Headington history: Miscellaneous

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Headington United Football Club, later Oxford United

Oxford United 1922-3
The Thursday 2nd Team of 1922–3, which won the Division 2 Thursday league that season
Reproduced by kind permission of Mrs Evelyn Tolley

Back row: E. Skey, M. White, W. Smith, G. Kerry, R. Herons,
   C. Everson, H.J. Walker, S.P. Griffin, T. Schofield.
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. Schofield

At the time this photograph was taken, Ernest Skey was a grocer at 8 Windmill Road, Sidney Percy Griffin a watchmaker in London Road, and Thomas Schofield a grocer at 24 New High Street. 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 when working as an RAC guide in 1930 age 28.

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 its successor 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.

The new Headington Football Club first played on Quarry recreation ground, which had been given to the people of Headington In 1877 in exchange for the disputed rights over the Open Magdalen land, but also used land at New Marston.

It was defeated by Cowley Barracks at its first match in Quarry on 25 November 1893, but fared better on 13 January 1894 when it beat the Victoria Football Club, which was based in St Clement's/New Marston. At that match, 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 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

In the late 1890s Headington Football Club played on the Paddock of the Manor House, which was owned from 1895 by Colonel James Hoole, the last Lord of the Manor of Headington and President of the Headington Cricket Club. It continued to share its ground with the cricket club, which played its matches in the summer.

Jackson's Oxford Journal of 29 April 1899 reports on a Headington Football Club dinner for about 75 people held at the Britannia Inn on Saturday 22 April, with the Revd Scott-Tucker in the chair and with the other founder Robert Hitchings and G. H. Morrell, M.P., the President of the Oxfordshire Football Association, present, The captain of the football team, H. R. Knowles said how when the team had once promised to play they always turned up on the ground, and he had never had to play a man short or put in a substitute. The Revd Scott-Tucker said that it was entirely owing to his wife that they also had a junior team of choir boys. The Secretary of the club, E. J. E. Knowles, reported as follows:

The SECRETARY said that the club had played 25 matches, won 14, drawn 8, lost 3. For them 65 goals were scored, whilst 27 were registered against them. The most scored for them in one match was 9–1 versus Culham 2nd on November 12th. The most scored against them on two occasions was 3 goals versus Cowley on December 24th and the Clarendon Press on November 5th. Two matches were lost, viz., City A team at Headington (1–2), after beating them at Oxford at the beginning of the season (5–1), and the Clarendon Press (1–3) at Oxford, after beating them at Headington by 4–0. After December 17th, when the City won their match, up to April 1st, when the replay of the Shield took place, they had not been defeated. April 1st was a Fool's day for them as far as they could understand it. The two most notable matches for good form were February 18th, when they beat Victoria (4–1), and the following Saturday, when they beat Henley II by 2–0. The team on each occasion played a grand game, every man doing well. The tough work commenced on January 28th at Bicester, when they drew 2 all in the Shield competition. Every man in the team played well, but more especially B. Edney and W. Edney. The effect of a drawn game was that Bicester came to Oxford, and the match was stopped after twenty minutes' play owing to the snow. Bicester came to Oxford again on the 11th and Headington won by 1–0 after a good game. On the 18th February their team beat Victoria and played beyond all expectations. On the 25th, Henley II met them in the Shield semi-final. They had confidence in their own team, but had never met their opponents before, and every man in the team would bear him out when he said they were the neatest and sharpest team they had met; moreover, they lost in the most sportsmanlike manner. He was pleased to say they were able to hand over to them £2 10s., or more than their fares, which they were required by rule to do in the case of a semi-final, thanks to their supporters, and more especially Col. Hoole [of Headington Manor House] who kindly let them use his paddock. After that they spent a pleasant afternoon at Cowley on March 4th, which he proposed to pass over. March 6th, the Monday following, found them in the Victoria ground, when the number of Headington people at the match was enormous. They drew (1–1), which put them in the final for the trophy. Of the finals he need hardly remind them of the two with St. Mary Magdalene for the City Cup, which was on the table, and the match with Chipping Norton for the Shield, which was not on the table. from March 4th to the 18th their men worked like a First League team. A final on the Saturday and a re-;played final on the Thursday – two hard games – were played in a fortnight, and they did it with the same 11 men each time. Of the second final with Chipping Norton at Witney, he would not say much. They lost by the small margin of one goal from a penalty kick. It was a singular coincidence that when Headington had a similar chance in the previous match the goal-posts were not large enough for them, but Chipping Norton found a corner for the ball and also the Shield. He was pleased to say they were supported by everyone in this village – if bonfires and shouting is anything – and financially they hoped to keep their heads above water. They had the choir club and the school club, and might, for all they knew, some day get a ladies' football club, so they would see there was little chance of football dying out at Headington….

