Headington history: Shops

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Wests Garden Centre

West’s Garden Centre

Until it closed in 2005, S. West & Sons Garden Centre at 74 Windmill Road was Headington’s oldest business, having been on the same site with the same name since 1893.

The story starts in 1828 when William West senior (who was born in 1800 at Kenn near Exeter in Devon) married Susannah Boucher (born in Lechlade) at St Andrew’s Church in Headington. They settled in Old Headington, and at the time of the 1841 census William was described as a gardener and was living in Old High Street with his wife and four children, all baptised at St Andrew's Church as follows: John (1829), William George (1832), Samuel (1835), and Mary Anne (1837).

In 1861 two of the Wests' sons, William George (27) and Samuel (26) were both still unmarried and living at home in Old High Street, and both they and their father were described as “gardener labourers”.

In 1866 in the Thame registration district Samuel West (after whom the business in Windmill Road would one day be named) married Frances Dover (born in Ickford, Buckinghamshire), and known as Fanny. They initially settled in Cowley, where their first three children were born: Elizabeth Frances West (1868), Walter William West (1872), and Amy Emily West (1875). They then moved much further away to Ingoldisthorpe in West Norfolk, where their youngest son Frank Ernest West was born in 1880.

Meanwhile Samuel's older brother William George West remained in Headington. In 1871 he was still unmarried at the age of 38 and was a live-in porter at Headington Workhouse on the London Road. In 1876, however, his prospects improved when he became a partner of Frederick North, a long-established Old Headington market gardener in Old High Street (with a nursery on the site now occupied by Waitrose supermarket and the adjacent car park): directories from 1877 list the business as North & West.

In 1877 in Oxford, William George West (45) married his first wife Martha Hunt: she was five years his senior, and they had no children.

When Frederick North died in 1882, William took over the market garden in Old High Street, and Samuel moved back from Norfolk to join his brother. The business grew, and by 1890 it is listed in directories as “West, W.G. & S., nurserymen and florists, Old Headington, and at 125 and 126 The Market, Oxford”.

In 1885 William George West's first wife Martha died in Headington at the age of 61, and in 1887 he married his second wife Harriet Harris (born at Woodstock), who was 17 years his junior.

At the time of the 1891 census the two West brothers occupying adjacent houses in Old High Street (probably at No. 29 and a house on the car park site). William George West (58), described as a “Nurseryman/Market Gardener” who was an employer, lived with his second wife Harriet (41), while Samuel West (56), described as a florist, lived with his wife Fanny (52) and their four children: he employed his wife and his elder son Walter (19) as assistant florists.

William George West remained at this Old High Street nursery for the rest of his life.

In 1893 Samuel West started up a nursery of his own in New Headington, on the land now occupied by Norton Close and land on the Windmill Road. He built a house for his family at 74 Windmill Road (which always remained in the middle, but not part of, West’s Garden Centre). His sons Walter William West and Frank Ernest West joined him in the business, which later became known as S. West & Son.

At the time of the 1901 census Samuel West was still living 74 Windmill Road with his wife, his daughter Amy, and his younger son Frank. His older son Walter Willilam West (29) lived with his wife and young son at 32 Bartlemas Road, where he now ran his own florist's shop.

The Oxford & District Trades Directory of 1908–9 lists the firm thus under Nurseries (alongside his nearby rival John Mattock):

West, S., & Sons, Windmill Nurseries, New Headington (telephone No. 236), and at 35 and 36 The Market, Oxford (telephone No. 278); wreaths, crosses, bouquets, and designs at shortest notice; cut flowers fresh daily; sprays and button-holes a speciality.

In 1907 Samuel West put up the nursery for sale: the auction by E. J. Brooks & Son took place at the Golden Cross Hotel in Oxford that year, and the property was described as an

extremely well-built and attractive freehold detached residence and well-stocked & compact nursery with Greenhouses, Frames, Stabling, etc., and having a separate entrance from East Road [now renamed Bateman Street], the whole comprising about 1½ acres.

Frank Harris purchased the property, and the following auction particulars were kindly supplied by his great-granddaughter Elizabeth Sibbet née Harris:

Sale of West's in 1907

Frank Harris was born at Instow near Bideford in Devon, and near the beginning of 1902 had married Emma Elizabeth Jacobs of Alconbury Weston in Huntingdonshire. They had moved to Headington by 1903, when their eldest daughter Muriel Kate Harris was born there, followed by Mary Gwendoline Harris in 1904.

Harris retained the old name of S. West & Sons, although in the 1911 census he gave his address as “Windmill Nurseries”. That census shows Frank (37), described as a nurseryman and florist, living at 74 Windmill Road with his wife Emma Elizabeth (42) and their two young daughters. Their son Edwin Frank Jacobs Harris was baptised at the new All Saints Church on 12 May 1912.

In the 1950s Edwin Frank Jacobs Harris took over his father's business with his widowed mother, and he was still working at the shop in the 1990s. Edwin’s daughter Janet ran the business until it closed.

In 1967 Norton Close was built on the market garden of S. West & Sons, leaving just the part nearest to Windmill Road as a garden centre.

West’s Garden Centre closed on Saturday 30 July 2005, and housing fronting both Windmill Road and Norton Close was built on the remaining part of the former nursery.

West's left

West's right

© Stephanie Jenkins

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