Headington history: Pubs and beerhouses

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The Butchers’ Arms

The Butcher’s Arms

The Butchers’ Arms at 5 Wilberforce Street (formerly William Street) was the beerhouse for the village of New Headington. This village was laid out in 1853 but took some time to be developed. This pub did not exist at the time of the 1861 census, but there appears to have been a beerhouse in this building by 1869. From the mid-1870s it was described as an inn.

On 3 August 1878 in Jackson's Oxford Journal, two freehold cottages and an adjoining paddock were described as being “situated near the Butcher's Arms” when their auction was advertised.

On 3 August 1895 Jackson’s Oxford Journal reports on an inquest held in the Butcher’s Arms on a child who died in New High Street.

Butcher’s Arms 1898


The 1898 map of Headington (left) shows the beerhouse as a large building on the north side of Wilberforce Street (which was originally named William Street but renamed in 1959 to avoid confusion with two other William Streets in Oxford).

The beerhouse evidently had to get its water elsewhere, as unlike nearby properties it is not marked with W (for Well).

Opposite to the pub is the row of mean cottages known as Mattock’s Row, and behind them the greenhouses of the nurseries of John Mattock.

The Butchers' Arms


The inn sign (right) is a porcine parody of the armorial bearings of the Butchers’ Company:

  • The shield has a cross of two curious funnel-shaped objects instead of the usual silver butchers’ poleaxes
  • Moneybags have been substituted for the usual butcher’s broom
  • A winged boar’s head has been substituted for the usual “bull statant with wings addorsed” as the crest on top of the helmet
  • The supporters are two pigs rampant instead of the usual bulls

The motto “Deus nobis omnia dat” (“God gives everything to us”) is of unknown origin, and is not that of the Butchers' Company.

Early landlords
  • William Bleay, 1869–1874
    The first landlord of the pub appears to have been William Bleay, who in the 1850s had been a beer retailer in Old Headington but later turned to dairying. He is listed in the 1861 census as a dairyman in the Croft in Old Headington, but by 1869 had moved over to this New Headington pub. In the 1871 census Bleay is described as a “beer-house-keeper” and listed immediately after Silman’s Row (later known as Mattock’s Row, on the south side of Wilberforce Street). He did not stay long, however, and moved to New High Street and a general labouring job in about 1875.
  • James Young, 1876–1904
    James Young then took the business over, and was probably better able to make a go of it because he was also a butcher. He is probably responsible for the pub’s name: the first reference to it is in the 1881 census, where Young is described as a “Journeyman Butcher & Innkeeper” at the “Butchers’ Arms Inn”. He remained as landlord until his death in 1903, and then his wife took over for a year or two.
  • The Grain family, 1906–1970s
    1906–1927: Thomas Grain
    1927–1952: Mrs Ada Grain
    1954–1970s: Bernard W. Grain

Thomas Grain

Above: Thomas Grain at his family home
(34 New High Street) in the 1890s.
At this time he was a bootmaker on the London
Road, but in 1906 he was to become landlord
of the Butcher’s Arms

Right: Bernard and Rose Grain (nee Hawes)
when they retired and left the Butchers Arms in 1977

Bernard & Rose Grain

© Stephanie Jenkins

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