Headington history: Reminiscences

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Denis Warry (born 1923)

Denis Warry lived in Headington from 1929 to 1948 and was related to the bike-shop owner G. H. Williams

The Williams Family – The Early Generations

My great-grandfather, George Henry Williams (the first of the four George Henrys) was born towards the end of the reign of George III, who died in 1820. When he was born, there were no railway trains, the waltz had just been introduced into England, and Parliament had just passed an act abolishing the public whipping of women. He must have been about 20 when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. He was a schoolmaster in St Pancras, London. His wife was also a teacher. Unfortunately, he died of smallpox in about 1860, and his wife had to return to Chadlington in Oxfordshire with all her children.

One of her sons, George Henry Williams (the Second), was born in 1842. As a young man he moved to Headington and it was there he met his wife, Letitia Ward. Her parents, John (a brick-maker) and Sarah Ward came originally from Horsepath and moved to Headington in the 1850s, and they lived on the London Road. They brought with them some of their younger children, including Letitia. Letitia who was born in 1846 had nine brothers, five of whom fought in the Crimean War (1853–56). Of those five, only two returned, the other three all died, not from battle wounds, but from the disease and dysentery which killed more soldiers than the actual fighting.

George (II) married Letitia Ward in the late 1860s and they settled in Old Headington. He was a labourer in the building trade. He worked hard and saved hard because in December 1885 he bought land in Lime Walk from the Revd John Taylor and built 117 Lime Walk for his family. He later built 128 Lime Walk and a pair of semis round the corner on Old Road. 128 Lime Walk, where his oldest son eventually lived.

George and his wife had seven children, John, Edith, Mary (Molly), Miriam, George, George, & Letitia. The fifth child, George Henry was born in 1877 and he died in infancy. so when the next child was born in 1882 he too was named George Henry.

George and his wife were strict church-goers, and their children were brought up to attend church two or three times on a Sunday. The couple were also very anti-alcohol, and the children all belonged to The Band of Hope.

Descendants of George Henry Williams II (born 1842) and Letitia

(with special reference to their lives in Headington)

John (Jack) Williams (1869–1958): Jack, my uncle, was the eldest of the Williams children. He was born in 1869. When a young man he went into domestic service and finished up as a butler. He was a religious man and this gave him a rather awesome demeanour. The only time I offended Uncle Jack was one Sunday when I went with my mum to see him, and being bored with listening to adults chat, I asked if he’d got a pack of cards so that I could play patience. “Cards on a Sunday!” he exclaimed. I know he was also shocked because my mother knitted on a Sunday. He married Emma Harvey who was born in 1868, and they had two children. When Uncle Jack retired he lived at 128 Lime Walk until his death in 1958, aged 88.

  • His son Francis Williams married Mabel Griffin (1898–1985) from Chipping Norton. They had four boys. In 1930, Francis and his family moved to Canada where they became farmers in Saskatchewan, and their descendants still live in Canada.
  • Uncle Jack’s daughter, Daisy Williams, was born in 1904. She worked for the Electricity Company in Oxford. In the 1950s she gave up her job to look after her father. After he died in 1958, she sold the house in Lime Walk and lived in Bicester, where she died just one month after her 100th birthday.

Mary (Molly) Williams (later Boyt) was the third child of George and Letitia Williams and was born in 1873. She married Joe Boyt who might have come from Greenwich. They lived in the family home in 117 Lime Walk almost opposite Uncle Jack. Joe and Molly had three boys: Joe, Frank and Wilf.

  • Joe Boyt was born in 1906, married Hilda, and they had two boys Maurice born in 1926 and Brian born 1934. For a time they lived at 117 Lime Walk. Maurice attended Southfield Grammar School and then worked as an accountant for the Co-op in Oxford.
  • Frank Boyt was born in 1908. He married Alice in 1939, and they had one daughter, Pam born 1945. She married Lionel Smithson and they have three children, and still live in Oxford.
  • Wilf Boyt was born in c.1910, and married Angela. He died young at the age of about 40, and had one son, Robert.

