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Headington history: Reminiscences

Go backwards
Go forwards

Stephanie Jenkins


I originally intended to write about the way the local shops have changed beyond recognition since I moved to Headington in 1982. But after wrestling with such problems as “When exactly did Michel’s restaurant open?”, and “What was the name of the Asian shop on the Bateman Street/Windmill Road corner (and when exactly did it become a vegetarian café?)”, the only way to make progress was to base this piece on the slightly different situation six years earlier in 1976, when all the Headington shops are conveniently listed in the last Kelly’s Directory ever published.

The biggest changes since 1982 have been the demolition of old shops (some of which had charm, such as the last remaining house of the 1820s Belle Vue Terrace (below); and other of which were dilapidated). Other old buildings which have been replaced since that date are those currently occupied by Lloyd's Bank; the Skipton Building Society office; Caffè Nero; and the Scott Fraser office.

New High Street corner
The corner of New High Street in c.1998; and Turret House and Standon
Court (originally called "The Cloisters") being built in April 2000

In 1976, Headington was a fairly quiet residential suburb. The John Radcliffe maternity hospital had been open for four years, but the hospital proper would not move to Headington until 1980; and although Oxford Polytechnic had been in existence since 1970, it was very much smaller than the present Brookes University. Thus the multi-occupancy of houses was rare; Mattock Close was still a rose garden; and there was a much greater sense of community. All Saints Church House in New High Street had been opened by Princess Margaret just three years earlier.

The Moulin Rouge cinema at the top of New High Street was still going strong. There was a Royal Mail delivery office in Lime Walk, and on the other side of the London Road was the Oxford United football company. The Park & Ride scheme and the fast bus service to London had not been invented, and there was only one bus company in Oxford.

The shopping centre was excellent, and people could do most of their shopping without leaving Headington. It had more independent shops than there are today; but it also had the largest supermarket in Oxford, MacFisheries (later the International Stores, then Gateway, then Somerfield, and now Waitrose). Hence people made a point of coming to Headington to shop, and the delights on offer in the Headington shopping centre were often advertised in the local press.

The Co-op occupied every one of the shops that stretch between Windmill Road and Holyoake Road, as well as the former shop (then much larger) that stood on the site of the present Skipton Building Society. The present Co-op building on the corner of Stile Road had not been built, and in 1976 the site was still occupied by Eyles & Coxeter Ltd, motor car agents.

There were three other smaller supermarkets in the centre of Headington. Fine Fare was at 98 London Road (later Shopper’s Paradise, where you could help yourself to just the amount you wanted from large bins; then Kwik Save, Peacock’s, and now Sainsbury). The Fine Ware [sic] Supermarket was at 108/110 London Road (later Bejam’s and now Iceland).

Setting up home in Headington was easy. You could get your furniture from Walker’s at 71 London Road (now Starbucks); your carpets from Lander Wilson at 4 The Parade, Windmill Road (now Frog Orange); and decorating materials from Reeve’s at 104 London Road (later part of the Olan Mills shop, then the Oxford Optical Centre, and now the Windmill Fairtradeshop).

You could sort out your gas and electricity supplies (and purchase your appliances) at the Southern Gas showroom (the other part of 104 London Road) and the Southern Electricity showroom (the old shop that stood on the corner of New High Street. The latter became the Oxford Video Club in the 1990s, and was then rebuilt: since then the site has been occupied by part of the Iron Bed Company/Feather & Black and now Buongiorno e Buonasera. Electrical goods could also be obtained at Rumbelow’s at 112 London Road, and if you lived nearby, the assistants would bring them straight down to you on a trolley: this later became the Trade Exchange pawn shop and is now Savers Health & Beauty).

Televisions were still often rented in 1976, and there was a choice of Rediffusion at 114 London Road (now the Cancer Research UK charity shop); Loyds Retailers at 107 London Road (now Chancellor’s Estate Agents), or Visionhire at 108 London Road (now the Marie Curie Cancer Car charity shop).

