Wests Garden Centre
S. West & Sons Garden Centre at 74 Windmill Road was Headington’s oldest business, having been on the same site with the same name from 1893 to 2005.
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. They settled in Old Headington, and at the time of the 1841 census William is described as a gardener and was living in Old High Street with his wife and four children: John (baptised at St Andrew’s Church in 1829), William George (1832), Samuel (1835), and Mary Anne (1837).
In 1861 young William (27) and Samuel (26) were both still unmarried and living at home, and they and their father are described as “gardener labourers”. Then Samuel (after whom the business in Windmill Road would one day be named) moved away from Headington: in the late 1860s he married Frances Dover (who had been born in Ickford, Buckinghamshire) at Thame, and their first three children were born in Cowley: Elizabeth (1869), Walter (1872), and Ann Emily (1875). They then moved much further away to Ingoldisthorpe in West Norfolk, where their youngest son Frank Ernest was born in 1880.
Young William George remained in Headington and 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 Somerfield supermarket and the adjacent car park): directories from 1877 list the business as North & West. By 1881 William had got married: his wife, Martha, was five years his senior, and they had no children.
When North died in 1882, William took over his business, 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 the 1891 census the two West brothers are living next door to each other in Old High Street: William (now married to a new wife Harriet, seventeen years his junior) is described as a “Nurseryman/Market Gardener”, and Samuel is a “Florist”; both are listed as employers (although three of Samuel’s employees are evidently just his wife and eldest two children). William George 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 the Windmill Road frontage. 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). When his sons Walter William (b.1872) and Frank Ernest (b.1880) joined him, the business became known as S. West & Sons. Samuel West was still living at the house at the time of the 1901 census, with his wife, his daughter Amy, and his son Frank.
In 1909 S. West & Sons was taken over by Frank Harris, but the old name was retained. The 1911 census shows Frank (37) living here and described as a nurseryman and florist with his wife Emma Elizabeth (42) and their daughters Muriel Kate (7) and Mary Gwendoline (6).
In the 1950s Frank Harris’s youngest child, Edwin Frank James Harris (baptised at All Saints Church on 12 May 1912) took the business over with his widowed mother in the 1950s, and he was still working there 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 Windmill Road frontage 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.