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Headington history: Reminiscences

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A house in Windmill Road c.1930


The following article appeared in Oxfordshire Within Living Memory, a book of reminiscences published in 1994by 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.

My Grandmother’s House

I was born at my grandparents’ home in Windmill Road, Headington in 1926. The house was built around 1900 and was detached with a narrow sideway. It had a passage leading to the front room, the staircase and the living room which you passed through to get to the kitchen and scullery. The WC was outside, although joined on to the back of the house. It had a long wooden seat with a flush toilet underneath it. At night we had to take a candle in a jam jar and my mother would sit on the seat beside me and read me a story by candlelight.

Upstairs there was a landing leading to the front bedroom and second bedroom and another landing which led to a small boxroom and the back bedroom. My parents and I had the two front rooms until they could afford a place of our own and we moved to a “modern” bungalow when I was nine years old….

My grandmother’s kitchen was warm and cosy. She had a black kitchen range, which she did all her cooking in, and boiled kettles and saucepans on top. Two flat irons were heated on top of it when she did her ironing and a line was strung across the length of the kitchen to air the clothes or dry them on wet days.

In the corner of the scullery was a stone copper which we filled with water and heated up by burning all our paper, rubbish and bits of wood and coal in a fireplace beneath it. Washing day was quite a major operation and the quarry-stoned scullery floor would be flooded by the time the washing was finished. It then had to be scrubbed with water saved from the washing, and on our hands and knees we scrubbed through the kitchen as that also had red quarry stone floors. We usually finished up by scrubbing the “front” from the door to the front gate and “whitening” the door steps with a stone used for that purpose. I use the term “we” as I went to live with my grandmother when I was first married so all these chores then fell upon my shoulders. The only difference then was an old grey gas stove but I still preferred the food cooked in the kitchen range.

When I was a child we had gas lights in the three downstairs rooms. There was one either side of the fireplaces and one in the centre of the ceiling. They had flimsy white mantles which were always having to be replaced. We used candles upstairs.

We didn’t have a bathroom at Windmill Road so when we wanted a bath the water had to be heated in the stone copper and emptied by a jug and pail into a long zinc bath which had been placed in front of the kitchen fire. The back door was always locked so too bad if anyone needed to go outside to the toilet while bathing was in progress! The worst part was having to bale all the water out again when you had finished so it was quite usual for all the family to use the same water.

We didn’t have carpets on the floor although in the kitchen I believe there was coconut matting. My mother used to make peg rugs using pieces of material from old clothes and they lasted for years and were quite cosy to lie on in front of the fire. Of course we had coal fires in those days, even in the bedrooms if one was confined to bed. The floors were generally covered in linoleum or else the floorboards were varnished. Lino-covered floors had to be polished every week and “mopped” each day with a cotton mop to remove the dust.

Milk was delivered by the handcart in large churns and was ladled out into the housewives’ own jugs with a measure. Bread and cakes were delivered by horse and cart and the coalman also had a horse. We would go out with a bucket and shovel after they had gone to see if they had left us something for the garden. We had quite a long garden and my grandfather grew flowers, fruit and vegetables. He had a greenhouse where he grew tomatoes and chrysanthemums and he also had an allotment and grew enough potatoes and greens, onions and carrots for all our needs.

Families used to visit their relatives in those days as in spite of all the everyday chores they always found time to keep in touch with each other and help out in times of trouble. Clothes were handed down and never thrown away. Most of my clothes were “hand me downs”. A lot of women made their own bread, jams and pickles and I still do all those things although my wine making is not quite so primitive. I use demi-johns whereas I can remember seeing wine in big red earthenware basins with mouldy bread floating on top and covered with muslin.

Unknown author, 1994

© Stephanie Jenkins

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