Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The urbansuburban book!

The urbansuburban book is on display at the Museum of Oxford in their permanent displays from 1st October to 17th December 2016. Please go and have a look!

You can view a pdf of the book here.

Friday, 9 September 2016

1960's St Ebbe's in colour

Tom Hassall, the archaeologist who ran excavations in St Ebbe's before the first Westgate Centre was built, has shared his extensive collection of slides taken in the area when he began work in 1967. Although St Ebbe's was regarded as a slum and planners did not think it should be preserved, Tom sensed that something was going that should be captured. He took many photographs for his personal archive, recording details of remaining houses, the demolition process and aspects of the construction of the Westgate Centre.

After so many black and white images of St Ebbe's it is a revelation to see the area in colour.

All photographs are used with the permission of Tom Hassall.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Searching for St Ebbe's in Blackbird Leys

St Ebbe's as a community and a place no longer exists, and yet it is possible that it is still there dispersed throughout the City of Oxford. Researching a place when the physical structures that defined it no longer exist requires a broader search focussing on material and memories that people are willing to share. I am interested in whether a place can still exist in some way when the physical elements of that place have been lost and the people have been re-located. In a sense, finding St Ebbe's is an impossible task, and yet it seems to be a project worth taking on.

Gillian was born and brought up in Littlegate Street in St Ebbe's. At our first reminiscence workshop she saw a photograph of her childhood home for the first time. The house had been demolished in the early 1960's. Memories came flooding back and since then Gillian has shown me some of the objects from St Ebbe's kept by her mother after they moved away and shared the memories that they triggered.

Albion Terrace. Gillian's house is mid-terrace with a gas light in front of it. 
Photo courtesy of the Oxford Mail

Gillian has spent most of her life living in Blackbird Leys, first in Evenlode Tower and later, as family circumstances changed, in a house nearby. Her house is full of objects that she has collected over the years, each with a story and most of them relating to family, friends and memories of the past. The objects are carefully arranged in cabinets and around an impeccably neat and tidy home. 

"My father was a painter. So everything in the house used to get painted. The trays that you put your cup of tea on. Plimsolls. Shoes. If you wanted a different colour (we couldn’t afford new shoes) he’d say ‘What colour do you want it?’.

Everything… The iron – that was painted. I can remember mum using that afterwards as a doorstop.

But mum used to put it on and then spit on it. And I can remember seeing her spit on it – to see if it was hot enough I suppose."

Gillian's father was a painter at Lucy's ironworks. Whether it was toxic fumes caused by spray painting or another vulnerability that caused him to develop pleurisy no-one knows, but he spent eighteen months in hospital and out of work when Gillian was a young child in the mid 1940's. At this point the welfare state was either in it's infancy or possibly just an idea. Either way, Gillian's childhood memories are of the impact this had on the family, her mother's struggle to manage and the support of their community.

"Dad – he had pleurisy. And he was in the old Slade hospital and I wasn’t very old. And I can remember furniture going actually out of the house. Only small. Not tables and chairs… small pieces of furniture… and maybe two weeks later they’d come back. And over the years we found out that mum used to put them in the pawn shop. Because Dad wasn’t there and dad wasn’t earning any money to look after us. She had to pawn and then get it out when she could. Eighteen months dad was in the Slade hospital.

I wasn’t allowed in the hospital, but there was woods. And I can remember my mum taking me in the woods first. Putting me by a fence and telling me to stay there. And then she used to go into the hospital and sometimes if Dad was allowed out he used to walk over to the fence to say ‘hello’ to me.

There was nothing. But you see I can remember neighbours bringing food. And me going to somebody and having something to eat. You never questioned it at all."

This experience was probably quite common. Others have talked of ill health and illnesses as a result of serving in the war and the impact this had on family finances before the days of sick pay and benefits. At a point when the country was on it's knees, having expended it's resources there was a clear need for the NHS and welfare state. 

"Now my sister. She was 8 or 9 years older than I was. She was the lady and I was the tom boy. We were different. She always wore a dress, I always wore trousers.

I didn’t like playing with the girls. I used to always play with the family of boys that lived next door. I used to go scrumping… they used to put me over the vicarage because I was a girl and I could get away with it. But do you know, I still had a clip round the ear from my mother! 'You shouldn’t do what them boys tell you to do!'

