Headington history: Reminiscences


Corner shop at 107 Windmill Road in the 1930s

The following article appeared in Oxfordshire Within Living Memory, a book of reminiscences published in 1994 by the Oxfordshire Federation of Woman’s Institutes from notes sent by Institutes in the County. It is reproduced by kind permission of the Oxfordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes, which has a branch in Headington Quarry.

The shop described below was at 107 Windmill Road (on the corner of Margaret Road), which survived as a shop (latterly Barclay Antiques) until 2018. William Wilkins opened this corner shop in about 1910, and following his death near the beginning of 1919, it was run by his widow, Mrs Rose Marie Wilkins, until 1947.

107 Windmill Road today

The corner shop

My childhood memories go back to the corner shop in Windmill Road, Headington, in the 1930s. It sold everything from bundles of wood and paraffin to groceries, sweets and cigarettes. The bundles of wood were called faggots and consisted of small lengths sufficient to light to fires, they cost about twopence.

When I was quite small, I was allowed to cross the road and go to buy sweets. My penny would buy a sherbet dab, a bar of toffee and a stick of liquorice. A stool was placed in front of the counter so that small children could climb on it to choose their sweets from a display.

Mrs Wilkins who owned the shop was a tall lady with her hair worn in a bun with combs to hold it in place. She always wore a long black dress with a pin-tucked bodice and a frilly “front”. Around her neck dangled her pince-nez spectacles on a gold chain. When she put them on to read they perched on the end of her nose and she had to look over the top of them when she spoke to anyone.

I was always fascinated when she used the bacon slicer. “How thick do you want it?”, she would ask the customers, and by moving a knob and turning a handle, the machine would cut it to the thickness required. I think I expected to see sliced fingers as she removed the rashers and piled them on to greaseproof paper on the scale at the side.

The cheese was cut into wedges with a strong wire and butter was taken from a block and patted into shape with two wooden spatulas, weighed and wrapped in greaseproof paper. It was very difficult to stop it melting before refrigerators were invented and polythene bags and wrappers were unheard of at that time.

Sugar came in bulk and was weighed and put into strong blue paper bags, as was dried fruit and tea. Flour was also weighed according to requirements and was delivered in strong, hessian sacks.

Mrs Wilkins had a large wooden desk in the window of the shop with an ornate till on the top of it. It had large keys like that of a giant typewriter with amounts in £.s.d. stamped upon them. If your bill came to one and sixpence, she would press down the keys with one shilling (1/-) and sixpence (6d) on them and the till would make a jingling sound and the money drawer would shoot out at the bottom. She would then place the coins in little individual trays and give change when needed.

The corner shop was the place where you could hear all the local gossip, meet your neighbours for a friendly chat and have personal attention for all your needs. You didn’t need to “dress” to go to buy the odds and ends, in fact the housewives usually came in wearing their “pinnies” and slippers and with their hair in curlers.

Unknown author, 1994


© Stephanie Jenkins

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