Headington history: Miscellaneous

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Headington United Football Club

Oxford United 1922-3
The Thursday 2nd Team of 1922–3, which won the Division 2 Thursday league that season

Back row: E. Skey, M. White, W. Smith, G. Kerry, R. Herons, C. Everson, H.J. Walker, S.P. Griffin, T. Scholefield.
Middle row: F.G. Brinkler, L. Griffin, C. Philipps, S.J. Eltringham, H. Smith, V. White (vice captain)
Front row: W.C. Parriman, H. Tolley (captain), S. Scholefield

Ernest Skey was a grocer at 8 Windmill Road, Sidney Percy Griffin a watchmaker in London Road, and Thomas Scholefield a grocer at 24 New High Street at the time this photograph was taken. The captain, Henry (Harry) Tolley, the eldest son of Henry Edward Charles & Gertrude Tolley who lived in Windmill Road, was killed in a motor cycle accident as an RAC guide in 1930 age 28.

Reproduced by kind permission of Mrs Evelyn Tolley

Headington United, 1910
Headington Football Club: the ball reads H.F.C. 1910
Donated by Ian Garrett

We can thank a nineteenth-century vicar of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington and a local doctor for the fact that Headington was home to Headington Football Club from 1893 to 1960, and to Oxford United from 1960 to 2001.

The pair were the Revd John Scott-Tucker (Vicar of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington from 1889 to 1899, who later changed his name to John Scott) and Robert Hitchings (who, after qualifying as a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, came to live in Windmill Road in 1893). The Headington Parish Magazine for November 1893 reads:

The cricket season being over, Mr Hitchings, with his customary energy and zeal for the young men of the parish, has inaugurated a football club.

This new club soon became known as Headington United. It was defeated by Cowley Barracks at its first match on its Quarry home pitch on 25 November 1893, but fared better on 13 January 1894 when it beat Victoria – the the Revd Scott-Tucker (at the age of 49) scored two of the goals, and Dr Hitchings one. The club was not so lucky in the return match on the following Saturday, as is shown in this report in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 27 January 1894:

Report on Headington United v. Victoria, 1894

The report in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of the Headington Football Club dinner held in the Britannia on 29 April 1893 gives a full report on the club’s first six years, in which they played 25 matches, winning 14, drawing 8, and losing 3.

This amateur Headington football club initially had no permanent home, but always played on the Headington United Cricket Club grounds, which were not otherwise used in winter. These cricket club grounds moved around in the early years: so as well as in New Marston, as indicated above, Headington United played on Headington Quarry Recreation Ground and the Paddock of the Manor House (then owned by Colonel Hoole, the last Lord of the Manor, and now occupied by the John Radcliffe Hospital).

In 1900 the cricket and football clubs manage to obtain the Britannia Field (then no longer needed for horses stopping at the inn, and now occupied by the houses at the north end of Lime Walk). At the Headington United Cricket Club dinner at the Britannia that year, a Mr B. Edney is reported as saying:

We have this year experienced great difficulty in getting a ground. In previous years we have used Col. Hoole’s paddock, but that gentleman, on leaving for South Africa, expressed a wish that we should not use his ground in his absence, but he would largely increase his subscription. After working hard in the matter we were offered the “Britannia” field.

In 1913, the Headington Recreation Ground Committee was formed. Its aim was to purchase land for a football and cricket pitch for local Headington people, and its appeal for funds is reproduced below. It managed to purchase Wootten’s Field on the London Road, part of the estate of Headington House.

Central Headington, however, was at this time being heavily developed as a result of the growth of the Cowley car works, and the people of Headington lost their first dedicated recreation ground when Stephen Road was built on it in the early 1920s.

HUFC badge

In 1926 a dozen public-spirited people (led by Robert Wylie of The Grange in Old Headington) formed Headington Sports Ground Ltd in order to secure a permanent sports ground for the people of Headington.

It bought most of the present Manor Ground site (including the bowls club) from Mattock’s nurseries to be a recreational facility for the people of Headington where they could play football, cricket, tennis, and bowls.

The 1939 Ordnance Survey map of Headington (below) labels the Manor Ground as “Cricket Ground”, indicating that it was a general sports ground and was not monopolized by the football club. Headington Bowls Club is shown on its present site to the east. At this time there was no access from the London Road, because the land to the south was blocked by the estate of Sandfield Cottage (where the future Barbara Woodhouse then ran a riding stable).

