to St Andrew’s Church

Until 1849 the only church for the whole Headington area (which stretched from the top of Headington Hill to Sandhills) was St Andrew’s in Old Headington.

People started to settle in Headington Quarry in the fourteenth century, and for five hundred years they took their dead for burial at St Andrew’s Church by a quick diagonal funeral path, shown in red on the map below. (Bury Knowle House is shown in yellow.)

Quarry pathAbove: 1898 map showing the old funeral route footpath (FP) in red. Bury Knowle House is coloured yellow. The present path goes to the west of the public conveniences that replaced Sir Joseph Lock's lodge

The first section of the old path from Quarry still survives intact in the form of Chapel and Vallis Alleys, but from Holley Crescent to the London Road the middle section of the path has been obliterated by twentieth-century development. The London Road did not exist until the 1790s, so after the stile near the top of what is now Stile Road, the path used to continue without a break into Old Headington. The last section of the path still survives as the alley behind Headington car park in Old High Street.

The funeral path from North Place to Quarry is described thus in the Headington Enclosure Award (1802, enrolled 1805):

Also one other public Foot path of the like breadth of six feet numbered XX beginning near the blacksmith’s shop of William Lawrance in Headington aforesaid and extending from thence in a Southward direction through and over the Allotment numbered 58 into the Road numbered I [London Road] and branching from thence in a South Eastward direction over the several Allotments numbered 29, 36, 37, 38, and 40, to Headington Quarry, the same being set out as the public Foot Road leading from the Village of Headington aforesaid to Headington Quarry aforesaid

It was the blockage of the part of this path that ran across Allotment 58 in Old Headington (awarded to the Oxford goldsmith Joseph Lock under Headington Enclosure Award of 1802) that was largely responsible for the people of Quarry turning their backs on Old Headington and embracing Methodism. Lock built Bury Knowle House as his country retreat, but the small diagonal stretch of footpath running through a corner of his land just to the east of his lodge was obviously a source of annoyance to him. The minutes of the Commissioners’ meeting of 10 January 1803 reads:

We also considered an application made at several former meetings by Mr Lock respecting a footpath which now passes in a diagonal manner across the Allotment in front of his house and directed our surveyor to make such alteration therein as appeared to be proper and necessary.

Lock unilaterally built a wall across this path, which meant that Quarry people had to take an alternative route along Old High Street to get to their church. This added an extra 250 yards each way to their journey, which was the final straw for those shouldering coffins all the way from Quarry to the churchyard. On three occasions coffin bearers smashed down the barrier to assert their ancient rights, but three times Lock rebuilt it.

The Curate of Headington, James Palmer, stood by the people of Quarry, saying, “It does appear hard that for the accommodation of one upstart fellow, the inhabitants of a whole hamlet should be distressed.” Lock would not budge, however, and the curate resigned his post, writing to the Bishop that “The purse-proud sons of wealth generally combine together.” He also reported that, “The inhabitants of Quarry now say that as they are to be deprived of their funeral path, they will not come to Church at all, but intend to have a Methodist preacher come to them.” As a result four men of Quarry (James Coppock, Robert Coppock, Henry Morris, and James Varney) arranged for a Methodist Minister to come to James Coppock’s house next to the Six Bells. Meanwhile the men who had broken down the barrier came before Oxford assizes in June 1807:

Wm. Coppock, Benjamin Bushnell, Charles Ed[g]ington, and several other persons were tried for a riot at Headington, in this county, and for forcibly entering a paddock of Joseph Lock, Esq., situate in that Parish, which has been inclosed under the authority of an act of Parliament passed in the 41st year of the present reign. All the defendent [sic] were found guilty, and Wm. Coppock, Benjamin Bushnell, Charles Ed[g]ington, Henry Bushnell, Thomas Goodgame, Peter Goodgame, and Josephy Jacob were sentenced to be imprisoned in the Common gaol for six calendar months, at the expiration of which time to enter into recognizance with sufficient sureties to keep the peace.

Bound over were John Adams, Ann Coppock, Rachel Goodgame, Elizabeth Bushnell, wife of Richard, and Elizabeth Bushnell, single woman.

Over the next twenty years numbers grew, and the Quarry Methodists, despite being humble labourers, succeeded in raising the money for a proper chapel, which was opened in Trinity Road on Easter Sunday 1830.

On 24 October 1931 C. S. Lewis wrote to his brother Warnie about a new quarrel over this footpath:Quarry was now part of the city of Oxford, and the city council wanted to divert it: see letter from the Revd Wilfred Savage Thomas, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, in the Oxford Times of 7 August 1931 (p. 10) headed “Closing the Quarry Field footpath”. Parts of the footpath still survive, but the 1930s houses in the Quarry Field (Margaret and St Leonard's Road) block off the north-west end.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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