For ironmongery, in addition to that good old survivor Headington Homewares you had Edginton’s at 12 Windmill Road (now Leopard Press/Choice Tiles) and Shergolds at 87 London Road (now rebuilt as Lloyds Bank). When Shergold’s was forced to move out in the early 1980s, they reopened to 138–140 London Road and became Carpenter Shergolds. (That large shop has now been demolished and rebuilt as a smaller one: it is now occupied by the Skipton Building Society.)

You could get soft furnishings at H.O. Textiles at 5 Simon House (later Africare Hairdressing and now Adria Gelateria Italiana. If you wanted to make your own curtains, you could go to the Sewing & Knitting Machine Centre (on part of the site of Buongiorno e Buonasera). You could get almost any other everyday item at the Lesandon Discount Store at 95 London Road (now Pen to Paper) or at Headington Discount Stores at 2a Windmill Road (later Clover's, and now the Sue Ryder charity shop).

As well as the supermarkets, there were still plenty of old-fashioned specialist food shops. There were two greengrocer’s shops: Durham’s at 121 London Road (later Jem-i-Ni, then Keraleeyam Stores, and now Headington Food & Wine) and Bonner’s at 106 London Road (later Cartridge World and now Up & Running). There was also a fruiterer: W. E. Smith & Sons at 94 London Road (on the site of the rebuilt British Heart Foundation charity shop). The central florist was Just Plants Florists at 11 Windmill Road (later McGill’s and later Isis Hair, now renamed Ice Hair).

There were three baker’s shops: A. Butler & Co. at 1 The Parade, Windmill Road (later Queen of Hearts, now known as Queen’s); Vallis’s at 123 London Road (later the Lebanese Sandwich Shop and now Mojo’s); and Berry’s at 3 Old High Street (later the Pergola Patisserie, and now La Croissanterie). Berry’s Bakery had started up in Old Headington in 1863, and you could see the goods being made in their bakery, which was behind 1 St Andrew’s Road facing Larkin’s Lane; and Vallis’s Bakery had started up in Quarry at almost the same time.

The four butcher’s shops in 1976 were:

  • Baxter’s at 113 London Road (later Chef’s Pantry, La Plaza, Copacabana, and Caffe Toscano, and now Finders Keepers)
  • Alden’s at 77 London Road (now rebuilt as Scott Fraser estate agents)
  • Harold Weaver at 148 London Road (later Martin’s Family Butchers, then La Patisserie Imperiale, and now Yummy)
  • Dewhurst at 5 Windmill Road (later Model Masters, then Goodies Secondhand furniture, then Focus Electronics, and now Electric Aids).

In addition to their big supermarket in Old High Street, MacFisheries lived up to its name and had a fishmonger’s shop on part of the corner site on the south side of the London Road that was rebuilt and was occupied by the 7–11 shop, then B2, then Londis, and now Caffe Nero.

Supermarkets thirty years ago did not sell alcohol, stamps, or newspapers, and you had to go to separate shops:

  • For wine you went to Gough Brothers at 79 London Road (now The Garden) or Arthur Cooper at 15 Old High Street (later Thresher’s, now Jacobs & Field).
  • For stamps you had either to go to Headington Post Office (which was then a full Crown post office offering all services, and twice the size that it was before its closure in 2016) or to the smaller Highfield Stores and Post Office in All Saints Road.
  • For newspapers you went to English & Son at 14 Windmill Road (later Balfour News, and now the Helen & Douglas House charity shop)

In 1976 you could get your stationery at John Menzies at 97 London Road (later Fusion Hairdressers and now Angels Hairdressers), and your sweets at J. Chaundy’s sweet shop at 76 London Road (now the east side of the Mount Pleasant Hotel). Toys were on sale at Fleet Toy Dealers in Simon House (now Lee & Lindars estate agents).