George Henry’s next child was Miriam Williams (b.1875). She was a cook in domestic service until in 1928/29 she had a house built at 10 Manor Road (now Osler Road) where she lived the rest of her life until she died aged 97 in 1972. 10 Manor Road was next door to Hunsdon House private School which is mentioned in Judith Hammick’s reminiscences. Aunty Min, with whom I lived from the age of six, was quite an awesome character. I have written a long article about Life with Aunty Min. Just one incident is worth telling. Auntie Min’s chief enemies were ‘officials’ who worked in places like the Town Hall. Once in the war, she was fined £1 for breaking black-out regulations. She changed a pound note into a mixture of pennies and halfpennies and took them to the Town Hall and emptied the bag of coins on the desk of the clerk, who had to count them. (remember in those days there were 240 pennies in a pound.)

The next child of George Henry was also called George Henry Williams (b. 1882). When he left school he worked as a cycle maker for a Mr Sydney Prior. In the 1890s, Mr Prior had started up The Highfield Cycle Works in the grounds of Highfield House in Old Road, Headington. In 1908 he opened a new cycle shop at 60 London Road and put George Henry in charge of the retail side of the business. Within a few years George had bought the business and opened the shop next door as a confectioner’s shop. He and his wife Flo (nee Cantell) lived over the premises from then until he died in 1953. (More about Uncle George’s shop later). George and Flo had three children: Edith, George Henry, and Reginald Jack.

  • Edith Williams was born in 1908, and when she left school she had to work in the shop, despite the fact that she wanted to become a teacher. In the book The Changing Faces of Headington there is a photograph of Ede standing outside the sweet shop, circa 1926. In 1928 she married Perce Cullimore from Wootton under Edge. Perce was a sorter in the post office and they lived for some time on the newly built Sandhills Estate. Ede and Perce had three boys. Norman Cullimore, the eldest, was born in 1929 but died of meningitis at the age of four. Then came Terence (born 1931) and next Roy (born 1936). Both boys went to Southfield Grammar School. Terence now lives in Oswestry and Roy emigrated to Canada many years ago.
  • Uncle George’s second child was also called George Henry Williams (born 1911). He was the fourth generation to be called George Henry! He was always referred to as ‘young ‘George. Young George worked in the bicycle shop when he left school, and in 1934 married Ella Jacobs. George and Ella lived on the Sandhills Estate, and had three children: Anne born in 1935, Keith in 1938 and Robert in 1945. During the war George was in the RAF. After his father died, and the two shops were sold, he bought a smaller shop on the opposite side of the road and made it into a very successful cycle shop where they repaired and sold bicycles. He was assisted in the shop by his younger son, Robert, who then managed the shop when George retired, well in his eighties. George died in 2006 aged 95. Young George’s eldest son, Keith Williams became a motor engineer; married Valerie Ann (nee Williams) in 1960, and had two girls and a boy and in May 1971 emigrated to New Zealand.
  • Uncle George’s third child, Reginald Jack Williams, was born in 1916. He too worked in his father’s shop, repairing cycles. He married Hilda and had one son , Ronald, born 1943. After his father died, Jack and his wife Hilda bought a grocery shop in Wilkins Road in Cowley. Then he retired and like his sister, he went to live in Oswestry. He died in 2002.

My mother Letty Williams (Mrs Warry)

The youngest child of George Henry Williams (the second) was Letitia Williams (my mother), who was born in 1884. Letty started at St Andrew’s School when she was three years old where she soon learned to write, and she can recall sitting on a stool at school learning to knit with two wooden meat skewers. In those days of School Standards, children had to take a test at the end of each school year. If they achieved a satisfactory standard of work they were automatically promoted to the next standard irrespective of age. Letty was bright, quick to learn and had a good memory. One governess at the school was a member of the Mattock (roses) family. She was very popular with the girls and from her, Letty learned a lot so that by the age of 11, she had reached the top standard, and was able to leave school.

