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Headington history: Streets

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Headington Hill & Road: Development of Headington Road


It is hard to imagine now, but the present main road through Headington did not exist until the end of the eighteenth century. Jeffries’ map of 1769 (below) shows St Clement’s in the bottom left-hand corner. The first turning on the left is Marston Road, and then on the right (marked in bold as a highway) Cheney Lane leads seamlessly into Old Road, then the turnpike route to London over Shotover. At the top of the hill the road curved round into Cuckoo Lane, and a fork is a fieldpath that roughly follows the course of the present Headington and London Roads.

Jeffries 1769 map

In 1773 the Trustees of the Stokenchurch Turnpike resolved to apply to Parliament “for power to divert the Road, and entirely avoid Shotover Hill”, and in 1788 sought

to impower the Trustees to compleat a Road from the Bottom of Cheney-Lane, upon Headington-Hill, to Forest-Hill…, to be used instead of the present Road up Cheney-Lane and Shotover-Hill.

In 1775 the natural hollow way of Headington Hill was cut out more deeply from Cheney Lane to the top, but progress was slow because of disputes over the exact route and a shortage funds. In 1788 the term and powers of the previous act were enlarged, and finally in 1789 the old route was abandoned and coaches travelled along the new Headington Road and London Road, which followed the route of the present A40.

Headington Hill, painted by J.M.W. Turner

The above print is of a watercolour by J. M. W. Turner, entitled A View of Oxford from the South Side of Heddington Hill, painted in 1803–4. The original is in the Ashmolean Museum. The coach descending the hill has probably come all the way from London: the new turnpike road meant that the journey could be completed in one day, regardless of weather. It is marked OXFORD on the side, and its likely destination is the Angel Hotel in the High. The coach appears to be descending the steepest part of the hill, roughly at the position of the present footbridge. The house on the left is The Rise, built by Thomas Adams on the eastern side of the entrance to Cheney Lane, and the larger house on the other side of the hill is Cabbage Hall.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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