Headington history: Streets

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Wilberforce Street (formerly William Street)

This road, which dates from 1851, was known as William Street by the time of the 1891 census. It was probably named after King William IV (reigned 1830–37). But the extension of Oxford’s boundaries in 1929 meant that there were three William Streets in the city: in Marston, St Clements, and Headington.

The confusing situation was not remedied until 1959, when the latter two changed their names. The William Street in St Clements was renamed Tyndale Road after William Tyndale; and it seems likely that the one in Headington was renamed after another famous William, namely William Wilberforce, well known in connection with the abolition of the slave trade. But it could jointly commemorate his son, Samuel ‘Soapy Sam’ Wilberforce (Bishop of Oxford 1845–69), who was instrumental in getting Holy Trinity Church built in Quarry in 1849.

The 1876 OS map of Headington shows what is now the Butcher’s Arms pub and two other houses on the north side of the street, and to the south a large house called ‘The Willow’, a smaller house next-door, and then a row of eleven very tiny cottages, known as Mattocks Row. (John Mattock of rose fame lived in one of them himself until he moved into his grand new house at 88 Windmill Road in 1890.)

Every nineteenth-century building in the street was demolished and rebuilt after World War II, except for the Butcher’s Arms and ‘The Willow’ (now No. 18), shown below. There is an identical house in New High Street and in Bateman Street, and it is likely that they were built at about the same time. This one appears to have had its central front door moved around to the side.

House in Perrin Street


The Britannia (built c.1770) and the Royal Standard (c.1850) were originally coaching inns, serving travellers on the turnpike road from Oxford to London: so the Butcher’s Arms was New Headington village’s only ‘local’. The footpath that has connected the bottom of New High Street to Wilberforce Street since 1852 meant that the pub was convenient for all the villagers except those at the top of New High Street: but the middle-class Victorians who lived in the larger houses there would probably have avoided it anyway.

William Bleay is listed in directories as a Headington beerhouse keeper from 1853 to 1875, and the 1871 census pinpoints him in New Headington village. Hence it seems likely that the pub was one of the first buildings erected in the village in the early 1850s. The second landlord (1876–1906) was the eponymous butcher, James Young, who is described as ‘butcher and publican’ in the 1891 census. Members of the Grain family then ran the pub (without the butchery side) from 1906 to 1960.

Paul J. Marriott, in Oxford Pubs Past and Present (1978) says that the Butcher’s Arms is the only Oxford pub to have a sign at the end of the street, showing the coat of arms of the Butchers’ Guild. In fact, although the sign correctly depicts two crossed silver butchers’ pole-axes, it is a parody of the proper arms: instead of gold and silver winged bulls as the crest and supporters, there are respectively a boar’s head and two pink pigs rampant. Nor does the motto beneath the crest, Deus nobis omnia dat (‘God gives everything to us’) belong to the Butchers’ Guild.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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