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Headington history: Reminiscences

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John Gardner


Headington – Some fond memories of the 1940s and 1950s

Since corresponding with an old friend, Geoffrey Nicholson, who now lives in New Zealand, I have been reminded of the times I spent in Headington as a child and teenager. Our family moved to Headington when I was nine years old, and rented a semi-detached house, number 90A Lime Walk, later changed to 104 Lime Walk. It took me a little while to become familiar with my new surroundings and make new friends but once established I made many new friends who lived nearby. I remember some of them still – Michael Lowe, Brian “Timber” Wood(s) and his little brother Alan, Brian Colley and his little cousin Ian. Apart from playing locally we often went up to Rock Edge to re-enact the latest “Cowboy and Indian” film which we would have seen at the Cinema (known familiarly as the “Flea Pit”), located at the top of New High Street. We used to sit on the hard wooden seats of the 10-penny section, strictly supervised by Mr Hall, the much-suffering owner of the cinema. On one of our ventures to Rock Edge we came across a row of tents, which were occupied by German POWs. They were very friendly, and no doubt, like ordinary folk, were glad the war was over for them. During the short time they were there they gave us urchins presents of carved wooden toys. I will never forget that.

Quite often, during the summer months, our family would take a day trip, on one of Dring’s buses, to the sea-side which would have included, amongst others, Southsea, Southend, Brighton and Hastings.

Headington United supporters badge

As a youngster living in Headington, I was an avid supporter of the Headington United Football Club. I didn't miss many home matches but I was never rich enough to sit in the rickety old stands. Instead I was very much a "standing" spectator.

In those early days the players were amateurs; I can remember Jimmy Smith, centre forward, and Harry Thompson, player-manager, that's about all, and the enemy was Oxford City.

In 1949 Headington United joined the Southern League, as a semi-professional team. I, as a 13-year-old, saved up all of my pocket money to become a paid up supporter and I still have my supporters' badge with a bar 1949–50.

I continued as a paid up supporter until the age of 16 years old, so my badge has bars for 1950–1951, 1951–1952, 1952–53.

A photograph of my badge is shown here: I have had it now 69 years, and considering that, it's not in bad condition.

When I was 12 years old I joined the 8th Oxford (Highfield) Boy Scouts and remained a member until I was about 17 years old. The Scout Hall still remains on Perrin Street. Our Scout Leaders were George Springall and Freddie Hedges, and our Troop Leader was David Watts. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Scouts, especially the summer camps and weekend hikes.

Scouts8th Oxford (Highfield) Scouts (circa 1947–49) John Gardner is in front row second from left

It was at Scouts that I met Philip Flook, who lived on Kennett Road and who became a lifelong friend of mine and members of my family, which includes my wife, Hilary, three children and six grandchildren. Philip also attended Southfield School where we played rugby with and against each other. Philip and I spent some of our mis-spent youth hanging around Bury Knowle Park, often listening to the pop music of the day – Guy Mitchell, Johnnie Ray etc. – accompanied by other friends – even girls. Our music was provided by a wind-up gramophone and 78 rpm records. Refreshment was often taken at either the Fish and Chip Shop or Café opposite to Bury Knowle.

My father passed away when I was 15 years old, and so there was a need for extra cash in the family budget. I had two paper rounds, an evening and morning round, courtesy of Jennings Newspaper and Stationery Shop. I still remember delivering the evening Oxford Mail along The Slade against the tide of thousands of cyclists all going home from Morris Motors and Pressed Steel. How things have changed. I also worked in the Fish and Chip Shop opposite Bury Knowle Park on weekends.

I attended the Margaret Road Junior School, which for “play time” was strictly divided into Boys and Girls. Our Headmaster was Mr Birch, aptly named, and yes I did get the cane twice even though I was perfectly innocent! My teachers were Miss Shrimpton, Mr Tull and Miss Butler. I was in the “B” class at all times, but managed to pass the 11-Plus exam, to the extent that I was offered the choice of three grammar schools in Oxford. I chose Southfield Grammar School and never regretted it. Southfield had top-class teachers and I quickly adapted to the academic and sporting challenges presented by the school. I stayed on to the Middle Sixth, after which I left to become a student apprentice at the then Bristol Aircraft Company, in Bristol, followed by my attendance at the University of Bristol where I acquired an Honours Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

At University I met my wife, Hilary, who was the Secretary to the Professor of Civil Engineering at the University. We married in 1960, and then left to go Australia, where I had a three-year contract with the Australian Department of Defence, working on a joint UK-Australian project. After two years I was offered a permanent position, and as a consequence we have lived in Adelaide, South Australia ever since that time. Since retiring in 1996 my wife and I have been fortunate in being able to visit the UK often. We always make a point of visiting Oxford for a couple of days, including Headington where my father’s grave is situated in the Old Headington Cemetery, Dunstan Road. Needless to say a stroll around Bury Knowle is always part of the itinerary. While in Oxford we used to spend time with our dear friend, Philip Flook, now deceased, and his wife Sue. Good times – visiting some of our old favourite pubs, like the White Hart, Old Headington where way back we used to play outdoor skittles and shove-halfpenny.

Geof Nicholson drew my attention to the article on Lime Walk and I was fascinated to read that there had been home-based laundry operations set up in some houses, and there had been quite a lot of activity by local women in providing laundry services. There was an addition on the back of 104 Lime Walk, where we lived which was referred to as “the laundry” – so that answered a question that had been on my mind since childhood. The laundry as such had been sectioned off to provide a bathroom; we had to boil up water in a large coal fired copper to supply bath water.

John Gardner, November 2018

© Stephanie Jenkins

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