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Headington history: Reminiscences

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Roger Prouse


My family came from Wales: they lived in Cowley then settled in Risinghurst, where I grew up. My father was organist at what is now Collinwood United Reformed Church; and my mother, who will be 101 in the spring of 2009, still lives there.

The people of that area (Quarry included) were the best in the world, no matter what their social status: the absolute salt of the earth. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I sometimes wish I had never left. I returned to the UK for a while in 2008 and visited most of the places on your website (now in a wheelchair). Not only did I cry for my youth, but I realized how much Headington had meant to me.

Although my father was born in Swansea and was a fluent Welsh speaker, I was to discover many years later that he was in fact by birth Romany, and I had it in the blood, because I spent lot of time in the Quarry (much to my mother’s distaste): I fitted in with the Webbs/Smiths/Coppocks etc. I spent a lot of my childhood there, and used to ride about with Mr Webb on his horse and wagon: they were “totters” who lived opposite Quarry School: I think they are all probably gone.

I myself went to Margaret Road School, but as I was part of the baby boom I spent two years in a room at the back of Quarry Village Hall. Our teacher’s name was Mr Coppock: there were a lot of them in the area, and I think they originally came from Cornwall to work the quarries. The headmaster at school was a Sammy Eason, and I could say lot about him, but you couldn’t print it!

As a boy in the 1950s I delivered papers to the Kilns and surrounding area. I remember playing on the lake and falling in.

William Kimber junior used to visit my home as a lad, and I can remember sitting on his father’s knee as he played his box.

I left Risinghurst in 1964 aged 19, lived on Barton for a short while, then moved to the country for a while, and returned to Cowley for a few years before leaving to live in Ireland, where I have been for almost 30 years. My late wife was irish, but her family like a lot of Headington families came for the steel and car industry. Irish or not, she was in what I believe was the first “girl” morris dance group. I can see them now performing outside the original Collinwood Road church hall at a fete in about 1958. The vicar was a Tom Stiff.

I always had a thing about big machines, so when they built the eastern by-pass I got myself caught red-handed by the local policeman who was, I think, PC Keep: he lived on Risinghurst. I got in to a big scraper and started it up, fortunately he caught me, before I could do any real damage to the neighbourhood: I got a slap around the ear and was marched home and grounded for a long time. This was about 1958/59: you wouldn’t get away with it now.

There was a “chippie” just below the Chequers on a small road long since gone, and we used to get chips there served in newspaper. At the Old Road end of Quarry Road was a stable run by a family called Stay, and where the bridge crosses the by-pass was another one owned by a Mr Cox, who lived in Kiln Lane, and I spent an awful lot of my time between the two of them, grooming, cleaning stables, exercising the horses over Shotover:, again the gipsy blood comes out.

Shotover Mound was owned by a commissioner of boy scouts named Anderson, and his housekeeper, a Scots spinster called Margaret Foster, was a friend of my Mother’s. I spent lot of time in the house, and he had an amazing collection of stuff from all over the world, including a genuine north American indian chief’s headdress. Looking back, I wonder how he got it all, and where it went, as he had no family.

As you travel from Quarry village hall toward Old Road, the first house on the left was occupied by a family named Smith, who ran a fruit & veg shop in Headington opposite Walkers. I believe they had been fairground people. Their son Clive ran a garage on the Cowley Road, just below the old bus garage.

Roger Prouse, December 2008

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