The only jobs opened to young girls in those days was in domestic service, but Letty was too young and had to wait three years before she could go to work. These years were spent helping at home, where her mother kept her busily employed all day and every day with various household chores. Her other daily tasks included delivering a daily paper to each of three ladies, one of whom was called Miss Whitely. Then in the late afternoon she would have to go back and collect up the three papers and take them to the British Working Men’s Club in Old Headington, so that the men could read them.

The British Working Men’s Club was run on temperance lines. Painted on the wall of the club was the following :

“A Public House without the drink
Where you may read or talk or think,
And sober home return.”

Letty and her brothers and sisters were all members of the Band of Hope, a national temperance society.

Miss Whitely was a wealthy resident of Headington and she paid for the building and the upkeep of the Working Men’s Club. Letty had to run her errands and had to take her to church on Sunday evenings. They went to a wooden church room in Lime Walk, and in the winter, Lettie carried a candle lantern so that Miss Whitely could see the way.

For this little job, Lettie was paid in kind. Once a week Mrs Whitely gave her threepence with which she had to buy two pennyworth of peppermints and a pennyworth of lemon drops. She took these to Miss Whitely who took some out for herself. What sweets were left over were Lettie’s wages.

When Letty was 14, in the summer of 1898, she began a long life in domestic service. After a few years as a kitchen maid she got a job as a cook at Stanton Harcourt with a family who had just arrived home from New Zealand.

After several jobs in the Oxford area, Lettie eventually got a good job in London. A few years later the First World War broke out, Letty joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) and worked in the kitchens of University College which had been taken over for an army hospital with 300 beds. There were still a few dons and older members of the university still living there. Letty was originally employed as a vegetable cook, but she got on so well that Mr Herbert promoted her to be his chief assistant. He eventually took over the hospital side of the cooking, leaving Letty to cook for the university section. Letty now earned the distinction of being the first woman to cook for the High Table.

It was during these two years at University College that Letty met her future husband Cecil Warry who had been invalided in France and sent to the hospital. He had been wounded by shrapnel in the head and had also been gassed. Some of the soldiers who were convalescing were given light duties, and Cecil was sent to help in the kitchen.

In 1919 Cecil was demobbed from the army and he and Letty were married and lived in London. Letty and Cecil had two children, Denis (me) born in 1923 and Audrey, born in 1926. At the beginning of June 1927, Cecil contracted double pneumonia and he died on June 21st. Although his death was indirectly due to the gassing he had received in the war, Letty received no war-widow’s pension and so was expected to live and bring up two children on the paltry widows’ pension of 5 shillings a week.

Letty managed to obtain a job as a cook in London and she was allowed to take me, now 3½ years with her. Her eight-month-old daughter, Audrey, was left to the care of Flo, George’s wife and then at the age of two she went to live with Aunty Min in Manor Road.

Letty retired from her job as a cook when she was 80 years old and managed to get a retirement flat in Scrutton Close in Headington Quarry where she lived until she was 103. She then came to live in a Rest Home near us in New Milton, Hampshire. She died in1989, within 3 months of her 106th birthday.

Audrey Warry, my sister was born on the 13th November, 1926. After our father died, she went to live first with Aunty Flo and when she was two years old, with Aunty Min in Manor Road Headington. I went to live there when I was nearly seven.

She went to St Andrew’s School until she was 11 years old and then transferred to The Secondary School in Windmill Road. In 1948 she married Johnny Weston. For most of her married life she lived Weyland Road in Headington. She and Johnny had two girls, Christine and Linda. Christine was born in 1951 and Linda in 1955. Audrey died in 2005.

St Andrew’s School

I came to Heading to live with my Auntie Min in 1929. I went to St Andrew’s School in September 1930. I started in Miss Pritchett’s class. She was the head of the Infants’ department as was called the ‘governess’. The reception teacher was Miss Baker, who later married and became Mrs Bagnall. Then came Mrs Morgan. She came from the north of England and she told wonderful stories about Rin Tin Tin a dog.

