Headington history: Non-listed buildings

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59–65 New High Street

New High Street59–65 New High Street in c.1984, photographed by Margaret Self

Renovated cottagesThe four rebuilt cottages in 2017. The front door of No. 65 on the right is now in the side passage

The cottages at 59, 61, 63, and 65 New High Street, which are opposite All Saints Road, date from the earliest days of New Headington village. An indenture dated 22 January 1853 shows the shoemaker Thomas Harris purchasing a plot on the right measuring 18 feet wide and 132 feet long (now occupied by Nos. 63 and 65) from William Mead Warner for the sum of £7 10s.: Harris was obliged to set up a “strong and substantial fence” on the south and west boundaries of this plot within three calendar months.

The cottages at the south end of New Headington village's high street were all more humble than the spacious villas to the north, but the four cottages in this group were particularly small and roughly built, and during restoration work it was discovered that some of the roof timbers were the uncut branches of trees. Despite the fact that these cottages had no bathrooms or proper kitchens or indoor toilets (and there were only two toilets outside for the use of all four families), they remained occupied until the 1970s.

According to the indenture, their long back gardens originally stretched all the way to Perrin Street, but no space was sacrificed at the front to provide even a tiny garden, and just one step took people from the pavement straight into the living room. Long back gardens were considered more important, as this is very much the territory of laundresses and for whom long back gardens meant long washing lines. The laundresses living in this group not only had no running water, but no private pump or well.

By the time of the 1876 OS map, however, the ends of the gardens were lost to some housing in Perrin Street. The 1898 OS map shows that these eight back-to-back houses shared a well in their garden, which at the time was relative luxury.

As late as the 1970s, these cottages were virtually unaltered: there were just two outside toilets for the use of all four cottages, and no bathrooms or kitchens, just sculleries with a stone sink.

Only one occupant remained in the early 1980s, and when she was gone the cottages were boarded up. By that time the soft stone of Headington had crumbled away to such an extent that there were big holes in the walls caused by weather erosion, the insides were damp, the window frames were rotting, the woodwork was full of woodworm, and the roofs were caving in.

The four cottages were bought at auction for £59,000 in December 1983 by Roger Rue, a builder who had already renovated 43 and 45 New High Street and who lived at the latter address himself. In January 1984 he received planning permission to restore the cottages (84/00032/NF). In 1984 he undertook a restoration project cost £15,000 per house (at a time when the average two-bedroomed house in New High Street fetched between £33,000 and 336,000). The roof was replaced with new timbers bearing a traditional blue-grey coloured slate, and the wooden partition walls were replaced with brickwork, with steel girders supporting walls built upstairs. The only original parts of the cottages left are the two brick end walls, the three dividing brick walls, and some of the staircases. Living space was increased by 40%, with the rear wall of each cottages having been moved back ten feet.

Rear viewRear of two of the cottages (Nos.65 and 63), photographed by Margaret Self in c.1984

People who lived in these cottages

These cottages are hard to identify in the 1861 census. In 1871 and 1881 there is a possible identification of the present No. 65, as Emma Baker, who is definitely living there at the time of the 1891 census, is listed in the right area as follows:

  • 1871: New Headington village
    Charles Baker (42), paralysed and unemployed, is living with his wife Emma (43), who was a charwoman, and their children William (21), who was a builder's labourer; Eliza (18), who was a general servant, plus her illegitimate baby daughter Annie; John (16), who was a builder's labourer; and Emily (13), who was already working as a general servant.
  • 1881: High Street, New Headington
    Cowley-born Emma Baker (55) was now a widowed laundress, living with her daughter Eliza (29), who was also a laundress; John (26), who was a general labourer; and Emily (24). Her granddaughter Annie (10) is now discreetly described as her niece.

The occupants in the 1891 census, which was taken meticulously by the Master of St Andrew's School, are certain. The 1901 and 1911 censuses are slightly less tidy, but have long runs of verifiable houses, so the likely occupants in those years are included below.

Headington streets were not numbered until 1930, and then it is easy to pinpoint in Kelly's Directory exactly who lived in these houses

No. 59

1891 (certain): Henry Green (33), a bricklayer, lived here with his wife Lizzey (36), who was a laundress, and their children William (6) and Ethel (2)

1901 (likely): Harry Creed (29), a general labourer; his wife Rose (30); and their children Christopher (7) and Harry (2)

1911 (likely): Mary Jane Lewis (48), a widowed laundry worker; her son Herbert (21), who was a bricklayer's labourer; and her daughter Jessie (13) and grandson Henry Lewis (5), who were at school

1912–1929: Kelly's Directory no help, as New High Street was not yet numbered

1930–1966: Harold Collett

From 1968: Unoccupied

No. 61

1891 (certain): Albert Gardener (27), an agricultural labourer, lived here with his wife Mary (27), who was an assistant to a laundress, and their son Arthur (1).

1901 (likely): Arthur Morris (28), a bricklayer's labourer; his wife Hannah (33); and their children George (5), Cecilia (3), and Rose (ten months)

1911 (likely): William Creed (27), a bricklayer's labourer, and his wife Emily (23)

1912–1929: Kelly's Directory no help, as New High Street was not yet numbered

1930: Mrs Ovenden

1935–1936: Albert Henry Phipps

1938: Thomas R. Gardiner

1945–1952: William Robert James

1954–1968: Mrs M. E. Blackburn

From 1970: Unoccupied

No. 63

1891 (certain): Mary Gardner (40) lived here with her children Walter (9), William (8), Frederick (5), John (2), and Fanny (one month).

1901 (likely): Thomas Newell (38), a woodcutter; his wife Mary (35); and their children Rhoda (12), John (10), Rose (8), Amy (5), and Sarah (2)

1911 (likely): Francis Bryant (47), a builder's house painter, lived here with his wife Elizabeth (48) and their three sons: Francis (18) was a jobbing gardener, and Edwin (13) and Sidney (12) were at school. See biography of Edwin, who was killed in the First World War

1912–1929: Kelly's Directory no help, as New High Street was not yet numbered

1930–1935: Frederick George Collett

1936–1945: Mrs Surman

1947: Henry Higgins

1952–1956: John Sidney Coppock

1958: Ronald Chandler

1960–1966: Thomas Woodcock

From 1967: Unoccupied

No. 65

1891 (certain): Emma Baker (71), the widowed laundress who may have been living here in 1871 and 1881, was alone at this house

1901 (likely): Benjamin Gardner (46), a general labourer; his wife Edith (37) and their children William (10), Ellen (8), George (7), and Charles (1)

1911 (likely): William Russ (34) a general labourer; his wife Mary Ann (29); and their children Isaac (10), Esther (8), David 7), Gladys (3), and Rosina (seven months)

1912–1929: Kelly's Directory no help, as New High Street was not yet numbered

1930–1935: Mark Currill, who died in July 1935
See biography of his son Frederick Brooks, who was killed in the First World War

1936: No listing

1938: Harry Higgins

1945–1954 William Smith (Mrs Smith by 1952)

1956–1966: Harry Ralph [probably an error for Rolph, a common Headington name]
1967–1970: Henry J. E. Rolph
1973–1976: M. Rolph

Kelly's Directory ceased publication in 1976, so it is not possible to be certain when this, the last of the four cottages to remain occupied, was vacated

© Stephanie Jenkins

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