Map showing Headington Sports Ground 1939
The above map shows Headington Sports Ground in 1939. The Cricket Ground was used as a pitch for Headington United in winter, and there were also tennis courts. When Sandfield Cottage was demolished and Horwood Close built, the sports ground was given a new entrance from the London Road

In the 1940s, the cricketers moved off to a new ground in Barton Road, and Headington United had the Manor Ground pitch to themselves for the first time. The charity Headington Sports Ground Ltd still owned both the football and bowls club sites.

In 1959 Headington United became full-time professionals, and the next year they changed their name to Oxford United. This was an unpopular move with the people of Headington: “It was their club; Oxford had never raised a finger to help them. Why should it pinch their glory now?” (Olive Gibbs, Our Olive).

But worse was to come. In 1961 Headington Sports Ground Ltd sold the football ground to Oxford United for £8,800. The price was low, probably because the land was safeguarded by a restrictive covenant stating: “The Purchaser shall not use the lands hereby conveyed for any purpose other than as an open air Sports Ground.” This covenant was also binding into “whosesoever hands the same may come”.

In 1966 Sandfield Cottage was demolished, Horwood Close was built on its grounds, and Oxford United acquired a new entrance from the London Road.

In 1970 the bowling green was sold to the Bowls Club, and at this point the charity Headington Sports Ground Ltd was wound up. The right to enforce the vital covenant designed to safeguard the Manor Ground as a permanent sports facility for the people of Headington thus passed into the hands of the Bowls Club.

Robert Maxwell took over Oxford United in 1981 but failed in his attempt in 1983 to merge it with Reading to form Thames Valley Royals. On his death in 1991, the club passed into the hands of the receivers, who sold it the next year to Biomass Recycling Ltd. They in turn sold it in 1995 to motor-racer Robin Herd.

Manor Ground entrance

In 1995 Oxford City Council granted permission to the club to build a new stadium at Minchery Farm, and work started the next year, but then came to a two-year halt through lack of funds.

In 1999 Firoz Kassam bought Oxford United Football Club for £1m, taking over its debts, and it moved to its new home at the Kassam Stadium at Minchery Farm ready for the 2001/2002 season.

Kassam’s company Firoka purchased the old Manor Club for £6m. Headington Bowls Club accepted £40,000 from him to release him from the covenant that was intended to safeguard the Manor Ground as a sports ground for the people of Headington for ever (see Oxford Mail of 5 May 2001).

In November 2001, following a planning inquiry, a Government Inspector granted permission to Firoka to build a hospital and 87 flats on the site, whereupon Kassam sold the Manor Ground to the Nuffield Nursing Trust for £12m. Building work started in mid–2002 on the new Manor Hospital, which replaced the Acland Hospital on the Banbury Road.

The appeal for funds made by the Headington Recreation Ground Committee in 1913 for the original sports ground (the predecessor of the Manor Ground, now occupied by Stephen Road) is reproduced below.

Headington and Highfield Recreation Ground

The want of a Recreation Ground for the Inhabitants of Headington and Highfield has long been felt, and with the rapid growth of these districts, that want is the more accentuated and the required land is more difficult to obtain.

An opportunity is now offered of purchasing the front field of Headington House which would form an ideal position and which would, without difficulty, provide Bowling Greens, Tennis Courts, Cricket Pitches, Football Grounds, a general playground for the children and sheltered walks for older persons. This land, including the lodge, can be purchased for the moderate sum of £1500.

A largely attended Public Meeting of the Inhabitants has been held on the proposed Ground and it was the unanimous resolution of the Meeting that a Recreation Ground was desirable and that the proposed ground was not only the most central and convenient site, but at the same time the cheapest obtainable.

It is felt that if this ground can be acquired, it will at once prove the greatest boon to all classes and it will be a pleasant resort and playground for the children, who are at the present time forced to play in the streets.

All who care for the welfare of the children and all who realize the value of an open space in the midst of a rapidly growing population are asked to contribute, as generously as they can, towards this object.

The bulk of the purchase money must be subscribed within six weeks from this date, but promises of donations extending over two years or more will be welcomed. The Committee are making strenuous efforts to collect the required sum, as if the ground is not purchased now, the opportunity of acquiring a Recreation Ground will be for ever lost.

Donations will be gladly received by the Hon. Treasurer at Trelawney, Highfield, Oxford, or they may be paid into the account of the Headington and Highfield Recreation Ground, at the Old Bank, Oxford.

By Order of the Committee.
James Hoole, Chairman
George Mallam, Hon. Treas.
Hugh N. Davenport, Hon. Sec., 25th August 1913.

Bodleian Library: GA Oxon c.317

© Stephanie Jenkins

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