In the Junior School were Miss Hill and then Miss Bickley. I liked her, despite the fact that when we were having a singing lesson, she said there was a ‘growler’ in the class; she guessed it was me, and told me not to sing.

The next teacher was Mr Drewer, who also took drill and football.

At the age of 11 I went into Mr Clibborn’s class, from where I took the scholarship. Mr Clibborn was a very good teacher, and he specialised in music and geography. But the teacher I liked best was Miss Stace, who actually took the top class. She came into our class twice a week to teach history and she inspired me with a love of history that has never left me.

Mr Stace, the headmaster, occasionally taught the top class. He was a stern figure and would occasionally cane boys. Mr Stace drove an MG sports car, and my cousin Jack, when he was at the school some seven years before me, would be asked to clean it.

The school had a good reputation for teaching the 3Rs and every year many of the children passed the scholarship and went to Southfield, Milham Ford or the Central School. After the war, I became a teacher and later a headmaster, and I based my teaching methods on those I received as a pupil at St Andrew’s.

As the school was a church school, every so often we had to go to St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington. The vicar was a Revd. ‘Dicky’ Bird; and all I can remember about that church it was dark and dreary. We liked going to church on Ascension Day because we always had the rest of the day off.

Mrs Ward’s Music School

Like several other writers, I too went to Mrs Ward to learn the piano. I suppose I was there for about three or four years, but I wasn’t particularly good. I remember the music and dancing concerts which Mrs Ward put on. I had very little talent for music and did not take part in the concerts, but Miss Ward did discover that I possessed a clear loud voice and so I was always the announcer which suited me well.

When I want to the grammar school I made the lame excuse that I had too much homework to do to be able to practise the piano, so was allowed to give it up, However Mrs Ward still let me announce the items at her concerts.

After the war

During the war I was in the Navy, and was demobbed in March 1946. That is when I met Diana my future wife, who lived in Southfield Road. Part of the next two years were spent training to become a teacher, but we had two wonderful years despite rationing and austerity. Like Jeune Morris, we had many walks to Shotover; then there was punting on the Cherwell, Saturday evening visits to The Playhouse in Oxford, tea at the Cadena Café, and walks up Pullens Lane where I proposed. We were married in March 1948 at All Saints Church, Highfield. By then I had qualified as a teacher and worked mainly in Oxfordshire, Berks and Bucks, until I retired in 1983. I often returned to Oxford, when my mother lived in Scrutton Close. I was delighted when I was 80 and took my granddaughter on the Cherwell, that I could still punt, and I want to come back again and try it now that I am even older.

G. H. Williams Cycle and Confectionery Shops

As well as making, repairing and selling cycles and all the accessories, they also sold petrol and paraffin. Behind the shop was a very large yard with many sheds, some of which were let out as garages. In the big workshop at the bottom of the yard was a large engine which produced the electricity used in the house and shop. In was in this workshop that his sons, George and Jack, used to repair the bicycles.

Uncle George generally served in the cycle shop during the day and one of the female members of the family would serve in the ‘little shop’ as the confectioner’s was called. The cycle shop would close about 6 pm, and then in the evenings George would often serve in the sweet shop, where he virtually chain-smoked. What would the Health and Safety people say today?

As the sweet shop was only 200 yards from St Andrew’s School, it was always busy between half past three and half past four when the children came out. Sweets were mostly two ounces for a penny (old money); but the expensive ones were a were a penny an ounce. On Saturday afternoon and evenings, I would work in the sweet shop, selling sweets and similar items, and Uncle George or one of the family would stand behind the tobacco counter serving cigarettes. As well as serving, I used to fill up the sweet jars from cardboard boxes by hand, no little scoops in those days. We would often stay open until 9 at night.

