Headington Reminiscences

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Judith Hammick (Mrs Friend) (1923–2008)

My father, D. L. Hammick,* moved to 62 Old Road (then numbered 10 and called “The Grey Cottage”) in 1923, the year of my birth.

At this time there was a country lane (just known as “The Lane”) with hedges on either side where Girdlestone Road is now. My father paid a small rent for this lane, which could be closed off by a wooden farm gate: this gave him the right to keep out “undesirables” and stop little boys from bird-nesting there! The Lane led down to a large allotment which covered all the land as far as Lye Valley.

One of my earliest memories is of a cow breaking away from a herd being driven along Old Road: it came into our garden as my brother and I sat on the front doorstep with our buckets and spades, waiting to go on holiday. We were both very frightened!

I remember standing at the gate and watching “local” children go along Old Road to Margaret Road School. We were a snobbish lot in Old Road (all fathers being professional men) and these children (whom we called “I-sez-to-’ims”) would never have played with us. I was afraid of them, with their shouts and noisy behaviour.

Sometimes we would go down Lime Walk to Mrs Dance’s shop, and one had to run the gauntlet of these “rough” children! Mr Dance ran the bakery and would bring wooden trays of freshly baked jam tarts into the shop: I remember the colour of them so well – red, yellow, green, and custard.

When we were very young, my brother and I went to Hunsdon House Nursery School in Manor Road [now Osler Road], then run by a spirited lady called Miss Woods, who was a familiar figure in Headington until the 1970s.

In the 1920s Old Road was a quiet place to be, and people said that buses would never be allowed to come along it because of the hospital. If my brother and made too much noise playing in what was the our large garden (it stretched the entire length of what is now Girdlestone Road before it turns the corner), my mother would quieten us by saying, “You mustn’t wake the little Wingfield children.”

One of the things that made my childhood rather unusual was the fact that I did not go to proper school until was 12 years old. For some reason or other (and strangely enough I never asked my mother why) I had an elderly governess – Miss White – who came up to the house from Iffley Road every day (mornings only!). Another odd thing is that I cannot remember much about her, except physical details. She carried an umbrella with a duck’s beak handle and had a leather bag with an acorn design on it. Her hands felt dry and papery and seemed very old: she was certainly no Mary Poppins! I think the syllabus was rather Victorian – consisting of arithmetic, English (reading and writing), French, sewing, and learning to play the piano. I did no geography, so that when I finally went to school, I hadn’t the slightest idea where anything was in England (or the world!). But of course in this “one-to-one” situation I became quite bright and later got a scholarship to Headington School for Girls. But it was very lonely: I only had one friend, and that was Ann Clarke, the Vicar of Highfield’s daughter. We used to play in the vicarage garden.

My parents did not mix with people in Old Road. Father had his university life in Oriel College in Oxford, and my mother had friends to stay, but there were no aunts or uncles or cousins or any relations around. I have to confess here that my mother was a slightly “difficult” lady, haughty and imperious: she put the fear of God into the local tradespeople. She had a maid who helped with housework, and at one time an old gardener called Mr Parsons, whose mother remembered the windmill in Windmill Road.

When we were young my brother – before he went to boarding school – and I were taken for walks up Shotover. I remember every step of the way, and it was a treat, because we would stop at a little sweet shop that was situated exactly opposite the Crown & Thistle pub. Tuppence’ worth of sweets in those days – butterballs or humbugs in a little pointed triangular paper bag – was our idea of heaven. There were “gobstoppers” – hard round sweets the size of a golf ball – red aniseed balls, farthing chews, and sherbet dabs, which were little yellow tubes full of white lemonade powder that fizzed in your mouth as you sucked it up through a hollow liquorice stick.

As you passed Quarry Road, on the left just by the vicarage was the “scout chapel”, built apparently by scouts, and here was a World War I cannon — a massive iron thing to be stared at in wonder. Children did not ask questions in those days because grown-ups were less understanding and anxious to please than now, so we never knew how or why it had ended up just there.

On up Shotover Hill and on the right – just where the Northern Bypass crosses now – was a little café called “The Shasta Daisy” where you could have a glass of lemonade and an ice cream (if you were lucky!). At the top of the hill – on the left – was the mounting stone, where men would remount their horses (having got off to make the climb easier for the poor creatures).

Going up to Shotover has always been a source of joy and happiness to me. When I was older – and (at last!) – going to school, I and my school friends the McDonald girls (who lived – and still do – at Longworth on the corner of Lime Walk and Old Road) and Margaret Thomas (who lived in Bickerton Road) would meet Eleanor Baudillon on Shotover with her pony, which she kindly allowed us to ride. Eleanor’s niece (who has now sadly died) was on the Shotover Preservation Society in later years.

Nowadays I don’t think parents would allow 12-year-old girls to wander alone about Shotover (we took our breakfast of a cold sausage and a hard-boiled egg), but in those far-off days – 66 years ago! – there was no danger from lurking paedophiles or muggers. We made up stories as we trudged up Shotover Hill, safe from speeding cars or dangerous men.

