Headington history: Reminiscences

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The Whitehead and Bryan families of Headington

Charles Whitehead remembers his two sets of grandparents, who lived in Headington



I was born in 1944 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire where my parents Arthur Levi Whitehead and Vera Rosanna Whitehead, née Bryan had moved after their marriage in 1925.

Left and right: my parents Arthur and Vera in what I think must have been engagement photos

Parents' marriage



Right: My parents’ wedding day. They met in Headington, where both their families were living, and were married at All Saints' Church, Highfield in 1925

My paternal grandparents: Charles Levi Whitehead (1869–1962) and
Alice Esther Whitehead, née Fisher

My grandfather Charles Levi Whitehead was born in Beckley where his parents Levi & Louise Whitehead and before them his grandparents James & Susannah Whitehead had kept the post office and carried out their boot- and shoe-making business. As far as I know my grandfather was the third and last generation of cordwainers.

My grandparents Charles and Alice Whitehead moved to Olveston, 78 Windmill Road, Headington some time shortly after the census of 1901.

OlvestonOlveston, 78 Windmill Road in c.1930

I have only very distant memories of my paternal grandmother, Alice Whitehead, as she died in 1948 when I was four. But those memories are of a dear lady with, what I now know was, a Gloucestershire accent. She was born at Olveston in south Gloucestershire, and the house in Windmill Road must have been named after her birthplace.

Alice had been in service at Beckley Park to the east of Oxford, where she met my grandfather. They were married at Beckley Church on 24 September 1896. The picture on the left below shows her (I think) on her wedding day.

Alice Whitehead

Charles & Alice Whitehead with Dorothy
Above: My grandparents Charles
and Alice Whitehead with
my eldest sister Dorothy

78 Windmill Road, was a detached house with an average-sized garden at the back and was probably built in the 1900s. Today it has six bedrooms and four reception rooms so it may have been added to over the years. The above picture shows it with railings, which would have come down during World War II for use in the munitions industry. It is as I remember it, but there have been changes over the years. Windmill Road to a five-year-old seemed a lot wider then than it does today. Of course there were in 1949 considerably fewer cars and therefore no need for double yellow lines. No buses came down the road but there was a main road at the bottom of Windmill Road where buses would come from the left and turn away and I remember collecting bus numbers when staying with my grandparents.

My grandfather Charles Levi Whitehead had a workshop in one of the reception rooms, and I remember machines for cutting and stitching leather, shoe lasts and great sheets of leather hanging on the walls. There was a stove for heating and for boiling up the glue. Through the back door one entered a scullery with a large walk-in larder. There was a water pump outside the back door where my grandfather would have his morning and evening wash, but there was running water in the house. There was a kitchen for cooking and eating and this led into a hall with the workshop opposite. At the end of the hall were two front reception rooms, a sitting room and dining room which were only used for best. I remember Christmas lunch one year in one of the rooms. Upstairs were the bathroom and the bedrooms and I have vague recollections of there being steps up to a mezzanine floor.

The garden was my grandfather’s pride and joy; it was a productive garden with vegetables and fruit trees as well as roses which he loved. He was a beekeeper, and when we visited I was usually taken “into” the hive to be shown what was going on and to spot the queen. I was fully kitted up but my memories are that my grandfather never wore a veil, a hat, or any protection. He would talk to the bees all the time in his soft Oxfordshire burr and they would crawl all over his arms and his face, but I don’t ever remember him being stung, although I have no doubt he was. He would never go to the hive if it was thundery as the bees would not be in good humour. At the end of the garden I could look over the wall to Mr Jacob’s house next door. He kept a pig at the bottom of the garden which I guess was a throwback to the war if you remember the film A Private Function. This was a large fat sow in the best “Blandings” tradition which probably had young which went off to market, as perhaps the mother did once in a while and was replaced.

Maternal grandparents with sons

My father’s brother, Uncle Walter, worked at one of the colleges in Oxford as a steward and was a passionate Headington (now Oxford) United FC supporter, and I would usually accompany him to home matches when we stayed.


Left: My grandparents with my father Arthur (left) and my Uncle Walter (right). Just note the quality of the shoes they are wearing!!

My maternal grandparents: George Bryan (1869–1936) and
Patty Rosanna Bryan, née Brown (1871–1956)

My mother's family lived on the other side of the main road at what is now 22 Old High Street (then numbered 18 High Street, Old Headington).

22 Old High Street

Bryan family

Above: 22 Old High Street in c.1930s
Right: The Bryan family – my mother Vera
is seated, and my aunt is on the left.

The family had moved to Headington from Ludgershall in Hampshire in the 1920s after my grandfather, George Bryan, had retired. He had served in the Indian Army and in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry in South Africa 1899–1902 as a Colour Sergeant. On his retirement from the service he opened up a sports business serving the troops in Tidworth and Larkhill from the early 1900s through the First World War and beyond.

George Bryan was a great Masonic man. He is the one grandparent I never knew as he died in 1936.

George Bryan in masonic dress

Patty Bryan

George Bryan older

Above: (1) George Bryan as Master of his Lodge; (2) later in life; and (3) my Granny Bryan

I would generally spend at least two weeks of the summer holidays in Headington during the late 1940s and early 1950s with either or both sets of my grandparents. I think this gave my mother a bit of a rest from her rather boisterous son. This was often one of the highlights of the summer holidays for me, run a very close second by the annual week, sometimes two, at the seaside. The highlights of my Headington holiday were watching the blacksmith a way along from my granny’s house in Old High Street, and playing on the swings and slides in the park just of the main road. It is good to see that Bury Knowle Park is still there today.

My maternal grandmother lived with us in Aylesbury during her final four or five years of her life for six months and then spent the other six months of the year with her other daughter in Leeds. She lived to 86.

My paternal grandfather (Charles) was 92 when he died. I can remember him cycling the 20-odd miles from Headington to Aylesbury for the odd Sunday lunch in the 1950s (always bringing a jar or two of honey) when he would have been then in his 80s. Buses were for cissies. They don’t make them like that anymore!!

© Stephanie Jenkins

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