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Headington history: Reminiscences

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Dick Tolley (born 1927)


Dick Tolley airforce cadet 1944Dick Tolley as an Air Force cadet, c.1944, with West's Nursery behind

Windsor Street in 1930

I was born at 1 Windsor Street in December 1927. On the right is a list of the occupants of Windsor Street from Kelly's Directory for 1930, when I was two years old. Windsor Street then had a shop at No. 21, and I remember Mrs Vyles.

We only had gas in our house, and there were gas lights in Windsor Street when I was a child (although of course during the war no streetlights were switched on).

I can remember being lifted up to look over the wall to see the cows on the land of Bury Knowle House. This was before the house and its park were taken over by the City Council in 1935. There was also a recreation ground surrounded by a ten-foot fence on what is now the St Leonard's Road carpark.

We were able to play games such as hopscotch and football in Windsor Street, as only one man (Vic Carter) had a car in the streets south of Bateman Street..

I attended Margaret Road School until 1941, and went to Sunday School in the old parish hall in New High Street.

On a Saturday afternoon films were shown in the cinema at the top of New High Street, and tickets were 4d and 6d. Next to the cinema was Mr & Mrs Abbey's fish & chip shop. Mr Abbey was run over and killed by a car in Magdalen Street.

As children we used to sit in St Ebba's Chapel on the way up to Shotover.

Where Kwik-Fit is on the London Road was the Smith & Tolley garage, and Mr Tolley (no relation) had the house where I now live built in 1934. I remember Mrs Blackburn and her daughter Barbara Woodhouse who lived in Sandfield Cottage on the London Road.

My mother used to shop at the Home & Colonial and the Co-op, which were opposite each other at the top of Windmill Road. Our bread was delivered to Windsor Street by horse and cart from Berry's Bakery in St Andrew's Road, Old Headington, and there was also a butcher's shop on the corner of Bateman Street and Windmill Road.

My father grew most of our vegetables on his two plots at the Barton West allotments. (Before the building of the Green Road roundabout, there were two sets of allotments, one called Barton West and one called Barton East, on either side of the Bayswater Road.) When she needed to buy vegetables, my mother went to Hicks on the London Road.

The London Road was very quiet when I was young: I would guess less than a car a minute. There were no buses on a Sunday.

After leaving school in 1941 I worked as a cabinet maker for Minty's Furniture in St Clement's.

Where Waitrose is was Eddie Hall's dance hall, During the war the Army took it over and stored blankets there. After the war it became a motorbike shop (Harold Avery Ltd), and I bought my first motorbike from there.

On the site of the present Co-op supermarket on the corner of Stile Road was Eyles & Eyles garage.


Second World War

During the war I helped at Carfax Dairy. This began life in a garage opposite 1 Windsor Street, but expanded into larger premises on the corner of Bateman Street and New High Street. Their three horses were kept in Vallis's Yard, which was at the north-east end of Perrin Street (then called Church Street), and the milk was picked up from three farms at Forest Hill.

I was also in the air cadets during the war, and got my Gliding Licence at Cowley airfield, which was where the Cowley Business Park is now (to the west of Tesco).

An air-raid shelter was built on the playground on the corner of St Leonard’s Road during the war, and the warning siren was situated on the top of Holyoake Hall. My mother had an indoor air-raid shelter in our front room: this was like a big table made of steel with wire around.

Shotover always seemed to be full of soldiers with blackened faces, in ditches, or on all fours trying to hide: they were from the old Oxfordshire & Bucks barracks at Cowley and the Army Camp huts in Brasenose Woods. There were hundreds of wooden huts there, and you can still find traces of where they were with concrete paths and, in places, steps up to the huts.

Almost at the end of The Ridings is a pill box which marked the rear entrance to the camp. The main entrance was at the far end of The Slade opposite the Corner House pub. At that time The Slade became Hollow Way without turning into what is now Horspath Driftway (except for access to the Slade Isolation Hospital, which has of course now gone).

At the far end of the Ridings in the field beyond Watch Hill there were three Ack-Ack guns with a soldier on guard at the gate. Not far away, deep trenches were dug for tank and personnel practice, and very much resembled the battlefields of France.

The Home Guard (Dad's Army) had a firing range in the old pit behind The Kilns, off Old Road, which is now covered by houses and garages.

Down at Wood Farm near Titup Hall Drive was a camp for Italian prisoners of war. These guys were allowed out to walk in the evenings but not in public places. They were issued with battledress with a large red patch on the back. They were made to work but at tasks not linked with the war effort, so they dug drainage ditches and mended roads.

From the top of Shotover the Unipart building can be seen. During the war this area as a dump for old aircraft. These were piled up ten or twelve high, stripped of any useful parts, and the rest melted down for their aluminium to make new aircraft. Over to the right of that, where Tesco is now, was an airfield, and from time to time aircraft could be seen going in and out. In fact the Morris Car Factory made about 3,500 Tiger Moth training aircraft, and these were flown from the airfield, five or six at a time, three or four times a week. There was no eastern bypass then, and "Queen Mary's" (sixty-feet lorries) went down Windmill Road day and night transporting the bodies of damaged aircraft to Cowley.

Headington Hill Hall was an army hospital.


After the War

A month after the war ended, I went into the Royal Air Force, and worked in Singapore as a Spitfire and Mosquito fitter.

In 1952 I married Jeanette Bright, who then lived next door to me at 3 Windsor Street, and we lived there with her parents until we moved to Shotover Hill in 1970.

After leaving the Air Force I worked for the railway on the footplate of a steam engine, and later became a train driver: I used to drive from Pressed Steel to Longbridge with pressings for Rover cars. I wrote a book called Steaming Spires: Experiences of an Oxford Engineman.

Eastern bypass bridge

© Stephanie Jenkins

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