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Headington history: Miscellaneous

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History of policing


Headington before 1857: Parish constables plus “hue & cry”

From medieval times until 1857, Headington was policed by parish constables. These were local people appointed on a rota basis for a minimum of one year.

But in a rural community such as Headington the Lord of the Manor, the Vicar, and the rest of the community were all also collectively responsible for social control; and as the parish constables of Headington had no responsibility for apprehending miscreants in adjoining parishes, it was also common for people to take the law into their own hands. The civilized way to do this was to advertise in the local press: for example in April 1780 Thomas Hutt of Headington Quarry advertised a reward for missing sheets, while in August 1789 gamekeeper Mark Shirman advertised that any poachers caught in the Manors of Headington and Marston would be prosecuted. Others set man-traps and spring guns on their land: the Vicar of Headington himself (who was also Lord of the Manor) published a notice in 1801 stating that “any unqualified person sporting” in the Manors of Headington and Marston would be “prosecuted to the utmost regard of the Law”, and that “steel traps and other destructive engines are set in Headington Copse and the grounds adjoining”. At that time the death penalty covered 200 offences, which would have acted as a deterrent and ensured that fewer criminals lived to reoffend.

Here are some examples reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of late eighteenth-century crimes perpetrated in Headington :

  • 28 December 1757: Loaded guns were fired at Mr Wright’s windows, Headington
  • 27 March 1772: William Clarke was committed to the Castle, charged with stealing from Richard Carter of Headington
  • 3 October 1772: A notice was published that persons stealing turnips in Headington fields were to be prosecuted
  • 15 June 1774: Lavel Mullineaux (called Mullendar) of Garsington, who had absconded from service of Richard North of Headington Quarry; was charged with stealing his master’s sheep. (He had been chiefly employed as a shepherd, brickmaker, and haymaker.)
  • 1 April 1775: William Guy was charged at Gloucester Assizes with stealing lace belonging to Joseph Holley of Headington: he was condemned to death but reprieved
  • 17 February 1776: Plants were stolen from Mrs Rowe’s garden, Headington Hill: it was announced that she would set steel traps in future
  • 12 September 1778: Sir Banks Jenkinson’s house [Headington Manor House] was burgled. The plate that was taken (worth £300) was found in the Cherwell under Napper’s Bridge, above Holywell Mill. Thomas Storer, a journeyman locksmith who had been cleaning locks at the Manor House, was imprisoned in the Castle, and Baynes, the acting parish constable for Headington, was praised
  • 30 March 1784: Giles Freeman was executed for a highway robbery between Headington and Stanton St John. He refused to name his associates
  • 10 April 1784: Mr Holley of Headington was robbed of his purse by a highwayman near Joe Pullen’s Tree; Thomas Plater of Cuddington, Berkshire, was sent to Aylesbury Gaol for the crime
  • 2 November 1789: Part of a newly erected wall in an enclosure adjacent to Cabbage Hall, on the side of Headington Hill, was maliciously knocked down. It was announced that any information would be rewarded by Robert Penson, nurseryman, at the bottom of High Street, and that man traps and spring guns would be set.

From 1844, the Headington Vestry minutes list ten men each year qualified and liable to serve as constables. The list in 1845 comprised David Bolton of Headington (farmer); Richard Edgington of Barton (farmer); Richard Ward of Headington (stone sawyer & shopkeeper), Samuel L. Evans of Headington (mercer & draper), John North of Headington (gardener), Joseph Phipps of Headington (gardener), James Warding of Headington (farmer), Thomas Snow of Quarry (quarryman), William Pates of Headington (baker), and Orlando Jewitt of Headington (the famous wood-engraver).

In 1848 the Vestry continued to “name Constables for the Parish to do their duties gratuitously” but also decided it was time to employ a paid constable at a wage of £40 a year.

The duties of the parish constables of Oxfordshire as published in the year 1849 are listed here. As well as powers of arrest at the scene of a crime, they had the duty of visiting the pubs and beer houses in their parish to see that no gaming was taking place and that they closed at the proper time.

In early 1857, Henry Burrows appears to have run off with parish funds, and nineteen parishioners clubbed together so that the Churchwarden and Overseers could issue handbills and put an advertisement in the Hue & Cry offering a reward of £30 for such information as should enable them to arrest him. The idea that they, rather than the police, had such powers of arrest showed that the law was still in the hands of the people; but within a few months Headington came under the new county constabulary and policing started to shift from being a communal responsibility to a profession.


Headington from 1857 to 1929: Oxfordshire County Constabulary

The County & Borough Police Act of 1856 compelled communities which had not already done so to establish a police force, and in February 1857 the Oxfordshire County Constabulary was born. On 29 June 1857 Frederick Grey was appointed the sole Constable at Headington Police Station.

