Headington Reminiscences

Go backwards
Go forwards

Stephanie Jenkins

I originally intended to write about the way the local shops have changed beyond recognition since I moved to Headington in 1982. But after wrestling with such problems as “When exactly did Michel’s restaurant open?”, and “What was the name of the grocer's shop on the Bateman Street/Windmill Road corner (and when exactly did it become a vegetarian café?)”, the only way to make progress was to base this piece on the slightly different situation six years earlier in 1976, when all the Headington shops are conveniently listed in the last Kelly’s Directory ever published.

The biggest changes since 1982 have been the demolition of old shops (some of which had charm, such as the last remaining house of the 1820s Belle Vue Terrace (below); and other of which were dilapidated). Other old buildings rebuilt are those currently occupied by the Skipton Building Society, Caffè Nero, the Scott Fraser office, Rio's Piri Piri, and the former Lloyd's Bank.

New High Street cornerTop: The corner of New High Street in c.1998; and
Below: Turret House and Standon Court (originally called "The Cloisters") being built in April 2000

In 1976, Headington was a fairly quiet residential suburb. The John Radcliffe maternity hospital had been open for four years, but the hospital proper would not move to Headington until 1980; and although Oxford Polytechnic had been in existence since 1970, it was very much smaller than the present Brookes University and many of its students lived with their parents. Hence houses in multiple occupation were rare. The population was much more static than today, with many people still living in the houses where they grew up.

Mattock Close was still a rose garden, and there were odd green spaces dotted around which have since been crammed with small dwellings.

The Moulin Rouge cinema at the top of New High Street was still going strong. There was a Royal Mail delivery office in Lime Walk, and on the other side of the London Road was the Oxford United Football Club. The Park & Ride scheme had not yet been invented, and there was only one bus company in Oxford.

The shopping centre was excellent, and people could do most of their shopping without leaving Headington. It had more independent shops than there are today, but it also had the largest supermarket in Oxford, namely MacFisheries (later the International Stores, then Gateway, then Somerfield, and now Waitrose). Hence people made a point of travelling to Headington to shop, and the delights on offer in the Headington shopping centre were often advertised in the local press.

The Co-op then occupied every one of the shops that stretch between Windmill Road and Holyoake Road, as well as the former shop (then much larger) that stood on the site of the present Skipton Building Society. The present Co-op building on the corner of Stile Road had not been built, and in 1976 the site was still occupied by Eyles & Coxeter Ltd, motor car agents.

There were three other smaller supermarkets in the centre of Headington. Fine Fare was at 98 London Road (later Shopper’s Paradise, where you could help yourself to just the amount you wanted from large bins; then Kwik Save, followed by Peacock’s, and now Sainsbury). The Fine Ware [sic] Supermarket was at 108/110 London Road (later Bejam’s and now Iceland).

Setting up home in Headington was easy. You could get your furniture from Walker’s at 71 London Road (now Starbucks); your carpets from Lander Wilson at 4 The Parade, Windmill Road (now Lush Hair & Nails); and decorating materials from Reeve’s at 104 London Road (later part of the Olan Mills shop, then the Oxford Optical Centre, and now the Headington Fairtrade shop).

You could sort out your gas and electricity supplies (and purchase your appliances) at the Southern Gas showroom (the other part of 104 London Road) and the Southern Electricity showroom (the former shop that stood on the corner of New High Street). The latter became the Oxford Video Club in the 1990s, and was then rebuilt: since then the site has been occupied by part of the Iron Bed Company/Feather & Black and Buongiorno e Buonasera. Electrical goods could also be obtained at Rumbelow’s at 112 London Road, and if you lived nearby, the assistants would bring them straight down to you on a trolley: this later became the Trade Exchange pawn shop and is now Savers Health & Beauty.

Televisions were still often rented in 1976, and there was a choice of Rediffusion at 114 London Road (now the Cancer Research UK charity shop); Loyds Retailers at 107 London Road (now Chancellor’s Estate Agents), or Visionhire at 108 London Road (now the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity shop).

