Headington Reminiscences

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Jill McCay (b.1930)

108 & 110 London Road

I was born in 1930 at 110 London Road, which was on the left of a pair of large semi-detached houses (right) that used to stand on the corner of New Road (now Kennett Road). (These two houses and their detached next-door neighbour to the east were demolished in 1963 to make way for Kennett House, the block of shops and offices that includes the HSBC bank and Iceland.)



Below: 1939 map showing the top
of Kennett Road and the house
where I was born

Map of top of Kennett Road

Dr Charles McKay


My father Dr Charles McCay (left) was a GP, and he joined up with Dr Robert Hitchings in 1922. Hitchings lived and had his practice in a large house on the opposite corner of Kennett Road, with a garden and tennis court extending as far as the present Peacock’s (see above map). Dr Arnott also joined this practice in 1925.



Left: My father standing in the back garden of Dr Robert Hitchings’ house in Kennett Road. (The chimney on the left belongs to a shop on the London Road, where the British Heart Foundation charity shop is now.)


In 1935 we moved to 184 London Road, where my father set up his own practice. (The house is now St Andrew’s Residential Home, and has been much added on to and extended.) This was then a quiet area: behind the house were fields extending to Quarry village, and even the London Road itself was not busy. Our dog used to sit in the middle of the main road. and the few cars that went past had to drive around him; and he used to go up to Vallis Bakery in Headington where he was fed buns! We had a grass tennis court at the back of the house after the war, but the garden is now smaller, because when the house was sold to the chiropodist in 1970, a plot was sold off for building.

Until 1948, when the NHS started, my father held surgeries in his home. The surgery and consulting rooms were on the ground floor. As the dining room doubled up as a waiting room, we had to remove ourselves swiftly from the table after breakfast and lunch. I was one of five children and we were always being told to be quiet during surgery hours. Someone had to be home all day to answer the telephone and doorbells: we children were able to help our mother with this as we got older, and we had it drummed into us that messages must be taken very accurately.

Doctors at this time used to visit their patients far more than today. My father used to do about 20 visits a day, driving to Wheatley, Beckley, Stanton St John, Garsington, Wytham, and Beckley, as well as covering Headington and some patients in Oxford. Times have changed dramatically since those days of the 1930s and 1940s, when few people had cars, public transport was far less, so the doctor had to go to the patient. Sometimes we children used to go with him, depending on who he was visiting and if we would get treats from the kitchen!

When the NHS started in 1948, the practice opened a separate surgery in the Manor Buildings, upstairs over Gardiner’s optician on the corner of Osler Road (then Manor Road). This relieved my mother of an enormous tie. The very same practice is now in the grounds of the John Radcliffe Hospital.

I attended Miss Evett’s School at 4 St Mary’s Road (now called Quarry Hollow). This was a private school for 5–18-year-olds. My sister Jane went to Miss Hammersley’s School in Sandy Lodge in the Croft: the school was in huts at the back of the house. When I was about seven or eight I went to Headington Junior School, as did my sister Jane and at a much later date my youngest sister Bridget. We then all went on to Headington Senior School with Miss Motler as headmistress. My two brothers, Colin and David, went to the Dragon, biking there every day and never taken by car!

Dr Hitchings continued his practice with my father until 1930, when he retired to Iffley, and the house was sold to Dr Arnott (who had joined the practice in 1925). The main entrance to the house faced on to the London Road. To the west was a largish garden with tennis court and behind the house, down Kennett Road where the parking is now, was the surgery which had been converted from former stables.