In 1899, however, the club was made homeless, as Colonel Hoole did not allow the cricket and football teams to use the Manor House paddock when he was away fighting in the Boer War. At the Headington United Cricket Club dinner at the Britannia on 27 October 1900 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.

The Britannia Field ground, 1900–1913

Britannia Field
Above: The Britannia Field in 1899

Under the Enclosure Award of 1805 William Mott, the landlord of the Britannia Inn, had been allocated a field measuring over eight acres on the south side of the London Road surrounding the inn.

In 1836 some of the land was sold by his son Thomas Mott, but the rest of the field was retained and was presumably used for the horses of people stopping at this coaching inn. (This field is now mostly occupied by the houses at the north end of Lime Walk.)

In 1900 the Britannia Inn would no longer have needed much pasture for horses, and so the cricket and football clubs managed to obtain the use of the Britannia Field.

HUFC badge

In 1907 the Strete Temperance Club formed a second football club in Headington, the Headington Quarry Football Club. In 1911 this merged with the Headington Football Club, and they took the name Headington United Football Club (H.U.F.C).

By 1913 the parish of Highfield (which included New Headington village) was growing fast, and the inevitable expansion of Lime Walk northwards to the London Road over their ground was probably obvious to the cricket and football club.

The Wootten's Field ground on the London Road, c.1914–c.1921

Wootten's 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, then 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 and the south ends of Osler Road and Old High Street were built on it from 1920.

Right: The 1899 Ordnance Survey map of Headington shows Wootten's Field bisected by a tree-lined lane to its south lodge. It is bounded by Cuckoo Lane (“F.P.”) to the north, Osler Road (then Sandy Lane) to the west, Old High Street to the east, and the London Road to the south

The Manor Ground, 1925–2000

The Oxford Journal Illustrated of 24 June 1925 (p. 9) has a photograph of Dr Massie (who lived in the Rookery) bowling the first ball in a cricket match between Headington and Oxford City at the opening of the “new sports ground in Headington”.

Then on 1 September 1925 the former spy Major William Lauriston Melville Lee (President of Headington United Football Club from 1919 to 1935) performed the ceremonial kick-off for the first football mat ach at the Manor Ground.

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

It bought most of the 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.

In 1929 Headington became a suburb of Oxford, but the club retained the name Headington United Football Club for another thirty years.

The historian Godfrey Elton, first Baron Elton of Headington was President of Headington United Football Club until 1945.

The 1939 Ordnance Survey map of Headington (below) labels the Manor Ground as “Cricket Ground”, indicating that the it was a general sports ground and was not monopolized by the football club. The Cricket Ground was used as a pitch for Headington United in winter. There were also tennis courts on the site, and Headington Bowls Club had 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

In 1949, the cricketers moved off to a new ground, and for the first time Headington United had the Manor Ground pitch to itself. 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).

In 1961 Headington Sports Ground Ltd sold the Manor 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. The Historic England image below shows an aerial view of the Manor Ground in 1992.

In 1995 Biomass Recycling Ltd sold the football club 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 Manor Ground for £6m, and 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.

A Section 106 condition of the planning permission (00/02116/NFY) granted to Nuffield Hospitals for the building of the Manor Hospital on the former Oxford United Football Ground was that they should commission a public work of art costing at least £10,000 to commemorate the site’s heritage. The result in 2004 was “United”, a 25ft-wide marble sculpture facing Beech Road that includes football crowd scenes

The appeal for funds made by the Headington Recreation Ground Committee in 1913 for the original sports ground now occupied by Stephen Road is reproduced in full below. The original leaflet is available in the Bodleian Library: GA Oxon c.317

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 [on the site of the present Scott Fraser office], 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.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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