Sunday 20th January 2013
Greetings from my neck of the woods. This is a small, half mile square part of Oxford set at the city’s eastern edge. Every tourist has seen the fruits of the labours of the Headington Quarry when they visit the “Dreaming Spires,” as it was from here at that the Oolitic limestone that built the colleges was mined, and the last of it built the school I attended, Quarry School. Have a look at the blue door, and look at the new stone at the right, at foot level. It’s new because my friend Matthew hated going there so much, he’d kick the stone in anger each time he passed through.
To this day many of the Quarrymen’s cottages are still in evidence, protected by a preservation order, and a series of alleyways link Headington Quarry’s narrow streets with the base of the where the Quarry was. They’re named after Quarry families, Kimber, Coppock, and Pullen. The area is well served by pubs, The Chequers, Six Bells, and Crown, all sit around the edge of Quarry but only the Mason’s Arms sits right in the centre of things, run by the Meeson brothers, themselves Quarry born and bred. Look out for the microbrewery there, converted from the former outside loo block and charmingly named “The Old Bog Brewery.”
Each Boxing day the Morrismen of the Quarry dance, and re-enact the story of King George and the Turkey Snight (Turkish Knight). George always loses, but ”A drop or two of cider,” soon revives him! They perform at each of the Quarry pubs in turn, with the Masons Arms last, and its reckoned that the performance improves as more drinks are imbibed. I remember Dad asking the Turkey Snight why he was drinking a pint of lemonade one year. “I’m not!! he replied, “Its Gin and Tonic!”
From there its a short walk over to the Holy Trinity Church, where as a schoolboy I had a short-lived career as an alterboy on each Ascension Day, when Quarry School pupils got a half-holiday if they attended service. Its an Anglican church designed by George Gilbert Scott, and my time as alterboy ceased when Father Head realised the reason I was proficient in alterboy skills, was because I was in fact performing roughly the same duties half a mile away at Corpus Christi CATHOLIC Church! The church is the resting place of author CS Lewis and his most famous work, ” The Chronicles of Narnia,” are celebrated with the Narnia Window within the church.
From there I decided to visit a park which seems to have generally lacked an identity. When I played here as a child it was known as the Headington Play Park, Matthew knew it as Muncies, others as the Quarry Dip, but the sign thse days says “Quarry Park,” which doesn’t seem quite as exciting! Sadly the wonderful Dutch Barn was demolished, but the huge slide remains, and it brought back memories of sledging there many moons ago.
From there I turned almost back on myself to see the violin shop, formerly Vallis’ bakery which closed around 30 years ago, but even today its former use is still clear. Behind it, Vallis Alley is a remnant of the burial route from the Quarry to St Andrews Church in Old Headington. Before Holy Trinity and the Methodist Chapel were built, this was the nearest church that could bury the dead. The trouble was it ran through the land (now Bury Knowle Park) of one Joseph Locke, a local goldsmith, who blocked off the route with a wall adding 250 yards to the route, no easy task for pallbearers at the end of a long walk. On 3 occasions the wall was smashed down and so in 1807, the accused appeared at Oxford Assizes… I quote,
Wm. Coppock, Benjamin Bushnell, Charles Ed[g]ington, and several other persons were tried for a riot at Headington, in this county, and for forcibly entering a paddock of Joseph Lock, Esq., situate in that Parish, which has been inclosed under the authority of an act of Parliament passed in the 41st year of the present reign. All the defendant [sic] were found guilty, and Wm. Copock, Benjamin Bushnell, Charles Ed[g]ington, Henry Bushnell, Thomas Goodgame, Peter Goodgame, and Josephy Jacob were sentenced to be imprisoned in the Common gaol for six calendar months, at the expiration of which time to enter into recognizance with sufficient sureties to keep the peace.
Bound over were John Adams, Ann Coppock, Rachel Goodgame, Elizabeth Bushnell, wife of Richard, and Elizabeth Bushnell, single woman.
The long-term impact was that many Quarrymen turned their backs on St Andrews (Anglican) Church, and formed their own Methodist Chapel, at the Quarry End of the burial route, at least until Holy Trinity was built when the Bishop Of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce fretted that “The wild, rural district,” of Quarry required saving from sin and urgently needed a church, and that is how Holy Trinity came to be built, being consecrated in 1848!
I walked back up Quarry Hollow, and out via Beaumont Road and The Chequers Inn, passing the Manor House, with Beaumont Alley to the right. For 3 years I walked past here to school, the gate was always closed, and I wanted to know what lay behind. It transpired that it’s not as grand as its name would suggest, being two 18th century cottages knocked into one dwelling. That said I’d love to live there. After all, not even CS Lewis managed to live in Headington Quarry, he walked from Risinghurst, and its kilns to worship at Holy Trinity. His home though, is another article altogether…
Research for this from
and the people of Headington Quarry, past and present.