The most popular sweets we sold to the children were called gob-stoppers, sherbet dabs and sherbet fountains, liquorice all sorts, liquorice cuttings and Pontefract cakes, jelly babies, and aniseed balls. Bars of chocolates included crunchies and flakes, and there were the Five Boys bars of chocolate sold for one penny.

A few groceries were sold as well as candles four for a penny, which an old lady, called Lizzie, who lived in the cottages on the opposite side of the road bought as she had no electric light.

Biscuits were sold by weight and put into white paper bags. Oh happy days, paper bags instead of those stupid plastic things used in supermarkets today which I can never open. The most popular biscuits were custard creams, bourbon creams, Garibaldi and plain ones which I think were called Osborne. We also sold broken biscuits at two ounces for a penny.

We also sold Eldorado ice cream, and minerals, called ‘monsters’. I loved helping to make the monsters in a shed in the back yard. First the returned bottles were washed and filled with water. They were then given gas under a gas cylinder, and a flavoured tablet was put into the bottle and a screw top applied. There was lemonade, orangeade, cherry cider, ginger beer and my favourite which was called ice cream soda. A large bottle of monster cost 2 pence and a small one cost a penny; then a penny was added as a charge on the bottle, which was refunded when you returned the bottle.

Every year there was a fete or something similar in Bury Knowle Park, and my uncle had a tent from which he sold sweets and ice cream. I have a photograph of this.

Underneath the whole shop was a huge cellar in which many of the goods for the shop were stored and accumulators for wireless sets were charged. Every Friday or Saturday evening, Jack would deliver the accumulators to the homes of the elderly and bring back their used accumulator for re-charging.

Another thing which Uncle George possessed was an old invalid or bath chair which in earlier times was hired out to the elderly or people who had difficulty in walking. When I was a boy, it was no longer used for this purpose, Jack, Audrey and I would love pushing each other, and you could get up a really good speed going down Western (now Holyoake) Road.

Christmas at the Shop

Christmas was a time I well remember. Unlike today, shops were not decorated for Christmas in October, a fact which I think made Christmas more fun. Early in December, ‘young’ George and Jack would put fairy lights in the shop windows, there would be a nodding Father Christmas, and best of all, a model train set, with a train running round and round. From inside the shop, I loved watching the adults and children gazing at all the decorations and things in the window. There seemed to be more of an atmosphere of wonder than one gets today, and in none of the shops were we bombarded with canned music such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Jingle Bells.

Other Shops in Headington

Some of the writers have said how they came back to Headington after an absence of several years to find it very much altered, not always for the better. To me, when I returned to Headington in 2005, the worst thing was the lack of ‘proper’ shops.

When I was a boy, I could walk from my home in Manor Road, along the London Road to my uncle’s passing Oddy’s the chemist, Walker’s the furniture shop, a sweet shop, Durham’s the greengrocer, and next to that was a butcher’ shop all within a space of a hundred yards. Then further along the London Road was Griffin, the jeweller and watch repairer, a shoe repair shop, a newsagent, and Edney’s the men’s outfitters. Next to my uncle’s cycle and confectioner’s shop was the Post Office and a little further down a fish and chip shop. There was Shergold’s the ironmonger, and in other parts of Headington there was a fishmonger, another fish and chip shop, two bakers, at least one dairy.

Then on the corner of Windmill Road and London Road was the Co-op which sold all sorts of groceries. Like Jeune Morris, on Saturdays I also did my aunt’s shopping at the Co-op in Headington, and remember her number which was 20954.

But in 2005, there seemed to be no where that I could buy a loaf of bread, or meat, greengrocery, and not even a sweet shop. In the end I had to go into a supermarket to buy a bar of chocolate!! That is really sad.

I am writing these memories, not only because I have been asked to, but also because I don’t want anyone to say one day when I am gone, “I wish we had asked him about such and such, and now it’s too late.”

Denis Warry, June 2010

© Stephanie Jenkins

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