G.H. Williams cycle shop at 115 London Road (later Café On-Line and the LJ Discount Store, and now the Polish supermarket Eurofoods) was already in its 54th year in 1976 (although it had started life on the opposite side of the road). It was not, however, Headington’s oldest business: that was S. West & Son, which had been at 74 Windmill Road since 1893 (now private housing).

For fashion items and clothes, there was:

  • Edney & Son Men’s Tailors at 99 London Road (later John Menzies and Crown Group Newsagents, then W. H. Smith's, and vacant in 2017)
  • Hamilton-Smith Fashions at 65 London Road (now the Sun of a Beach Tanning Salon)
  • Penge di Roma tailors at 5 Simon House (later the Special Days and the London Beauty Boutique and now Armends Walk-In Barbers)
  • John Lane Menswear at 81a London Road (now the eastern part of the Cancer Research UK charity shop)
  • D&A Fashions at 119 London Road (now Sobell House charity shop)
  • Miranda Ladies outfitters at 77a London Road (later the Squash Café, and now Coco Noir)
  • Miranda Junior at 7 Old High Street (now Monaco);
  • H. H. Windows Outfitter at the north-west end of Windmill Road.

Shoes could be purchased from Bailey’s at 5 The Parade (now the Thong Heng Chinese supermarket) or at W. D. Smith & Sons, “high-class shoe retailers & repairers, wools, haberdashery” at 93 London Road (which continued as Brambles and then became the Oxford Furniture Warehouse and is now a second branch of the Helen & Douglas House charity shop. Shoes could also be mended at Quick Service Shoe Repairs, which was on part of the site at the north-west end of Windmill Road (which was redeveloped in the 1980s and is now a block housing Caffè Nero and adjoining shops)

There were two jewellers: Lily Crane at 9A Windmill Road (later Launa Stone and now Black Mamba Tattoos) and Robertson Jewellers at 109 London Road (later Adkin Estate Agents and Morgage Masters, and now Breckon & Breckon).

Everything for the baby could be bought at Walker’s Baby Shop at 8 Windmill Road (later Alliance Pharmacy, then Moss Pharmacy, and now Reynold’s Blinds), while the Pet, Garden & Hardware Supplies at 150a London Road (which survived until 2016) catered for pets. For record and cassette players you could go to Oxford Audio Visual at 19 Old High Street (now Audio T).

R.J. Hollier Sports Outfitter at 82 London Road (on part of the Buongiorno e Buonasera site) sold sports clothes. Headington United had become Oxford United in 1960, and the Oxford United Club Shop was at 118 London Road (later Reynolds Blinds, and now Greggs Bakers).

Chemist’s shops in the centre were Boot’s at 96 London Road (which is still going strong), and Bellamy’s of Oxford at 69 London Road (now S. & R. Childs Funeral Directors).

Lucky Charm Antique Dealers were at 6 Windmill Road (now Japlene), and much further down at 72A was the Oxford Buy & Sell Stores (now Ford’s Secondhand shop).

More survivors from 1976 are Regency Cleaners and the Truwash coin-operated laundry at Simon House. In 1976 there was also the Speedwell Cleaning Co. in Kennett House (now the Clic charity shop). Sketchley’s at 102 London Road was later Johnson’s Cleaners and is now the Card Factory.

In 1976 there were two betting shops (both described as “turf accountants”): Ladbrokes at 10 Windmill Road (now Choice Tiles) and Daltrey & Reeve at 1b New High Street, to the north of the cinema in a group of shops replaced by flats.

Robert Stanley Opticians were at 137 London Road in 1976 and are still there today. The Headington Travel Agency at 63 London Road is now Subway.