For ironmongery, in addition to that good old survivor Headington Homewares you had Edginton’s at 12 Windmill Road (now Leopard Press/Choice Tiles) and Shergolds at 87 London Road (later rebuilt as Lloyds Bank, and now Caffe Nero). When Shergolds was forced to move out in the early 1980s, they reopened in 138–140 London Road and became Carpenter Shergolds. (That large shop has now been demolished and rebuilt as a smaller one: it is now occupied by the Skipton Building Society.)

You could get soft furnishings at H.O. Textiles at 5 Simon House (later Africare Hairdressing and now about to become a hairdresser again). If you wanted to make your own curtains, you could go to the Sewing & Knitting Machine Centre (on part of the site on the corner of New High Street). You could get almost any other everyday item at the Lesandon Discount Store at 95 London Road (now Oxford Orthodontic Centre) or at Headington Discount Stores at 2a Windmill Road (later Clover's, and now the vacant former Sue Ryder charity shop).

As well as the supermarkets, there were still plenty of old-fashioned specialist food shops. There were two greengrocer’s shops: Durham’s at 121 London Road (later Jem-i-Ni, then Keraleeyam Stores, and now Headington Food & Wine) and Bonner’s at 106 London Road (later Cartridge World and now Up & Running). There was also a fruiterer: W. E. Smith & Sons at 94 London Road (on the site of the rebuilt British Heart Foundation charity shop). Just Plants Florists at 11 Windmill Road (later McGill’s and Ice Hair, now vacant).

There were three baker’s shops: A. Butler & Co. at 1 The Parade, Windmill Road (later Queen of Hearts, now vacant); Vallis’s at 123 London Road (later the Lebanese Sandwich Shop and now Mojo’s); and Berry’s at 3 Old High Street (later the Pergola Patisserie, and now La Croissanterie). Berry’s Bakery had started up in Old Headington in 1863, and in the mid-1980s you could still see the goods being made in their bakery, which was behind 1 St Andrew’s Road facing Larkin’s Lane. (Vallis’s Bakery had started up in Quarry at almost the same time as Berry's.)

The four butcher’s shops in 1976 were:

  • Baxter’s at 113 London Road (later Chef’s Pantry, La Plaza, Copacabana, Caffe Toscano, Finders Keepers, the Lemon Garden, and now vacant)
  • Alden’s at 77 London Road (now rebuilt as Scott Fraser estate agents)
  • Harold Weaver at 148 London Road (later Martin’s Family Butchers, then La Patisserie Imperiale, then Yummy, and now Kazan Japanese Cuisine)
  • Dewhurst at 5 Windmill Road (later Model Masters, then Goodies Secondhand furniture, then Focus Electronics and Electric Aids, and now Sandra Homewood Funerals).

In addition to their big supermarket in Old High Street, Mac Fisheries lived up to its name and had a fishmonger’s shop at the top of Windmill Road (now Sinclair Hairdressing).

Supermarkets thirty years ago did not sell alcohol, stamps, or newspapers, and you had to go to separate shops:

  • For wine you went to Gough Brothers at 79 London Road (now The Garden) or Arthur Cooper at 15 Old High Street (later Thresher’s, now Jacobs & Field).
  • For stamps you had either to go to Headington Post Office (which was then a full Crown post office offering all services, and twice the size that it was before its closure in 2016) or to the smaller Highfield Stores and Post Office in All Saints Road, now replaced by an office and flats.
  • For newspapers you went to English & Son at 14 Windmill Road (later Balfour News, and now the Helen & Douglas House charity shop)

In 1976 you could get your stationery at John Menzies at 97 London Road (later Fusion Hairdressers, and now Angels Hairdressers), and your sweets at J. Chaundy’s sweet shop at 76 London Road (now the east side of the Mount Pleasant Hotel). Toys were on sale at Fleet Toy Dealers in Simon House (now Lee & Lindars estate agents).

G.H. Williams cycle shop at 115 London Road (later Café On-Line and the LJ Discount Store, and now the Polish supermarket Eurofoods) was already in its 54th year in 1976 (although it had started life on the opposite side of the road). It was not, however, Headington’s oldest business: that was S. West & Son, which had been at 74 Windmill Road since 1893 (now private housing).