It is unclear exactly where he was based (he does not appear in any census for Headington); and Headington may not have had a proper police station until 1883, when the former toll-house at the north-east corner of London Road was taken over for this purpose. Captain Burslem and P.C. Sonell* are listed at this police station in Valter’s 1884-5 directory, and John Privett in 1887. Although the 1891 census duly lists the building as the County Police Station, its days were probably already numbered, and no one slept on the premises: John Privett can be found living a few doors down at 19 Windmill Road. In 1893 the Co-op (now Buckell & Ballard) was built on the site of the old toll house.

The police station moved across the road to another corner site at 1 Westbourne Terrace (now 107 London Road – Chancellor’s), which was built in the early 1890s. Henry John May was the police sergeant for Headington from 1898 to 1908, and in the 1901 census he and his wife are listed as living on the premises with their five children. Arthur Thomas Harris held the post from 1909 to 1910, and then Charles Josey from 1911 to 1918, and he and his wife and five children can be found living at the police station in the 1911 census. The next sergeant was David Hitchcock (1919–1922). The county police sergeant from 1923 to 1929 (Jesse Baker) appears to have lived nearby on the London Road rather than in the station itself.

The Chief Constable of Oxfordshire, Lt.-Col. Hon. Edward Alexander Holmes-À-Court, happened to live in Headington (in the Firs at the top of Headington Hill) from 1882 to 1910.

In 1929, Headington was absorbed into the city of Oxford, and so came under the control of the Oxford City Police Force


Headington from 1929 to 1968: Oxford City Police Force

In 1929 the Oxford City Police Force built 236 and 238 Headington Road (between Brookside and Valentia Road) to serve as police houses, with a small police station (known as the “Headington Box”) attached on the right-hand side of No. 236. The first policemen to live in these two houses were George Money and Lionel Herbert Priday.

Here is the example of a “beat” in the Headington/Marston area in the 1950s, to be undertaken by bicycle:

  • Commence at Headington Box, to and along Headington Road, Gipsy Lane, Cheney Lane, Headington Hill, Marston Road, double William Street to the Somerset House Public house – ½ hour
  • Ferry Road, Edgeway Road, Purcell Road, Hugh Allen Crescent to Marston Road, Nicholson Road, Weldon Road to Marston Road, Croft Road to Marston Road, double Ouseley Close, Marston Road, Crotch Crescent, Copse Lane to Headley Way shops – 1 hour
  • Marsh Lane, Brookfield Crescent, Colterne Close, Copse Lane, Saxon Way, Gorse Leas, John Buchan Road, Foxwell Drive, Meadon Hill, Stainsfield Roar, Saxon Way, Gouldlands Gardens, Upway Road, Foxwell Drive, Halliday Hill, Westlands Drive, Borrowmead Road, Maltfield Road, Westlands Drive to Copse Lane School – 1½ hours
  • Eden Drive, Derwent Avenue, Ambleside Drive, Coniston Avenue, Headley Way, Bowness Avenue, Ambleside Drive, Eden Drive, Headley Way, Franklin Road, Woodlands Road, Staunton Road or Sandfield Road to top of Jack Straw’s Lane – 2 hours
  • Jack Straw’s Lane, Marston Road, Harberton Mead, Pullens Lane, Headington Road, Reservoir Square, Headington Road to Box – 2½ hours
  • Alternative commence from Somerset House Public House having paraded at Marston Road Police House

In 1960 Headington Police Station closed, and in 1969 the Oxford City Police Force and the Oxfordshire County Police Force were amalgamated into a huge new force covering the whole of the Thames Valley.

Headington since 1968: Thames Valley Police

In 1969 Headington came under the control of the Thames Valley Constabulary, now known as the Thames Valley Police Authority. Based at Kidlington, it is the largest non-metropolitan police force in the country, and covers the 2,200 square miles of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, serving a population of 2.1 million. Headington’s local police station is at Cowley, but until 2003 it had a local beat office: this was first based at the John Radcliffe Hospital and then at Oxford Brookes University.


* Sally Stone says that “Sonell” is an error for “Sorrell”. She says that her great-grandfather, George Frederick Sorrell, was born in about 1858 at Chipping Norton and began his police  duties as PC No. 4. He rose through the ranks to end his career as Deputy Chief Constable of Oxford: this was his profession as given on his daughter’s marriage certificate on 27th April 1918, and the address given then was County Police Station, New Road, Oxford. In the 1881 census he is shown as Police Constable at the Police Station, Witney, Oxford, where  he met his future wife Annie Rowles and married her in 1881. While he was stationed at Headington Sally’s grandmother  and great-aunt were born. At the time of the 1891 census he was residing at 40 Westfield Road, Wheatley with his wife and five children, and is shown as Sergeant of Police. He died at Bournemouth on 24 January 1920.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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