Away from the immediate centre, some old-fashioned corner shops remained in 1976, but most are now private houses). Hodgetts & Marriott butchers were at 58 Windmill Road on the Bateman Street corner; F. & L. Margetts grocers were at 107 Windmill Road on the Margaret Road corner (now Barclay Antiques); and D. Garner grocers were at 59 Kennett Road on the Bateman Street corner. The end of the small grocer’s shop was nigh, however, and in 1976 the one at 39 New High Street (on the other corner of Bateman Street) had already closed. During the early 1980s, all the other corner shops lost out to the supermarkets, in the same way that the supermarkets themselves are now losing out to hypermarkets. In their declining years these corner shops were expensive, tended to have stale food, and could not offer much choice; they were only of real use during the evening and on Sundays, when all the shops in Headington centre were of course closed.

There were other handy local shops away from the centre in 1976 such as the Co-op at 295–299 London Road, which had a separate butchery department (later Sharp & Howse, and now Jaya's Indian Deli and the vacant Falafel Man shop). In Lime Walk there was Evelyn Caple florist at No. 109; B. M. Machin, a dentist, at No. 61; Alfred Burton, a hairdresser, at No. 65; F.A. Newman, a removal firm, at No. 19; Mrs O. E. Lines, a chiropodist, at 59a; and Fransman’s Car Hire at No. 4. The Driving Test Centre for Oxford was then at No. 2A, and Reginald G. Mallett, funeral directors, were at No. 124. In 1976 Central Headington was not yet a smoke control zone, and you could get your coal at Cade Heat Ltd at 291 London Road (later AEG Washing Machine Repairs and now the Oxford Food Centre).

The largest group of shops/businesses in Headington today is made up of cafés, restaurants, and takeaways (there are at least 16 of them, and still increasing). Back in 1976, the choice was not large: there was the Windsor Fish Saloon at 150 London Road (now Posh Fish); the Golden Kitchen at 81 London Road (now rebuilt as The Rose Chinese Restaurant); the Kyrenia Restaurant at 92 London Road (approximately where MailBoxes is now); and the Barbican at 148 London Road (later the Hang Chow, which was first renamed The Chinese Restaurant and is now Asian Mama). The Shanghai Chinese Takeaway at 127 London Road was the only takeaway in 1976, and it still survives.

The second largest group of shops/businesses in Headington today are the estate and letting agents (twelve in 2016). In 1976 there were Dines & Gill at 9 Windmill Road (now Daisy Chain Cards); Allen & Harris at 129/131 London Road (now Connell's); Town & Country Estates at 1 New High Street (swallowed by Standon Court), and Vernon & Son at 117 London Road (later the Annie Sloan shop, then the Lazy Gamer, and now Istanbul Barbers).

The third largest group of shops/businesses today is made up of hairdressers.  In 1976 there was Marcus Petersen at 4 Manor Buildings (later Evoke Hair & Beauty, and now part of the adjoining dental surgery); Oxford Hair Care at 111 London Road (now Accent); W.J. Bowen at 66a London Road (now Sir); Anita Coiffure at 68 London Road (now Cut ’n’ Create); Martin of Oxford at 2 The Parade, Windmill Road (later Styles, then Vente Tsunami, and now just Vente); Paolo of Florence at 2B New High Street (in the group of shops now replaced by flats); and Mrs J. Hobby at 4D/E New High Street (now Joanne Hairdresser).

The fourth largest group of shops/businesses today are the banks and building societies (seven in 2017). In 1976 NatWest, Midland (now renamed HSBC), Barclays, and the Coventry were all in their present buildings. Lloyds Bank was at 85 London Road but was rebuilt in the 1980s to incorporate No. 87 on the corner as well. Bristol & West used to be at 101 London Road (now Andrew’s Estate Agents), and next door at No. 103 was the Trustee Savings Bank (now Ladbroke’s).

The equal fourth largest group of shops in Headington today are the charity shops (eight in 2017), but in 1976 there was just one: Oxfam, then in a different shop at 133 London Road (now the extension of the Coventry Building Society).

Stephanie Jenkins, 2006 (names of present shops updated in 2017)

© Stephanie Jenkins

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