For fashion items and clothes, there was:

  • Edney & Son Men’s Tailors at 99 London Road (later John Menzies, then Crown Group Newsagents, then W. H. Smith's, and now Headington Dry Cleaners & Alterations)
  • Hamilton-Smith Fashions at 65 London Road (later the Sun-Kissed Tanning Salon, the Sun of a Beach Tanning Salon, Flipping Burgerz and now Four Seasons Restaurant)
  • Penge di Roma tailors at 5 Simon House (later the Special Days and the London Beauty Boutique and now Armends Walk-In Barbers)
  • John Lane Menswear at 81a London Road (now the eastern part of the Cancer Research UK charity shop)
  • D&A Fashions at 119 London Road (now Sobell House charity shop)
  • Miranda Ladies outfitters at 77a London Road (later the Squash Café, and now Coco Noir)
  • Miranda Junior at 7 Old High Street (now Monaco);
  • H. H. Windows Outfitter at the north-west end of Windmill Road.

Shoes could be purchased from Bailey’s at 5 The Parade (now the Thong Heng Chinese supermarket) or at W. D. Smith & Sons, “high-class shoe retailers & repairers, wools, haberdashery” at 93 London Road (which continued as Brambles and then became the Oxford Furniture Warehouse and now Headington Barbers charity shop). Quick Service shoe repairs were at 120 London Road, on the corner of Windmill Road, in the building demolished to make way for the new 1980s block that was occupied on the corner by the 7–11 shop, then B2, then Londis, then Caffè Nero, and now Costa Coffee.

There were two jewellers: Lily Crane at 9A Windmill Road (later Launa Stone, then Black Mamba Tattoos, office of the Innovation Group, Oxford Locksmiths, and now Foot Health Practitioner) and Robertson Jewellers at 109 London Road (later Adkin Estate Agents and Mortgage Masters, and now Breckon & Breckon).

Everything for the baby could be bought at Walker’s Baby Shop at 8 Windmill Road (later Alliance Pharmacy, then Moss Pharmacy, and now Reynold’s Blinds), while the Pet, Garden & Hardware Supplies at 150a London Road (which survived until 2016 and is now Headington Butchers & Groceries) catered for pets. For record and cassette players you could go to Oxford Audio Visual at 19 Old High Street (now Audio T).

R.J. Hollier Sports Outfitter at 82 London Road (on part of the site of the new building on the corner of New High Street) sold sports clothes. Headington United had become Oxford United in 1960, and the Oxford United Club Shop was at 118 London Road (later Reynolds Blinds, and now Greggs Bakers).

Chemist’s shops in the centre were Boot’s at 96 London Road (which is still going strong), and the chemist Bellamy’s of Oxford at 69 London Road (now Oliver & James Funeral Directors).

Lucky Charm Antique Dealers were at 6 Windmill Road (now Adria), and much further down at 72A was the Oxford Buy & Sell Stores (now Ford’s Secondhand shop).

More survivors from 1976 are Regency Cleaners and the Truwash coin-operated laundry at Simon House. In 1976 there was also the Speedwell Cleaning Co. in Kennett House (now a Cancer Research UK charity shop). Sketchley’s at 102 London Road was later Johnson’s Cleaners and is now the Card Factory.

In 1976 there were two betting shops (both described as “turf accountants”): Ladbrokes at 10 Windmill Road (later Choice Tiles, and now Oxford Wills & Probate with English Rose Kitchens) and Daltrey & Reeve at 1b New High Street, to the north of the cinema in a group of shops replaced by flats.

Robert Stanley Opticians were at 137 London Road in 1976 and are still there today. The Headington Travel Agency at 63 London Road is now Subway.

