Headington history: Streets

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The Ridings

Entrance to The Ridings

Although its postal address is Headington, The Ridings lies outside the boundary of the City of Oxford in the parliamentary constituency of Henley, and comes under the administration of South Oxfordshire District Council (Forest Hill & Holton electoral division). On the current Church of England parish map it is described as “Shotover Extra Parochial Place”.

In the mid-nineteenth century it was part of Cowley, and came under the Cowley Enclosure Award, but once houses were built there in the twentieth century it was regarded as being an outpost of Headington Quarryand two of its young men are remembered on the First World War memorial plaque in Holy Trinity Church.

The main Roman road running between the Oxfordshire towns of Alchester (near Bicester) and Dorchester-on-Thames ran not far to the west of The Ridings, and part of it was discovered when the eastern bypass was created (see Roman Headington). Today the west side of The Ridings beyond Brasenose Reservoir comprises woods, which were once the eastern side of the Open Magdalen, but after the eastern bypass bisected that wood in 1959 it has been loosely described as Brasenose Wood:

Today this private road offers several alternative routes up to Shotover, others into Brasenose Wood, and a short-cut through fields to Horspath, but originally it was a footpath leading via Bullingdon Green to Hollow Way in Cowley.

As the current GoogleMap satellite view below shows, the area is still very rural:

Before the Cowley Enclosure Award of 1853

There were four open areas near Headington Quarry, known collectively to local people as “The Moors”, comprising the Open Magdalen. the Open Brasenose, the Ridings, and Slade Common. None of them was officially a common, but common rights were exercised over them, and villagers from both Headington and Cowley cut fuel from them.

This 1759 map of “Mr Salisbury's Estate in ye Parish of Heddington and County of Oxon belonging to Brazen Nose College” (North to the left) shows “The Rideing” running along the bottom.

This 1777 map produced by Christ Church to identify its property in Cowley shows the 41 acres of Cowley Common and the 30 acres of Elder Stubbs (recorded as Elder Stump).

The Headington Enclosure Commissioners Minute Book of 1801 (Oxfordshire History Centre O8/2/H/3) states, “The Proprietors of Estates within the Parish of Church Cowley claimed a Right of Common ... in and over all the Ridings or Freeboard at the bottom of Elder Stubs being part of Elder Stubs for Horses Mares Geldings Cows” and also “in and over both the Lanes leading to Elder Stubs”.

Henry Taunt wrote: “The villagers of Headington [in 1915] still claim rights at Open Magdalen, and Cowley have a right of way through it to Elder Stubs; and before the enclosure of Cowley the villagers were allowed to take furze or bushes from Open Brasenose, but not to take a cart within the boundary.”

On 20 September 1817 Jackson's Oxford Journal published a notice of an application to bring a Bill before Parliament relating to the enclosure of Church, Temple, and Middle Cowley and St Clement's,

and also certain pieces or parcels of commonable Land or Ground called Open Magdalen, Open Brazen-Nose, and Elder Stubbs, or by whatsoever other names the same are respectively known, near or adjoining to the said parishes, townships, or liberties....

It would be another 36 years, however, until the enclosure happened.

As a young boy in the 1840s Henry Taunt would have used this footpath to get to the pond in the middle of Elder Stubs, and he records how he showed the large newts with parti-coloured stomachs that he found there to the geologist William Buckland, who he often saw travelling on horseback along Old Road along with Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, on his way from Cuddesdon. Buckland did experiments to prove that these newts were the same as the ones at Shotover Farm, and that they went through the hill to Elder Stubs when the weather got too warm for them.

Pembroke College caused the Cowley Enclosure Award to be delayed until 1853, and insisted on a supplementary award (24 January 1856) to protect their manorial rights. That Award describes the following footpath, which appears to be the present Ridings:

Also that the way and footpath, No. 44, called the Elder Stubbs Footpath, leading from the north-east end of the Hollow Way aforesaid, in a north-easterly direction across Bullingdon Green to the land aforesaid called the Hundred Acres, and thence across such land to a public road in the parish of Headington, which bounds such land on part of the east side thereof, and there terminating.

The parishioners of Cowley lost their rights on Cowley Common and Elder Stumps as a result of enclosure, and in recompense the piece of land in Cowley Marsh that still bears the name Elder Stubbs was set aside “for the labouring poor”.

