Oxford by the river

Author's own artwork.
Author’s own artwork.

In 1994 I was Deputy Head in Lytchett Minster School. Each local authority hand-picked two candidates to take part in a Headship five day course. A few weeks later I went to Oxford for the course. It was very pleasing as the Professor (whose name I have forgotten) said I would be a good headteacher!

After the meeting, I visited the Ashmolean, the Bodleian, and the Covered Market. Back home in Dorset working at Lytchett Minster, I thought I wouldn’t mind working somewhere around Oxford.

When I saw a headteacher’s job advertised in the Times Education Supplement at a small comprehensive school to start in September 1995, I decided to fill in the forms. So in March 1995, I drove up from Dorset to Bourton the Water. Got the job and stayed at the school for over 16 years.

In those days, all new heads were invited to have up to £3,000 for their own development courses. Some in evenings; some during the day. 

I decided I didn’t want to get involved with the local education authorities so I contacted Oxford University Education Department. Professor Pring was Director of Educational Studies at the University of Oxford. He has written many books, such as The Philosophy of Education and The Life and Death of Secondary Education for All? I attended several lecturers from the Department of Education.

He visited my school several times and introduced me to interesting people. Apparently no other new head had the same idea. It was great, we had delicious suppers, learnt a lot and enjoyed looking round the Colleges. Whilst I often took pupils to Universities, more usually Oxford as it was so near, we also visited Leicester, Oxford Brookes, Cambridge, and Durham.

In 1995 we decided not to sell our Dorset home, so I found rooms to sleep in, leaving my partner and son in Dorset. I lived like that for two years with a variety of interesting people… one was the mother in law of Adam Henson, another the wife of a millionaire, and another in an artists’ home.

Two years later we rented a house in Oxford to be together.

Before the new plethora of traffic lights on the A40, I could drive to school in 35 minutes. Wonderful times, walks at weekend through University Parks and along the rivers and canal. Our son met good friends and so did I.

I read histories of Oxford, learnt about Alfred the Great who fortified the walls and planned the streets. Later the Normans built a castle which is still there. By 1167 the University began. The students needed clothes, shoes, food, wine, beer and saddles, so the first manufacturers set up shop. A

In the twelfth and thirteenth century came the Priories, Abbeys, and Friaries which had the right to give a fair and market once a year. St Giles still has a fair in September. The church set up hospitals including a leper hospital.

During the 16th Century, Henry VIII closed all the religious buildings. In 1542 Oxford became a City with a Bishop.

In 1642 the Civil War began with King versus Parliament with the Royalist Army occupying Oxford until 1646, when Charles the Second fled, partly to get away from the battles as well as the Plague. In 1651 the first coffee shop in Britain opened in Oxford, where men would drink, read the papers and talk. 

At the end of the 17th century Celia Fiennes described Oxford as: 

Pleasant and compact… several Colleges and Churches and other buildings whose towers and spires appear very well at a distance. The streets are very clean and well paved and pretty broad. The High Street is a very noble one, so large and of great length”.

In the eighteenth century the Holywell Music Room was built. I used to go to their coffee shop Sunday concerts, whilst my son read all the history books in Blackwells. The Radcliffe Infirmary built in 1770, the Workhouse renovated in 1772, in 1774 the Covered Market also rebuilt as did the Prison in 1789.

By the nineteenth century railway lines appeared from Oxford to London in 1844 and to Banbury in 1850. This was the century when areas such as Summertown, Park Town, Jericho, and Northampton Manor were built up and industrial development came to town, with marmalade as well as an iron foundry and a publishing sector supporting the hundreds of articles were needed for the students.

We lived one year in Summertown and two years in Norham Gardens.

From the start of the twentieth century the first cinema appeared, followed in 1913 by Morris, the first famous car maker, by the 1930s. Oxford was saved during WW2, perhaps a fluke or even that Oxford might have been a vital communications hub during an invasion, or even the capital of a Nazi Britain

By 2020 the population grew to 154,000.

After our great three year adventure, I rented in Burford, whilst the others went back to Dorset. Four years later we sold our Dorset house and bought the house we live in now. We still visit Oxford at least once a month. 

I have always volunteered for the Literary Festival as it is in Easter holidays. We meet friends from London there and we use the Oxford Parkway to get to London.

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