To go back in time now – to the 1920s or early 1930s – and my brother and I playing in the large garden of (then) 10 Old Road: I remember the airship – the R100 – flying across the sky while we gazed in amazement. And I remember the little dual-winged aeroplanes quite low, so that we shouted, “Come down, Mr Airman!!”

We would stand at the gate of the Grey Cottage and watch the occasional car that went by – everything that went on outside our gate seemed exciting. One night, as a backdrop to the wooden huts of the Wingfield Hospital, we saw the Northern Lights (the Aurora Borealis) in the sky – great swathes of yellow-white-violet rippling across the sky like folds of a giant curtain. It was in January, I think, but I cannot remember what year.

Another feature of Old Road was the Wall’s ice-cream men, pedalling their bicycles, which had little fridges in front: “Stop me and buy one”, they were called. But we were not allowed to buy from anyone in the street!

One of the big treats for us was to be taken to the cinema, and this came our way through the kindness of a slightly eccentric Irish lady called Helen Black who lived with her mother in the house standing next the entrance to the Churchill Hospital. We saw some rather unsuitable films with her — Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and The Mystery of the Wax Museum, which gave us nightmares for weeks afterwards! After the cinema we were taken to tea at the Cadena Café in Oxford, situated where the music shop is now: a wonderful restaurant which served cream cakes and had a live quartet of musicians for tea dances.

Later, in 1939 when I started as an Art student at the Slade School of Art (housed in the Ashmolean Museum for the duration of the war), we would go to these tea dances and for 1/6 could sit and have a cream tea and hope that some handsome student would ask for a dance. Dances were also held at the Carfax Assembly Rooms (now HSBC Bank), and I have memories of walking my bicycle up Headington Hill in the blackout with no fears at all for my safety!

To return to my childhood in the 1930s: the people next door to the Grey Cottage were called Davies, and I remember that they had parties at night with strings of lights and lanterns across their garden. I could watch from my bedroom window: nothing as interesting as this happened in our family! We were strangely detached from other people in Old Road: my brother went away to boarding school at the age of 7, and my older sister boarded as well, leaving me to amuse myself by making dolls out of giant poppies, and building toy towns out of sticks and stones. When my brother came home in the holidays we played croquet or cricket in the garden and snakes & ladders, draughts, or Halma indoors. In the summer, we slept in the garden on camp beds for what seemed weeks on end: in those days parents had no fear for children’s safety.

As the 1930s came to an end and war started, life changed dramatically. The Churchill Hospital was built, the Yanks arrived, and busy army lorries and jeeps disturbed the quiet peace of Old Road. A communal War Kitchen was built on Rock Edge – to this day you can see the rectangular indentation where it stood You could get Wootton Pie (vegetables in Oxo gravy covered with potato crust) and apple pie (covered with very watery custard). Lunch out was quite a treat!

Clothes were on ration, but you could buy flour sacks without coupons: they were nice heavy linen stuff, and when dyed they made lovely dirndl skirts. I would walk to the McDonalds’ house to borrow their (hand) sewing machine and spend evenings running up clothes or listening to a favourite radio programme such as ITMA (It’s That Man Again, with Tommy Handley) or Morton in the Marsh, which we thought hilariously funny.

By now – two years into the war – I had left the Slade to do war work, which consisted of a milk round, working for Burton’s Dairy in Stephen Road. I started early – 4 or 5 a.m. – and my first job was to pick up the horse and cart from Hathaway’s Dairy in All Saints Road. Will Hathaway’s was a going concern all through my childhood, and milk, I think, was thensold by the jug; I remember going there for cream and butter too. ’Arry ’Athaway used to do the milk round, and now I was doing his job – an 18-year-old girl – who quickly learned to back the carthorse out of the stable into the waiting shafts of the cart and to buckle on the necessary harness and reins. But the foreman, Mr Payne, must have helped me. I felt very proud and clever – sitting up on the cart with the reins in my hands – trotting up to the depot in Stephen Road to fill up with crates of milk and churns for the hospitals. Soldiers would whistle appreciatively at the buxom girl I then was, wearing dungarees! Milk ration was 2½ pints per person per week, price 4½d a pint.

Written for this website by Judith Friend (née Hammick) in April 2002.
Judy died at Sir Michael Sobell House in Headington on 5 May 2008, aged 84 years

* See Wikipedia entry for Dalziel Hammick.

Hammick is listed thus in The Provosts and Fellows of Oriel College (1922):

“HAMMICK, Dalziel Llewellyn. Whitgift. Ent Magd (demy) 1906; 1 s L. S. H. Hammick, 19. i Nat Sci (chem) 1909. BA 1910. Univ of Munich 1909–10. Asst-Master Gresham’s School 1910–18, Winchester College 1918–20. Elected 6 Oct 1920 of Surrey. Lecturer in Nat Sci. MA 20 Jan 1921. Univ. Demonstrator Dyson Perrins Laboratory”.

Kelly’s Directory for 1947 lists Hammick under 62 Old Road as:

“University demonstrator & lecturer in chemistry & fellow, vice-provost & tutor Oriel college & lecturer in natural science Corpus Christi College”.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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