From the Cowley Enclosure Award of 1853 to the Second World War

This map depicting The Ridings in 1900, side-by-side with an aerial view today, shows that the present road follows the route of the old footpath running between Open Magdalen/Brasenose Woods to the west and Cowley Common and Elder Stubbs to the east. The only building in the vicinity in 1900 was still Elder Stubbs farmhouse.

The Ridings

The development of housing in The Ridings began In about 1908, when Harry Neville Prior downsized, moving from the Highfield Park mansion (later the Park Hospital) in Old Road to a new house called The Ridings. This is the large detached house at the north-west end of the road named in the extract from the 1921 map on the right. The road itself as yet had no name.

When Prior's son Rex was killed in the First World War, he was remembered on the war memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, and Harry himself was buried in its churchyard in 1931. (See Rex Prior's biography for more about his family.)

The house that Harry Prior called “The Ridings” (below) is the only one listed in the 1911 census, and for many years its address was “The Ridings, The Ridings”. It has now been renamed Old House.

Old House

The former Elder Stubbs farmhouse was converted into a house called Elderwick in about 1910, and Mrs Moriet Evelegh lived there from 1911 to 1916. Her son Captain Rosslyn Evelegh was killed in the First World War on 29 September 1914, and Holy Trinity Church in Quarry added his name to their war memorial. (See Rosslyn Evelegh's biography for more about his family.)

In 1926 Shotover Cleve was built on an eleven-acre site to a design by the architect Oswald Partridge Milne, and in the mid-1920s the architect Thomas Rayson designed a house for himself at the Ridings which he called Roundabouts (below):


In Kelly's Directory, listings for The Ridings were in the “Neighbourhood of Oxford” section at the back under Forest Hill and in the "Shotover Hill (Postal address Headington)” subsection.. In 1927 Kelly's Directory for Oxford listed the following six houses in The Ridings:

  • Elderwick: Mrs Hudson
  • The Nook (later renamed Long Ridges): Major Henry Grover Howard
  • The Ridings (now known as Old House): Harry Neville Prior
  • The Roundabouts: Thomas Rayson
  • Shotover Cleve: Henry Norman Spalding
  • Shotover Thatch: Miss Cary

By 1928 the Misses Hudson lived in Elderwick, and there was another house, Shotover Furze, aka Furze Hill, occupied Joseph Burtt Davy, M.A. Oxon, Ph.D. Cantab. The same seven houses and occupants were listed in the 1930 edition.

Joseph Burtt Davy (1870–1940)

Joseph Burtt Davy was a Quaker botanist and agrostologist (someone who studies grasses) who lived at Shotover Furze (below) from the 1920s to his death in 1940.

Shotover Furze

The stone bench shown below is near the top of the path up to Shotover Plain from the far end of The Ridings, to the right of Shotover Cleve. It is inscribed with a quotation from from Matthew Arnold's Thyrsis: “JOSEPH BURTT DAVY / (1870–1940) / OUR SCHOLAR TRAVELS YET THE LOVED HILL-SIDE”.

Davy bench in May 2022

For more on Joseph Burtt Davey, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and here in Wikipedia

Many older Headington people reminisce about walking in The Ridings from Quarry in the 1930s. The postcard below shows The Ridings at this time:

The Ridings

World War II and afterwards

On 20 September 1939 a National Register of England & Wales was taken in order to produce identity cards and later ration books, and also to administer conscription. (As the 1931 census for England & Wales was destroyed during the war and no census was taken in 1941, it will continue to be an important source for this period, and is available on both Ancestry and FindMyPast.)

The Ridings in the 1939 Register

All the houses except the first two are on the east side
The entries follow that for the house called Conway in Old Road

Name of house

Occupants in 1939

The Ridings
[now Old House], Shotover

William Thornton (a motor car tester), his wife Annie, their schoolgirl daughter Jean, an elderly widow called Sarah Laurie, and a companion

Old Road

Percy Prior (a solicitor), his brother Sydney (retired motorcycle engineer), and his sister Cordelia; and retired Major Henry Howard and his wife Ada

This house in Old Road is on the corner and may have been built in the garden of the Priors' former home, immediately above


Thomas Rayson (architect), his wife Helena, and their two children (names redacted), plus a children's nurse

Shotover Furze

Joseph Davy (a university lecturer), his wife Alice, and Sarah Christiana Webb Fowler, a companion

