Headington history: Pubs and beerhouses

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The Black Boy

Old Black Boy

The original, seventeenth-century Black Boy stood nearer the corner of Barton Lane and Old High Street than the present one: see postcard above (supplied by Ian Garrett). This and the postcard below date from around 1930.

The Old Black Boy

The old Black Boy had a large backyard (now occupied by the present pub) and also a large garden (now owned by the Priory) where fêtes were held. The board above the door showed a black boy-servant, a sign commonly hung outside coffee houses in the seventeenth century. The famous elm tree that used to stand on this corner had already been removed at the time the above photographs were taken.

The pub had a bad reputation in the mid-nineteenth century. Jackson's Oxford Journal of 26 November 1870 reported that the landlord James Honey was charged with allowing “drunkenness and disorderly conduct in his house, on the 29th of October last” when Mrs Honey sent for P.C. Smith to stop a fight between Thomas Ward and his brother William. Police Inspector Yates reported that “the house born an indifferent character before the defendant took it, and one man was killed in a fight outside”.

The present Black Boy at 91 Old High Street (below) was built in 1937.

The Black Boy

Former pub

The old pub was already on this site in 1667 and may well be the inn known as “Old Mother Gurden’s” that was frequented by Anthony Wood in the late seventeenth century. It may also be the inn kept by Mother Shepherd that is depicted in the play about Joan of Heddington as being a rival to the White Hart in 1712.

It is specifically named as the Black Boy in the Headington Enclosure Award of 1805, when Barton Lane is being described:

Also one other public Carriage Road and Driftway of the like breadth of forty feet numbered X beginning near a certain public House in Headington aforesaid called the Black Boy and leading from Headington aforesaid in an Eastward direction to the Hamlet of Barton aforesaid being the public Road from Headington aforesaid to Barton village.

In 1847 Charles Jeffcoat was reprimanded at the Court of the Manor of Heddington for lopping the elm tree that stood next to the old stocks outside the Black Boy, and the Headington Rate-Book of December 1850 shows that he was then the owner of the pub, but that it was occupied by Mark Powell. Its gross estimated rental was then £13, and its rateable value £18.

The landlords in the nineteenth century were only part-time beer retailers: for instance in directories William Powell is described as “‘Black Boy’, & brickburner” in 1847: he died aged 45 on 11 December 1848. In 1876 James Honey was described as “coal merchant and victualler ‘Black Boy’”; and in 1898 William Somerville as “Black Boy P.H. & wheelwright”.

In 1907 Headington Baptist Church held a mission with many special meetings both inside and outside the church. It was so successful that Mrs Carter, then the landlady of the Black Boy, complained to the Sergeant of Police that it was affecting her livelihood.

1921 map

1939 map


These extracts from Ordnance Survey maps show how far the Black Boy has moved back from the road


Left: The old Black Boy in 1921


Right: The present Black Boy in 1939

Present pub

In 1937 the present pub was built in the backyard of the old pub, and then the seventeenth-century building in front was demolished in order to widen Old High Street. The new pub was given the same number as the old one (55 High Street, Old Headington; the address has now been changed to 91 Old High Street).

Black Boy in June 1983

The rebuilt pub used to have a sculpted figure of a black servant in the niche above the entrance (shown right in June 1983), but this was smashed in 1990 and was replaced by the painting of a chimney-sweep’s boy (below), which was (arguably) more politically correct. Even so, in 1997 there was an unsuccessful attempt by Oxford students to get the pub’s name changed on the grounds that it was offensive. Since about 2008 the niche has been empty.

The chimney sweep sign

When Morrell’s Brewery closed in 1998 it was taken over by Greene King. In 2007 it refurbished as a Mustard pub: their lease from the brewery ran out on 15 July 2008 and was not renewed, and the pub reopened under a temporary manager.

On 7 October 2008 Chris Bentham and Abigail Rose, took over, with an emphasis on good food. In July 2009 the Black Boy’s planning application 09/01218/FUL for “Change of use of first floor to provide 5 en-suite guest bedrooms and a studio flat. New external door to replace existing window and new external fire escape” was approved, and it became the Black Boy pub and hotel.

In 2013 the pub was sold by Greene King to Everard’s.

The Black Boy closed suddenly in mid-June 2019, and the previous owners left. The Black Boy Oxford Ltd was incorporated as a private limited company on 19 August 2019 (Companies House) and the Directors are Simon and Samantha Stonehouse of Lamb Catering, who now run the pub (which is still owned by Everards).

Some landlords of the Black Boy

Old Black Boy


Mr Moore
Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 10 March 1810 reports an auction of land to be held “at Mr Moore’s, at the Black Boy, Headington”


William Jeffcoat (described as a publican in St Andrew’s baptismal registers during this period). Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 18 January 1823 announces that the sale of Headington Windmill will take place “at Mr Jeffcoat’s, the Sign of the Black Boy, in Headington”

After 1826

Charles Jeffcoat, son of William.


George Phillips

By 1836–1866

William Powell (by 1836–1848)
Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 13 February 1836 announces the auction of two cottages and five plots of building ground “at Mr Powell’s, the sign of the Black Boy, in Headington”. At the time of the 1841 census William Powell is living in Old High Street (almost certainly at the Black Boy), but is described as a Brick Merchant. With him are his wife Anne, and his children John, Emily, and Mark. They have a 15-year-old servant girl. Powell died at the age of 45 and was buried at St Andrew’s churchyard on 15 December 1848

Mrs Ann Powell (1848–1851)
The 1851 census shows Mrs Powell (54) running the Black Boy. Her sons Thomas and Mark and daughters Emily and Mary Ann are living with her, and are all engaged in other employment. Mrs Powell died at the age of 58 and was buried at St Andrew’s churchyard on 26 May 1856

Matthew/Mark Powell (1852–1854)

John Powell (1855–1866)
The licence was transferred to John Powell, son of the previous tenant, in 1855. The 1861 census shows Powell (36), described as a “Mason & Victualler” living at the Black Boy with his wife Jane and children Ann (4), Mary (2), and William (four months)


George Taylor


James Honey (1870–1876)
The 1871 census shows James Honey (aged 30 and born in Drayton) described as a licensed victualler and living at the Black Boy with his wife Ann (32)

Mrs Ann Honey (1877–1881)
(wrongly called Kate in one directory?)
The 1881 census shows Mrs Honey (42) living in the Black Boy as a widow with her two children Emily Adams (22) and Richard Adams (21). She is described as the publican


William Dawson Somerville
Somerville (59) was living with his wife Ann (53) and his widowed daughter Mrs Emily Cooper at the Black Boy in 1891. They were still there in 1901.


William Carter (1902–1904)

Mrs A. Carter (1906–1907)


George Thomas Edney
The 1911 census shows Edney (52) living at the pub with his wife Elizabeth Jane (56) and their son William (25), who was an assistant in the business


J. H. Kirk


Joseph Lindley Bond


William Grimsley


Reginald Dickenson (1922–1927)
Thomas R. Dickenson (1927–1930)


Henry Badcock

Present Black Boy


Archibald J. Bolt (Mrs E. I. Bolt from 1962)


Reginald A. Newman

Black Boy from church tower

Above: The Black Boy, viewed from the tower of St Andrew’s Church

© Stephanie Jenkins

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