Headington Reminiscences

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James Hansford

My father

My father, Alec Hansford, was the chauffeur of Dr Robert Hitchings. He also looked after his garden and delivered medicines to patients on foot. The photograph below shows him in his chauffeur’s uniform alongside the Bullnose Morris car which Dr Hitchings then owned. The car is parked at the side entrance of the doctor’s house at the top of what is now Kennett Road.

Alex Hansford, chauffeur

The address in Temple Road, where I still live (now numbered 45, then 18), was my grandfather’s home and that of my father and now myself. The Hansford family moved into the house circa 1876 and it has been occupied by them ever since. This was also the address where Dr Robert Hitchings held his surgery in Temple Cowley circa 1922.

My mother and her family

In 1929, before her marriage, my mother Mabel (known as Florrie) was the children’s maid of Professor Salvador de Madariaga, who lived at 3 St Andrew’s Road from 1929 to 1931. He was connected with the League of Nations, and she accompanied the family on a visit to Geneva, looking after the children. She then went to work for Dr Hitchings’ partner, Dr Charles McCay, whose house was at the corner of London Road and Wharton Road. This is how my father first met my mother. (See also reminiscences of Jill McCay.) My mother’s family attended Headington Baptist Chapel in Old High Street, and my parents were married there on 11 April 1936.

My parents' wedding

The above wedding photograph shows my mother’s father Frederick Cleverly (then aged 71) on the left; next to him is my aunt Mildred, then my father, then my mother, and lastly my father’s eldest brother William The certificate was countersigned by William and Frederick, and by the minister S.R. Record.

Frederick Cleverly, my grandfather, was a blacksmith in Headington, first in the yard of the Royal Standard in New High Street, and then probably at the yard in Old High Street. By 1920 he took over a smithy that formed part of the Magdalen College Workshops at the eastern boundary of Bury Knowle Park. (The site is now occupied by the Bury Knowle Health Centre, and was previously Stoneshire Construction Ltd.) These workshops were approximately opposite Dr McCay’s house on the London Road.

Cleverly advert

Left: Advertisement in Bennett’s Business Directory of 1911, when Frederick Cleverly’s business was at the back of the Royal Standard, where there had been a smithy since at least the 1890s. An identical advertisement (except for the corrected spelling of the word “Headington”) appears in the 1914 Bennett’s Directory

Frederick Cleverly was born in Bath on 2 June 1864 to a single woman, Charlotte Cleverly. His mother later married, but Fred and his adopted father didn’t get on, and so at the age of 13 he was “put out” and disowned by his family. We reckoned that he must then have joined up with an itinerant blacksmith, and the 1881 census bears this out: he was then living at Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire (not far from Bath) with the family of a blacksmith called William Hyatt. Although only 16 at this time, he himself was also described as a blacksmith.

On Christmas Day 1885, when my grandfather Frederick Cleverly was 21, he married my grandmother Mary Flora Eacott at St Mark’s Church at Lyncombe near Bath. My grandmother, who was born at Uffington (then in Berkshire) on 30 April 1859, was five years older than by grandfather, and her parents were Thomas Eacott, a shoemaker, and Martha Ann (nee Hicks).

My grandparents are pictured below.

Mary Cleverly
Mary Flora Eacott

Frederick Cleverly
Frederick Cleverly

My Cleverly grandparents had moved to George Street in Oxford by the time that their first child (Annie Louisa) was born on 2 April 1887. Three more children were born in Oxford: Frederick Thomas (known as Tom) in 1888, Mary (known as Kit) in 1890, and Sidney in 1892. The the family then moved to Nuneham Courtenay, where my mother Mabel Flora (known as Florrie) was born in 1895, and finally Mildred in 1898.

By 1901 the family was living in Littlemore, and my grandfather is described in the census as a journeyman blacksmith. (Their daughter Annie had already left home and was in service in Littlemore at the age of 13.) By 1902 they were in Iffley, where my grandmother was invited to a coronation celebration on 26 June 1902:


Frederick Cleverly


In 1906 the family moved to Headington. The picture on the right shows my grandfather at work at his forge there.


Their first home was Wymondley in Western Road (now renamed 22 Holyoake Road), and they later moved to 24 Stile Road. My grandfather initially worked at the Smithy in New High Street, next to the Royal Standard.


By 1920 he had moved to the Magdalen College Workshops on the other side of the London Road (the site of the present Bury Knowle Health Centre), and it was from here that he made and maintained the wrought ironwork of Magdalen College.

Sidney Cleverly

In the early days my grandfather was Farrier for the Queen’s Own Oxford Hussars (Q.O.O.H.), assisted by his two sons, Sidney (left) and Tom (below).

Tom Cleverly shoeing a horse

Tom served in the Q.O.O.H. in France in the 1914–18 war as Farrier Sergeant Tom Cleverly. In 1914 at Ypres German shelling caused the horses of the Scots Greys to stampede, and Tom stood in the road and halted them, and was mentioned in dispatches for this brave act. Although he survived the war, he died shortly afterwards from TB.

Sidney also served for a time in the Q.O.O.H. before returning to help his father during the war, and later transferred to college maintenance in Oxford.

My grandmother died in 1929, and my maiden aunt Mildred looked after my grandfather at 24 Stile Road until his death in 1952. She herself worked for Dr McCay from about 1940.

Frederick Cleverly
Frederick Cleverly outside the Magdalen College Workshops, London Road

Bill head
Cleverly's bill head, giving the address of the Magdalen College workshops and his home

During the late 1940s my grandfather was assisted by a man called Jim Gurl who live in Pitts Road, Headington Quarry.

My grandfather continued working at the College Workshops until his death at the age of 88 in 1952. Frederick & Mary Cleverly and their six children, including my mother, are all buried in Headington Cemetery.

James Hansford, 2006

Frederick Cleverly in Directories

  • “Frederick Cleverly, wheelwright, New Headington” first appears in 1906
  • “Cleverly, J. [for F.], wheelwright, London Road” appears in 1908
  • “Cleverly, Fredk. wheelwright, Western rd” appears from 1911 to 1914
  • “Cleverly Frederick & Sons, wheelwrights, London road” appears from 1915
  • From 1925 each directory has two entries: “Cleverly Frederick, 16 Stile road” in the Private section and “Cleverly Fredk. blacksmith, London rd” in the Commercial section.

This gate is the one known example of Fred Cleverly’s work for Magdalen College (in 1949). From distant memories, I think it was installed at the entrance to the Fellows’ Garden, but wherever it was, it was not in a position where it could be accessed by the public, much to my grandfather’s chagrin.

It was designed in Sweden, and the plans were scaled in millimetres which my grandfather had never heard of, then, let alone worked with them.  In the end he worked out the equivalent of every measurement in fractions of an inch. Not bad for an 85-year-old, although he was sick with worry throughout, and so very pleased when it was all over.

James Hansford, 2003 (updated 2015)

Isabel de Madariaga meets Jim Hansford
Professor Isabel de Madariaga meets Jim Hansford, the son of Florrie Cleverly
(the children’s maid who looked after her), at 3 St Andrew’s Road on 15 October 2011,
on the occasion of the unveiling of a Blue Plaque to her father

© Stephanie Jenkins

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