Shotover Thatch

Dorothy Cary (a vegetable & fruit grower) and Fanny Roberts (secretary)

The Ridings

Edith Hudson (a market gardener); Gertrude Hudson (living off private means); Rose J. Hudson (assistant Medical-O-Health [sic]); Honour A. Gibbs (housekeeper); Christian McGregor; Evelyn McGregor (assistant Medical-O-Health); Thomas Hudson (eng. workshop manager); Alexandra Hudson (unpaid domestic duties); and two young people whose names are redacted

Shotover Cleve

Harold Finlay (student gardener)

The Orchard,
The Ridings

Reginald Carr-White (schoolmaster), his wife Marguerite
Carr-White, and Janet Wallace (Women's Auxiliary Air Force)

Ridings End,

Stephen Schofield (tutor), his wife Kathleen, and their schoolboy son Patrick

The Ridings

Lilly Seely (ex-University Lecturer) and Frank J. B. Seely (probably her son), who was incapacitated

Watch Hill,
The Ridings

Gordon M. Dobson (University Reader), his wife Winifred, their daughter Kathleen (an art student), their son Arthur (a student at Cambridge University), and Sarah Hardy (unpaid domestic duties), plus four young people whose names are redacted

This entry is followed by West Hill Farm, Forest Farm, 1 & 2 Green Lane,
and then goes back to Old Road to continue with Bleak House and Crabtree

The house called Elder Stubbs is not listed in the register, possibly for security reasons.
Kelly's Directory shows that it was occupied before and after 1939 by
Wing-Commander Cyril Nelson Lowe, M.C. D.F.C., R.A.F. (see his Wikipedia entry)

During the Second World War there was an Army camp in Brasenose Woods. Dick Tolley recollects that “At the far end of The Ridings in the field beyond Watch Hill there were three Ack-Ack guns with a soldier on guard at the gate. Not far away, deep trenches were dug for tank and personnel practice, and very much resembled the battlefields of France.” He also writes: “Almost at the end of The Ridings is a pill box which marked the rear entrance to the camp. The main entrance was at the far end of The Slade opposite the Corner House pub. At that time The Slade became Hollow Way without turning into what is now Horspath Driftway.”

Pill boxThe pillbox near the end of The Ridings, photographed on 15 December 2020

The house called Shotover Cleve was requisitioned during the war as a home for blind and partially sighted children.

Pauline Gibbs writes: “There were also the Land Army girls up The Ridings, in the house just past the Furze Wood on the left, going to Open Brasenose. I remember they used to come to the houses in Old Road and sell patchwork aprons which they made in the spare time.”

Gordon Miller Bourne Dobson (1889–1976)

Dobson was a physicist and meteorologist who in 1937 moved from Boars Hill to a new house called Watch Hill on a ten-acre site near the south end of the Ridings. He had a private laboratory built above his house, and also used the land to pursue his interests in fruit growing. He continued to make observations for the International Ozone Commission from this house until his death in 1976.

See his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and here in Wikipedia.

After World War II

The building of the eastern bypass in the 1950s meant that access to The Ridings was via a new bridge:

Bypass bridge

In 1949 South Oxfordshire District Council granted planning permission (P12/S1147/FUL) for Oxford Corporation Waterworks to build a three-million-gallon reservoir on an 8.9 acre site on the west side of The Ridings, with the following particulars:

Bullingdon Rural Water Scheme. Erection of reinforced concrete service reservoir, capacity 3,000,000-gallons approx. size 234' 3" × 144' 0" banked & covered with soil & sown, finished level 12' above natural ground at centre & with small recorder house thereon, approx. size 8' x 8' x 8' together with erection of small Pumping Station of brickwork with stone coping & string courses & entrance, flat reinforced concrete roof, approx. size 30' × 15' 6" × 14' 6" high, situate in the parcel of land in parish of Forest Hill with Shotover within enclosure numbered 13 on the 1/2500 scale ordnance map for Oxfordshire, Sheet 34-13 (1921 edition).

This reservoir was named Brasenose Reservoir, and water is pumped to it from Farmoor Reservoir and then on to Horspath Reservoir at the top of Shotover.

Brasenose reservoir

More on Headington's water supply and reservoirs

When Headington was taken into the city of Oxford in 1929, The Ridings was not included because it was outside the Headington boundary, and it still remains in Forest Hill with Shotover parish today.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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