Headington history: Shops

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Supermarket site, Old High Street

The present supermarket at 11 & 13 Old High Street was built in 1975 on the site of Layton’s Motors (formerly a dance hall). This area had been a market garden in the nineteenth century,

The Headington Enclosure Award of 1805

The land on which the supermarket now stands was in Sheepcut Furlong, and was part of Lot No. 58 awarded to Joseph Lock of Bury Knowle House under the Headington Enclosure Award of 1805. This plot (measuring 2 acres 3 roods and 12 perches) stretched from the London Road as far north as the house of the blacksmith John Lawrance (the smithy marked on 1898 map below) and westwards as far as Old High Street.

It excluded the house and garden of William Carter (Lot No. 61, measuring 2 roods), which was probably the present 29 Old High Street; and the area occupied by the present carpark (Lot No. 59, measuring 3 roods 15 perches), which was awarded to Ann Lawrance, the blacksmith’s wife.

In 1844 Mrs Maria Ballachey inherited all the Headington land of her father Sir Joseph Lock, and on her death in 1884 she left it to her nephew, Edward Seppings Lock, with instructions that it should be sold when he died. He was a Colonel in the army, and died while in command at Pietermaritzburg on 10 December 1886. Soon afterwards the land passed out of the hands of the Lock family, and in the 1890s the part facing the London Road (Westbourne Terrace, now shops) was developed, but the present supermarket site remained a market garden.

The Market Garden (c.1818–1930)

Until Westbourne Terrace was built in the 1890s, the site of the present supermarket, electricity substation, and the Jacobs & Field shop was a market garden facing London Road. Thus it was not deemed to be part of Old Headington’s High Street. After the terrace of houses was built on the London Road, the reduced market garden was described as being on “Southern Road”, which must be the new road running behind the new houses and marking the new southern boundary of the site.

The market garden continued to be described as being on Southern Road until 1929, when Headington came under Oxford and street names were rationalized (until 1958 St Leonard's Road was also called Southern Road.

Pomona Cottage (below), now 29 Old High Street, was closely associated with the market garden. Its name was very appropriate, as Pomona was the goddess of fruit trees, garden, and orchards.

29 Old High Street

In the first half of the nineteenth century the market garden on the site of the supermarket and Headington car park belonged to John North. He lived in Pomona Cottage (29 Old High Street), and its front garden stretched southwards over the land which has since the 1970s been occupied by a new house and the Audio-T shop. In the Headington Ratebook of 1850, North is shown as the owner of a house and land “near the turnpike” comprising exactly one acre, with a gross estimated rental of £14-13-6 and a rateable value of £12. The land of less than one acre that was his market garden included the site of the supermarket.

North’s eldest children were baptised in Marcham, but he started getting his children baptised at St Andrew’s Church in Headington in 1819, and it was probably around that time that he moved into Old High Street. He was certainly here by the time of the 1841 census.

In the 1851 census, John (65) and his wife Elizabeth (67) are listed here with their son Lewis (36) and his wife and their younger son Frederic (25) (all described as market gardeners) and their daughter Elizabeth (19).

1876 map of supermarket site

The 1876 OS map (right) shows No. 29 with no buildings whatsoever on the market garden to the south marked “195”, so that the turnpike gate, marked T.P., was the first prominent feature.

By the time of the 1861 census, John North’s eldest son Lewis North was head of the household at 29 Old High Street; he was living with his father (76), his wife and daughter, and his brother Frederick (described as a fruiterer and florist) and his wife.

John North died near the beginning of 1865. By the time of the 1871 census Lewis North was a widower, Frederick and his wife had four young children, and they were still sharing the house. By 1881, Frederick North had taken over the business, and had a new partner, William West.


Following Frederick North’s death in 1882, William West moved into 29 Old High Street. West’s brother Samuel moved back from Norfolk to become his partner, and by 1890 the business is listed in directories as “West, W.G. & S., nurserymen and florists, Old Headington, and at 125 and 126 The Market, Oxford”.

The 1891 census shows William George West (58) described as a market gardening living at 29 Old High Street with his wife Harriet (41). To the south, in a house on the site of the market garden, was his brother Samuel (56), described as a florist and living with his wife Fanny (52) and their four children.

In 1893 Samuel West moved out to develop his own nursery (to become S. West & Sons) in Windmill Road.

Supermarket site in 1899

The 1899 OS map (left) shows the site after Westbourne Terrace had been built.

The entrance to the remaining part of the market garden (the present supermarket site) was now via “Southern Road” (behind Westbourne Terrace) rather than London Road.

On the site is a new house with a pump (probably built for Samuel West), an adjoining greenhouse (with cross-hatching), and another greenhouse in behind.

At the time of the 1901 census Robert John Pearsall was running the nursery in Old High Street, and appears to have been living at 29 Old High Street. W. G. West continues to be listed in directories as a florist until 1911. In the census that year he is shown living at Pomona Cottage (29 Old High Street); he was now a widower of 79, with his niece Lizzie West acting as his housekeeper. He died near the end of 1912, at the age of 80.

