Headington history: Reminiscences

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Roy Murrant (born 1932)

On 12 July 2008. I visited Oxford for the day for the first time since I was evacuated to Headington in 1939. I was surprised how much I remembered.

I was born in London in August 1932 in West Norwood, SE27.  In 1939, at the age of seven, I was evacuated with my older sister Margaret (born 1928) to Headington, where I lived with my uncle and aunt, William and Cissy Banbury, at 29 Bickerton Road. My Aunt Cissy was my father’s sister, and my uncle William worked at the Pressed Steel factory at Cowley. He had an allotment: I think it was on the corner of Cheney Lane and Old Road.

I went to a temporary annexe of St Andrew’s School in Holyoake Hall for a couple of years: we were on the large sprung floor of the ballroom so that when a class moved the whole floor moved, much to our enjoyment. The Headmistress was a Mrs Childs, who lived in Manor (now Osler) Road near the Headington Football Club ground. One  teacher I remember was Mr Scott, and I think his wife also taught. Another teacher, Mrs Hubbard, would rap your knuckles if you did not hold your pen/pencil correctly.

A friend of mine whose surname was Owen lived in the houses opposite Holyoake Hall. When the air-raid sirens went, we all had to go to the corridor that was at the side of the building until the all clear. Some activities such as sports day were held in Bury Knowle Park. The dentist was above the library in the park.

We used to get a Cleanliness Stamp to show we kept ourselves and our teeth clean. The “nit nurse” gave us checks, and I think ’Blue Unction’ was the giveaway in your hair. I still have a Cleanliness card for 1943.

In the early days of the war if you arrived at school without your gas-mask, you were immediately sent home to get it. And if you were asked by a stranger for directions, you claimed to know nothing, as all direction signs had been removed and the saying was “Careless talk costs lives”.

I sang in the church choir at All Saints Church, Lime Walk. The vicar was a Revd Hunt. I had good friends there: a Rex Palmer,  his sister, and father, who lived in a cul-de-sac off Windmill Road. The shop opposite the church was a Post Office where I would post letters to Mum and Dad. It is now called Linfield Construction

I was knocked down by a car (my own fault): I ran from the bus stop opposite Holyoake Hall without looking and was spun across the pavement into the wall of the chemist shop (now the Café Bonjour). and suffered a broken femur. There was no ambulance service in those days, so the driver picked me up and put me in the passenger seat, drove me to my aunt’s house, and then took us both to the Radcliffe Infirmary. #

Coming out of hospital I went to St Thomas’s School which was based in St Margaret’s Hall in Polstead Road, North Oxford. The children and school had been evacuated from Silvertown in London, and the Headmaster was a Mr Davis (or Davies), who seemed an excellent teacher even to a youngster like me. The Maths teacher was Mr Wiggins. The school was near a canal, which we crossed to Port Meadow for sports, and we had visits to the Ashmolean Museum and to the New Theatre for pantos. One of the acts I remember at the New Theatre was Wilson Kepple and Betty, sand dancers, hilarioius even to youngsters.

My friend for the rest of my time at St Thomas’s School was Ronald Kitto, who had been evacuated with his sister to Barton Village, which was then quite a small village.

I remember having a visit to what I think was the old Headington Cottage Hospital for a minor cut.

My sister Margaret left the girls’ school of St Thomas’s to join the Women’s Land Army on Shotover, and eventually met a GI and married in the USA. My mother came to stay for a spell as the bombing got worse, and she got a job at the Churchill Hospital which was then an all American hospital. Although only young, I remember Mum taking me round to the hospital to listen to Glen Miller playing. On the opposite side of the road was the Wingfield Hospital, and we used to do visits to cheer the people up. Dad used to visit and sometimes take me home for the week-end in the cream United Counties coaches which ran between Oxford and London Victoria.

I see the old Headington cinema is now flats. I think I remember seeing “One of our Aircraft is Missing” there, and the cost for entry was 3d and 6d.

There used to be a shop that sold very good models of Spitfires etc. near the crossroads. The old Bus Depot there has gone: I remember the buses with the trailer behind as they ran on gas.

I moved to Chatham in Kent from London in 1958, and have lived in the same house for 50 years. I have three children and seven grandchildren.

Roy Murrant, July 2008

© Stephanie Jenkins

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