Away from the immediate centre, some old-fashioned corner shops remained in 1976, but all are now private houses. Hodgetts & Marriott butchers were at 58 Windmill Road on the Bateman Street corner; F. & L. Margetts grocers were at 107 Windmill Road on the Margaret Road corner (later Barclay Antiques and now a private house); and D. Garner grocers were at 59 Kennett Road on the Bateman Street corner. The end of the small grocer’s shop was nigh, however, and by 1976 the one at 39 New High Street (on the other corner of Bateman Street) had already closed. During the early 1980s, all the other corner shops lost out to the supermarkets, in the same way that the supermarkets themselves are now losing out to hypermarkets. In their declining years these corner shops were expensive, tended to have stale food, and could not offer much choice; they were only of real use during the evening and on Sundays, when all the shops in Headington centre were of course closed.

There were other handy local shops away from the centre in 1976 such as the Co-op at 295–299 London Road, which had a separate butchery department (later Sharp & Howse, then the Oxford Food Centre, and now the Sikh Temple). In Lime Walk there was Evelyn Caple florist at No. 109; B. M. Machin, a dentist, at No. 61; Alfred Burton, a hairdresser, at No. 65; F.A. Newman, a removal firm, at No. 19; Mrs O. E. Lines, a chiropodist, at 59a; and Fransman’s Car Hire at No. 4. The Driving Test Centre for Oxford was then at No. 2A, and Reginald G. Mallett, funeral directors, were at No. 124. In 1976 Central Headington was not yet a smoke control zone, and you could get your coal at Cade Heat Ltd at 291 London Road (later AEG Washing Machine Repairs and now the Oxford Food Centre).

Composition of Headington businesses in 2017

The largest group of shops/businesses in Headington in 2017 was made up of cafés, restaurants, and takeaways (there are at least 16 of them, and still increasing). Back in 1976, the choice was not large: there was the Windsor Fish Saloon at 150 London Road (now Posh Fish); the Golden Kitchen at 81 London Road (rebuilt as The Rose Chinese Restaurant, later Dragon Express, and now Rio's Piri Piri); the Kyrenia Restaurant at 92 London Road (approximately where MailBoxes is now); and the Barbican at 148 London Road (later the Hang Chow, which was first renamed The Chinese Restaurant and is now Asian Mama). The Shanghai Chinese Takeaway at 127 London Road was the only takeaway in 1976, and it still survives.

The second largest group of shops/businesses in Headington in 2017 was the estate and letting agents (ten in 2019). In 1976 there were Dines & Gill at 9 Windmill Road (later Daisy Chain Cards, then Strutt, and now Il Botanico); Allen & Harris at 129/131 London Road (now Connell's); Town & Country Estates at 1 New High Street (swallowed by Standon Court), and Vernon & Son at 117 London Road (later the Annie Sloan shop, then the Lazy Gamer, and now Istanbul Barbers).

The third largest group of shops/businesses in the Headington district shopping centrein 2017 was made up of hairdressers (eight in 2019).  In 1976 there was Marcus Petersen at 4 Manor Buildings (later Evoke Hair & Beauty, and now part of the adjoining dental surgery); Oxford Hair Care at 111 London Road (later Angels and then Accent, and now We Fix & Trade); W.J. Bowen at 66a London Road (now Sir); Anita Coiffure at 68 London Road (now Cut ’n’ Create); Martin of Oxford at 2 The Parade, Windmill Road (later Styles, then Vente Tsunami, and now Youngman's Barbers); Paolo of Florence at 2B New High Street (in the group of shops now replaced by flats); and Joanne (Mrs J. Hobby) Hairdressers at 4D New High Street which still survives.

The fourth largest group of shops/businesses in Headington in 2017 were the banks and building societies (seven in 2017). In 1976 NatWest, Midland (now renamed HSBC), Barclays (closed 2020) and the Coventry were all in their present buildings. Lloyds Bank was at 85 London Road in 1976 but was rebuilt in the 1980s to incorporate No. 87 on the corner as well: but it closed in 2019. Bristol & West used to be at 101 London Road (now Andrew’s Estate Agents), and next door at No. 103 was the Trustee Savings Bank (now Ladbroke’s).

The equal fourth largest group of shops in the Headington centre in 2017 were re the charity shops (ten in 2017), but in 1976 there was just one: Oxfam, then in a different shop at 133 London Road (now the extension of the Coventry Building Society).

Stephanie Jenkins, 2006 (names of present shops updated in 2023)

© Stephanie Jenkins

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