Headington history: Shops

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G. H. Williams’ cycle shop on the London Road

The eponymous George Henry Williams took over Prior's cycle shop in Headington in 1912. His business has had two locations on the London Road:

  • To 1955: Nos. 138 & 140 on the south side: A large double shop on the corner of Holyoake (then Western) Road, which was numbered 60 until the early 1930s
  • From 1956: No. 115 on the north side. This was a smaller shop on the opposite side of the London Road, which was numbered 37 until the early 1930s.

and it was still run by two of his grandchildren when it closed 84 years later on 17 June 2006

The cycle shop at 138–140 London Road (1908–1955)

G.H. Williams shop in 1937

The original G.H. Williams shop is shown above, when it was celebrating a royal event (probably the coronation of George VI in 1937). The section on the left, which sold sweets and tobacco, has an advertisement on the door for Eldorado ice-cream and another over the door for Fry’s cocoa, while the windows advertise Cadbury’s Chocolate. Cycles (made in the area behind the shop) were sold in the right-hand section. Cycles were also repaired there, and petrol could also be purchased from the pump on the pavement to the right.

The picture below shows the same shop in 2004, prior to demolition in early 2006.

Cotswold Collection

The story of G.H. Williams starts when John and Sarah Ward of Horspath moved to Headington in the 1850s. They lived in the house which now forms the right-hand side of the Mount Pleasant Hotel on the London Road, and John Ward, who was a brickmaker, probably came to help build New Headington just round the corner. They brought with them their youngest children, including their daughter Letitia (Lettice) Ward.

George Williams of Chadlington met and married Letitia Ward, and they settled in Old Headington in the 1860s. Their son, George Henry Williams, who was to found the firm, was born on 3 July 1882 and baptised in St Andrew’s Church.

South end of Lime Walk

In December 1885 George Williams senior purchased land in Lime Walk from the Revd John Taylor and built 117 Walk for his family, including a laundry for his wife. He later built 128 Lime Walk and a pair of semis around the corner in Old Road.

Right: Postcard showing Lime Walk from Old Road in about 1900. The Williams’ house is the fourth house back on the right.

Also in the mid-1880s, the Oxford furnisher Harry Neville Prior built himself a grand country mansion which he named Highfield Park (now the Park Hospital), whose main gates were opposite the south end of Lime Walk. Harry’s son Sydney H. Prior obtained a BA in Chemistry from Exeter College, Oxford in 1893 and shortly afterwards followed the example of William Morris and started up the Highfield Motor and Cycle Works in the grounds of Highfield House, where George Williams, came to work for him as a cycle-maker

Prior advertisement


By 1907, Prior opened a proper retail shop in a brand-new building on the corner of Holyoake Road, where he made and sold the “Highfield Cycle”. The advertisement on the right is from Bennett’s Business Directory of 1913.

Sydney Prior’s shop




Left Prior’s shop can be seen in the middle of this group of houses, just the other side of Holyoake (then called Western) Road. This detail is taken from a postcard of about 1907.

George Henry Williams was put in charge of the retail side of the business, and lived over the shop. On 16 February 1907 at St Frideswide's Church in Oxford he married he married Florence Ellen Cantell of Osney, and is described on the marriage certificate as a cycle maker. The 1911 census shows him aged 28 living at the “Cycle Works, London Road” with his wife Florence Ellen (27) and their eldest child Edith Patricia (3).

G.H. Williams advertisement, 1936

In 1912 he bought Prior's shop. He renamed it G.H. Williams Cycle Maker & Repairer, and began to sell toys, confectionery and tobacco, as well as petrol. The advertisement on the right is from Kelly’s Directory of 1936.

The 1939 Register shows G. H. Williams living at 138–140 London Road with his wife Florence and their son Reginald: father and son each describe themselves as “Cycle Maker & Repairer”.

Here in his reminiscences about life in Headington in the 1930s, John Bolt recalls the shop when it was on this site:

On our way to school each day we passed our ‘tuck shop’ – not that we’d ever heard that description. This was Williams’, whose premises occupied the corner of London Road and Western (now Holyoake) Road…. As the Williams’ premises it was two shops; the right-hand part, on the actual corner, was the ‘mechanical’ side, where Mr Williams built and repaired bicycles, sold parts and associated accessories, re-charged accumulators and sold paraffin and petrol. The latter was dispensed from a hand-operated pump on the pavement; a handle was turned one way to bring up and deliver some petrol, then turned the other way ready for another lift.

