Headington history: Reminiscences

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David Gooch

David Gooch grew up in Old High Street in the 1930s and 1940s, and now lives in Southern California. He would welcome an Email from anyone who remembers him.

So pleased to find your site; I was brought up in Headington from 1939 to 1948. My parents had the off-licence at 15 Old High Street, then a branch of H & G Simonds, and which later became Arthur Cooper and is now a Thresher off-licence. For most of the time my father was in the RAF and my mother ran it.

I made my first return there just a few weeks back and the shop still has virtually the same phone number! Ours used to be 6701, and theirs still ends in 701. The smithy was still in full working order at that time, I looked for it but guess that the horrid modern house that is there is the smithy’s yard. Berry’s the Bakers delivered with a horse-drawn vehicle during the war, there being precious little petrol available. Strangely, Barton Lane has changed very little in the last half century, there were even shire horses in the fields! The one Berry’s used was commonly called “Dobbin” and he and his equine colleagues could be seen at the blacksmith’s having new shoes put on.

I went to Headington Preparatory School, at the end of Beech Road. The premises have been demolished and on the site there is now a large block of flats, the only new building in the road. The school was run by Miss Helen Welch with Miss Shepherd. Somewhere nearby, between it and the football ground, was a kindergarten school, but that was likely to have been during the war years only. The grounds of Headington (United) Football Club as it was then were rather smaller than today.

Next door to 15 Old High Street there was a dance hall (ballroom!) which attracted American army personnel. After the War it became Harold Avery’s car show room. Beyond that, towards London Road, was Corby’s the Tobacconist and then the ladies’ hairdressers, Eyles & Pledge (Phyllis Eyles, of the Eyles and Eyles motor family and who had a filling station further up London Road), and Mabel Pledge. On the corner was an electrical and radio shop which sold “accumulators” and carboys of acid and other fascinating things. Around the corner was Bellamy’s the Chemists and a florist and greengrocer which still seems to be in the same premises even today. Another shop always amused me as a little boy, because it had the name “Fanny” in it, which seemed so old-fashioned. The Barclays Bank is the same as it was in the 1940s, as are the houses across from no 15, in which Alan Edney lived, and next door was Mrs Earle and her daughter Muriel, who died, I think, in childbirth. Her wedding reception had been at the Holyoake Hall. However, the Lloyds Bank, although apparently on the original site, is (obviously) a new building.

There are many memories I have of the area; some of the great houses have been razed, such as where the Gurden Family lived (of Oliver & Gurden, the then famous confectioners and bakers). There was a farm on the right-hand side as you would go down London Road to Oxford which was owned by a woman simply known as the Dame; at one time the grounds were used for a fun fair. Headington Cinema had a café upstairs run by the Misses Rogers, a wonderful place in my childhood, because not only did we go there for lunch when the coupons or points wouldn’t always stretch, but all my young birthday parties were held there.

David Gooch, June 2001

© Stephanie Jenkins

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