Headington history: Reminiscences

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David Goodearl

Travel seems to be in an Australian’s blood, especially these days, but tourists seemed to be fairly rare when, on a surf beach one Sunday in 1950, a friend and I decided to spend a couple of years in England.

He worked here in Sydney for Morris Motors so organised a job with them in Cowley before he left, and I just went along “for the ride”, as it were.

We had a short time living in Wimbledon Park, working as waiters at Lyon’s Strand Corner House, before moving up to Oxford and securing “digs” in Headington with a Mr & Mrs Tom Cummings (Tom was an engineer with the tractor division of Morris Motors). The address was 27 St. Leonards Road, which was then a dead-end street off Wharton Road. The Quarry Gate Pub was only a few doors up from us. A trip there some 30 years later surprised me when I saw it had been opened up and went right through to the road behind.

The right-hand semi below was my “digs” at 27 St Leonard’s Road:

27 St Leonard’s Road

Below: Winter scene at 27 St Leonard's Road:

27 St Leonard’s Road in the snow

NatWest bank

As I was only 21 with no capital behind me, work was necessary, so I applied for a job at a grocery store operated by Burton’s Dairies on the corner of London and Stephen Roads.

Left: Former Burton’s Dairies shop, now occupied by the NatWest Bank

Below: London Road in the 1950s, with Burton’s Dairies the first building on the left

London Road in the 1950s

The manager was a Jack Pawling who took a punt on this young Australian. I hope I didn’t disappoint him, though my sleeping in on the first day and arriving one hour late must have made him wonder. The fact that we kept in touch until he died perhaps thirty years later (and after that his wife, Mabs, till she died) gives me heart. I still correspond from time to time with his son Clive and his daughter Margaret Woodward, who now live in Cowley.

I was in the Headington branch of Burton’s, and the main store was further towards London at the junction of the main road to London and what was called the Oxford by-pass (now North Way A40). I think the spot was called Round Corner, though I never had to go there for any reason.

Mrs. Clark was his leading hand, with Francis, a delivery chap called Herbie, and another three or four girls whom I cannot now name. Rationing was still in force, and quite a few of the customers sought me out to serve them, as I think they felt that this young Australian chap would not be au fait with the rationing system. But Jack had well and truly schooled me before I got behind the counter! The lady I boarded with (Margaret Cummings) was very pleased with me when I was able at times to augment her fats, cheese, eggs and bacon “off ration”.

“Old man Burton”, as he was known, lived in a flat on top of the store and served customers out of hours from the back door seven days a week, which was good for the customer. But I never saw the money from his sales making it to the till – it rather offended my sense of honesty.

Jack was a real motor-bike enthusiast who rode a large Triumph – that was the bike of the day guaranteed to impress any 21-year-old boy. I recall going with him to speedway in Oxford of an evening, as well as the rambles held in a paddock on Shotover Hill – they were most exciting, with motor-bikes roaring “flat chat” on a closed circuit over the rough ground with all its mud. Safety barriers? No such thing!

I have always been very keen on music, and studied the bass here for four years in my leisure hours. I went and joined the union (one had to do that) which resulted in a call from an Oxford band leader, Ricky Derges, who was stuck for a bass player on one occasion. He must have been pleased with me, as I stayed with him until I returned home. Ricky had the leading band in the area, and was very much in demand at the American Service and Officers’ clubs at Upper Heyford and Brize Norton, as well as a heap of balls at Oxford colleges held throughout the year. Rick used to live in Sandhills Estate and had an eight-seater Humber car, with an enclosed trailer holding all the instruments. He used to collect the band at different points on the way to the job, which was most convenient for us and ensured that all members arrived on time. It was a very professional group, led by a very talented trumpeter. Stan Simms was a marvellous pianist who often tuned the piano before playing it. I have often tried to get in touch with Rick without success – I even rang his home once when I was in England for a trip and left a message, but nothing ever came of that. He used to work in Taphouse’s Music Store which was in Magdalen Street, under Elliston & Cavell (now Debenhams).

Ricky Derges and his band at Upper Heyford Services Club. Left to right: Stan Simms,
Ricky Derges, Freddie Shorter, Eric Bossom, Dave Pinching, and David Goodearl

On one occasion we were involved in a “Battle of the Bands” at Carfax – I remember it was a very big affair in a very large dance hall. We were the last group on, the finale if you like, and whilst we were waiting, I thought I would have a dance. I had really just got on the floor when my partner said to me, “I bet you’re a musician” and when I answered, “Well yes! How did you guess?”, she replied, “You must be, because you’re a terrible dancer!” It is an activity that I had never practised much as I was always playing bass – my wife will agree with that!

Though born and bred in Australia, I have always had a very strong attachment to England, perhaps as my grandparents migrated from High Wycombe and Princes Risborough back in 1886. I still have Goodearl relations living in Risboro’ and correspond with them quite regularly. But I will never forget the enjoyment I had seeing Oxford and working in Headington over 50 years ago. There are times when winding back the clock would be wonderful and this website helps do that.

David Goodearl, August 2006

© Stephanie Jenkins

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