But it was the left-hand side of the building which concerned us. This was a sweet-shop, normally run by Mrs Williams, and it was there that we spent our pennies, halfpennies (pronounced ’haypnies’), or even farthings. In other ‘words’ 1d, ½d, or ¼d. There was a great variety of sweets to choose from but we were restricted financially to a few favourites. ‘Gob-Stoppers’ were popular but you could only afford one or perhaps two; ‘Traffic Lights’ which changed colour as you sucked them; ‘Rifle Shots’, like little coloured ball-bearings, because you got a lot for your money; ‘Sherbet Dabs’, small triangular paper bags of sherbet with a sort of small lolly on a stick to dip into the sherbet; ‘Sherbet Fountains’, a little cardboard tube containing the sherbet, with a liquorice tube sticking out of the top through which you sucked the sherbet; rolls of liquorice tape with a little sugar ball in the middle; liquorice tubes with a little wire basket on the end to hold a small, light ball (possibly made of pith) which could be made to hover by blowing through the tube.

Most of these could be afforded once in a while, but stuff like the flavoured toffee on show in the window normally had to wait until we were older and had more pocket money. The flavour was in a layer through the middle – pink for raspberry, yellow for banana, etc. – and the toffee was in slabs which had to be broken by Mrs Williams with a little hammer and weighed. Some of the pieces were big enough to make pretty good gob-stoppers!

Of the variety of sweets on display in boxes or glass jars very few were wrapped, let alone double-wrapped as today. Small items like ‘Rifle Shots’ were poured from the jar into the brass pan of the scales to be weighed, then poured into a little triangular paper bag which became conical when filled.

As well as sweets, Williams’s sold soft drinks, mainly Tizer. However, for our money there were ‘Penny Monsters’ – which we slanderously reckoned were made up from the dregs of the more expensive Tizers!

John Bolt also mentions taking the accumulator around to this G. H. Williams shop during the Second World War so that it could be recharged.

The firm of G. H. Williams & Son remained at 138 & 140 London Road until the mid-1950s, when it moved to smaller premises across the road.

138–140 London Road (formerly No. 60)


Occupant of shop


S.H. Prior & Co., Highfield Motor and Cycle Works


George H. Williams, shopkeeper/cycle agent


No listing in Kelly’s Directory


Part of the Oxford & District Co-operative Society, which stretched all the way from Windmill Road to Holyoake Road, and then across the road to include this shop

Early 1980s–1995

Shergold’s Ironmongers (who moved from 87 London Road).
In about 1993 they became Carpenter Shergold’s


Hacienda Homeware, Cookware, & Retail


Cotswold Collection

2007: Original building demolished and rebuilt


Ripples Bathroom showroom




Skipton Building Society

The cycle shop at 115 London Road (1955–2006)

G. H. Williams in 1956
The above photograph was taken by the firm J. E. Billings & Co of Canal Street on
24 October 1956, shortly after they had fitted a new shopfront for G. H. Williams

G. H. Williams, London Road


George Henry Williams junior (who had been born over the old shop in 1911) moved the business across the road to 5 Westbourne Terrace (now 115 London Road) in the mid-1950s. He sold and repaired cycles here, and the shop also had a fishing-tackle and sweets section.

G.H. Williams junior continued to work in the new shop until he was in his nineties, together with his son, daughter, and son-in-law.

The shop closed in June 2006, and G.H. Williams junior died on 28 December 2006 at the age of 95.


Right: No. 115 London Road is part of Westbourne Terrace, which was one of sixteen terraced houses built in the 1890s: they are not listed in the 1891 census, but appear on the 1898 Ordnance Survey map of Headington.

115 London Road
(formerly No. 37 London Road and 5 Westbourne Terrace)


Private and commercial occupants

1901 census

Fred Hall Taylor, hairdresser

1911 census

Thomas Burrows, retired college servant


Sydney Howard Cox


Layton’s of Oxford (Motors) Ltd (showrooms) (Their main premises were behind, where Waitrose is now)


No listing in Kelly’s Directory


G. H. Williams & Son, cycles


Café Online internet café


LJ Discount Store


Eurofoods Polish supermarket

© Stephanie Jenkins

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