I can remember Mr Cleverly, the blacksmith, who had his forge on the site of the car park of the present Bury Knowle Health Centre on the London Road. We children used to like working the bellows for him. He mostly did wrought-iron work for the colleges; I never saw horses there. He did a lot of brass work such as household ornaments and cases for clocks. I have a beautifully balanced iron hammer made by him. He lived in Stile Road. His two daughters Mill and Florrie (called Fuff by us) both lived into their 90s, and died in the late 1980s. Mill was our daily help and family friend for over 40 years, while her sister Florrie was cook/housekeeper to my father in the 1920s and continued to work for my parents when they were just married in 1929, until she herself got married. My father had been ill for two years with a TB spine, and when in the Wingfield (now the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre) had been introduced by Sister Masters to my mother, who was a physiotherapist there. Because of this illness, for a while he had to have a chauffeur to take him on his rounds: that chauffeur, Alec Hansford, married Florrie Cleverly. They had a son, Jim, who now lives in his parents’ old house in Temple Road, Cowley.

During World War 2, I remember a practice battle in Bury Knowle Park, and we weren’t allowed out of the house for three days and had great fun watching the “battle” going on from our bedroom windows!. The ARP (Air Raid Precautions) headquarters for Headington was in the lodge of the Laurels (the former workhouse which at that time an old people’s home). I can also remember crashed planes on huge trailers coming along the London Road and turning down Windmill Road on their way to the Cowley Works to be melted down as scrap.

Wycombe Abbey School was evacuated to Headington School during the war for a short time, and we had two girls: June Threapleton from Yorkshire, and the daughter of Major William Cumming-Bell (whose sister married the Duke of Rutland). My mother got into trouble when Miss Cumming-Bell’s parents learnt that she had been sending messages on paper arrows from the attic to Berrick Dale, the son of our next-door neighbours!

Our neighbours at the end of the garden in Wharton Road were the Steeles of Wild & Steele, the electrical shop at Headington traffic lights. Susan Steele was the same age as Bridget my youngest sister, and they were good friends

There was a fishmonger at 95 London Road, and the fresh fish used to be out on a large tiled counter open to the street. At Smith’s next door, you had to book tickets for the London coach. The Mediterranean Fish Bar was a fish & chip shop in the 1940s, and we used to stand in long queues there during the war. I still have the Pyrex dish in which my mother used to make shepherd’s and fish pies during the war, and we were frequently told to chew each mouthful ten times as there were no second helpings!

The lawn was dug up for “Dig for Victory”, and we grew heaps of vegetables. We children were known as the “slave labourers” and dug trenches for the peas and beans, and planted out cabbages, sprouts, blue and white sprouting broccoli, etc. We had strict instructions from my father, who insisted on dead straight lines of plants evenly spaced. He made the holes with his walking stick, and we did the rest. We also had an allotment up the road behind the off-licence. Mr Blackman, who was fairly elderly, used to help in the garden as well.

I think my father only ever went to church on Christmas Day, and even then left before the sermon (given by his very good friend the Revd David Porter, the much-loved Vicar of All Saints Church) so that he could go and carve the Christmas turkey on Mayfair Ward at the Wingfield. It was in that ward that he died suddenly of an aneurysm while visiting a patient in 1955. On the day of my father’s funeral many of the Headington shops closed out of respect. Everyone knew everyone else in Headington in those days, and a lot of the shops were still family owned.

I did my orthopaedic nursing at the Wingfield in 1947. All the wards were then completely open to the fresh air at one end. When it rained or snowed we had to put tarpaulins over the beds to keep them dry if the wind was blowing the wrong way! Even in freezing weather we only had short-sleeved cotton uniforms, and no cardigans were allowed on the wards. In spite of this we were a healthy lot. They were happy days and we really got to know the patients as they were in for months and even years – not like now, when the average stay is five days!

Another wartime memory was that my father belonged to a Pig Club, i.e. supposedly a local farmer kept the pig paid for by the “club” members. We got our joints when the time came, and us kids had to sit for hours rubbing salt into them to preserve them prior to hanging them up from hooks in the box room. My mother used to make brawn from the trotters. We were told the only bit of the pig you couldn’t eat was the squeak! I hated the brawn!

Jill McCay, 2002

© Stephanie Jenkins

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