Map of supermarket site in 1921



From 1912 to 1915 Field & Jacob(s) are listed as the Old Headington market gardeners and nurserymen.

From 1916 to 1929 Charles Jacob(s) is listed as a nurseryman in Southern Road.


The 1921 OS map (right) shows Jacob’s house and nursery looking much the same as they did in William West’s time in 1899.


In Kelly’s Directory for 1930, streets are listed separately for the first time, and the nursery off Southern Road is now put for the first time under Old High Street.

George H. Jacobs is listed as the market gardener here, and there is also a Mrs Latham living in the house on the site, which was at that time numbered 1 High Street, Old Headington (with the present No. 29 then being No. 3).


Three garages and a dance hall (1932–1975)

By 1932 George H. Jacobs had moved his nursery to the present carpark site, and Farnell Brothers, motor engineers (calling themselves the “Carfax Garage”) were on the site of the present supermarket, together with a new off-licence facing Old High Street (now Jacobs & Field at No. 15). In 1935 the adjacent electricity substation is also listed. The last listing for Farnell Brothers is in Kelly’s Directory for 1935.

Map of supermarket site in 1939


A dance hall was then built on the supermarket site. In Kelly’s Directory for 1936 and 1937 it is described as The New Assembly Hall but by 1938 it is properly named as The Plaza Hall.


The 1939 OS map (left) shows that the Plaza Hall was attached to the back of the shop and substation just to the south of the present gated road to the supermarket, and also to another building now replaced by the part of the supermarket that faces Old High Street.

The site of the present carpark has a greenhouse (indicated with cross hatching) as well as a large building, and was now being used by a market gardener.


In 1943 when Old High Street was renumbered, the Plaza Hall was notionally Nos. 11 and 13, the off-licence was 15 as the shop is today, and the building in the south-east corner of the car-park site was No. 17.

By 1945 the main building on the site had reverted to being a garage. Harold Avery Ltd, motor cycle and car specialists, had their premises on site of the old dance hall, and remained there until at least 1947.

From 1949 to 1975 Layton’s of Oxford (Motors) Ltd, motor car agents, is listed on the site. Meanwhile the other buiding in the south-east corner, No. 17, housed Leach Electrical & Engineering Co. Ltd., and there were also other businesses at 17A, including the Central Garage.

Two supermarkets with six names (1975–present)

Somerfield on 11 April 2009

In 1975 Macfisheries built a MacMarket on the former garage site. With about 12,000 feet of floor space, it was then the largest supermarket in Oxford. Around the same time the businesses that had been operating to the north moved out, and the site was turned into a city council car-park.

When Unilever closed MacFisheries in 1979, their food centres were sold to International Stores, and this supermarket changed its name accordingly.

The International Stores were sold to the Dee Corporation in 1984, and when this became the Gateway Corporation in 1988 the store was renamed Gateway. Gateway later rebranded their store as Solo.

The Gateway chain (which had launched some stores under the Somerfield name in 1990) began to fare badly nationally, and changed the name of all its stores to Somerfield in May 1994.

(This large supermarket affected the smaller one that became Peacock's and is now Sainsbury’s on the other side of the London Road. First Fine Fare had to close when it was taken over by the Gateway group, and the subsequent business, Kwik Save, suffered the same fate when that company merged with Somerfield.)

In 2009 the Co-op bought the whole national Somerfield company for £1.57bn, and the Headington Somerfield, which closed closed on 8 April 2009, was sold on to Waitrose.

Adjoining car park site

The adjoining car park belongs to Oxford City Council, and has no relationship to the supermarket site.

As stated above, the land of the present car park was granted to the blacksmith’s wife Anne Lawrance in 1805 and so was connected to the smithy to the north (at the present 53 (formerly 15) Old High Street) and not to the London Road market garden site to the south.

By 1932 George H. Jacobs had a nursery on the car-park site. He had previously held the land to the south (now occupied by the supermarket). By 1935 the nursery had been taken over by Frederick C. Levett and in 1936 by George Mold.

In 1939 the Bury Knowle Squash Club is listed here and by 1943 No. 17 Old High Street (the building that stood in the south-east corner of the car-park site) was occupied by Leach Electrical & Engineering Co Ltd. Very soon a large number of businesses moved on to the rest of the site. In 1949, in addition to Leach’s, there were the following businesses listed simply as 17A:

Central Garage (R. E. Griffin, proprietor)
William H. Rolls (shoe repairer)
Marchant & Fathers (monumental craftsmen)
Workshop of Wild & Steele (the radio engineers with a shop on the corner of London Road)
B. Tools & Metal Products (B. Beddoe)

By 1952 these were joined by Metalip Manufacturing Co. (tool manufacturers) and the workshop of Joseph Sheen (french polisher)

In about 1957 a new shop was built at 19 Old High Street (now Audio T) and this was first occupied by J. W. Reeve & Co., wallpaper & paint merchants, fireplace manufacturers &c.

Later Metalip took over Leach’s premises at No. 17, and Reeve & Co. at No. 19 became timber merchants.

The businesses occupying the car-park site began to move out and were gone by 1973, and around this time the Knowles building firm sold the land to the city council.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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