There used to be a policeman on a push bike and we used to wait until he’d gone round commercial Road or somewhere and then I used to hop over.

I never ever camped at the rec ground because I wasn’t allowed. But that was the play area and it had the mounds, and there was a bridge with little alcoves and that’s where you did your courting. That’s where the boys and girls used to go and have a kiss or whatever. And on the rec we used to play or swim. And you could go swimming. I was always getting told off for that. When you think now I wouldn’t go in the Thames. We used to be so daring.

We never had money but we had fun.

I can remember mum making me jam sandwiches and packing me off on Saturday morning and I’d be back at tea time."

"They were never used. I think Mum got them from Webbers. She got most of her glasses and suchlike from there."

"This was supposed to have belonged to my Great-Gran. I was given it by my mother. But I don’t know. They’re not painted on the back, she told me, because it goes flat on the shelf. And all it’s got on is a number. I’ve never really believed it but…  I wouldn’t sort of say yes it was…"

“This was under the floorboards of that bungalow that my son bought. He said “Do you remember senior service?” I said ‘Vaguely.’ But I never did smoke them because they never had a tip on them. He said ‘It was under the floorboards when we took up the floorboards of the kitchen of that bungalow.’ And he said ‘I told Kerry just dust off the dust and mum’ll have that!’”

Thursday, 14 July 2016


As I search for scraps of information and documentation of St Ebbe's, many former residents have pointed me in the direction of Kelly's directory, the 1960's equivalent of yellow pages, as a source of information. Of all the documents and material I might look through to find out about St Ebbe's, I had never imagined poring over a directory. Yet, scouring these pages and looking through the records, the directories bring many aspects of the city to life and create a snap shop in time of the people, organisations and businesses in Oxford fifty years ago.

Ruth Waddle, the archivist and a former employee at the Oxford Deaf and Hard of Hearing centre in St Ebbe's, used Kelly's Directory to trace the changes on Littlegate Street during the demolitions in the 1960's. In the listings it is possible to see which properties are occupied and which are vacant (the number is still listed but there's no name next to it). In later editions of Kelly's street numbers are removed as the shops and homes are demolished. Looking through these entries which mark the transition from thriving busy street to vacant houses with the occasional lonely householder clinging on, the loss and fragmentation caused by community break up is driven home. 

Below you can see pages from Kelly's showing the changes to Blackfriars Road from this busy thriving street in 1958... this much reduced neighbourhood in 1966...

... and eventually to a handful of houses in 1971. By the following year the entry for Black Friars Road has disappeared completely. As Black Friars Road shrinks, Blackbird Leys Road (two entries on) is growing. Many of the residents moved to this new development where they were faced with different challenges, living in a newly formed community on the edge of the City. 

As well as listings, Kelly's Directory is filled with adverts for businesses throughout the Oxford and Abingdon area. These give a sense of the types of businesses and industries in the City. Searching a directory loaned to me by Mrs Gladys Gardner to see what I could find out about St Ebbe's I saw adverts for businesses throughout Oxford, from Botley to Summertown and Cowley to Hinksey, but there were scarcely any adverts covering St Ebbe's. This seemed to confirm what had been said in reminiscence sessions about St Ebbe's isolation from the rest of the City.  Tom Hassall and Elizabeth Richardson remember going as far as Capes and MacFisheries, but no further. Other residents described shops which served the local residents rather than drawing people in from elsewhere.

Local retailers and businesses did advertise in the parish magazine for St Ebbe's alongside some more up-market City enterprises.  Gillian Williams saved the copy with a record of her baptism in 1944. 

The adverts give a sense of the range of businesses and diversity of the area. With so little visual information about the shops - their facades, signage, the colours and the window displays - the adverts begin to paint a picture. Coopers - with it's simple functional advert 'for Household requirements' - doesn't need to try too hard. The ornate ecclesiastical font for Reeves the undertakers reflects the solemnity of their work. Grainge & Co., with their wordy advert, seems to sell everything under the sun. I imagine a shop that is as overcrowded and chaotic as the advert.

These adverts give a sense of the number of small businesses in the area. Searching through the directory listings of the major roads in St Ebbe's reveals that there were many independents, from printers and repairers to furniture shops, grocers and butchers. The demolition didn't only result in the loss of home and community, but it also had an impact on businesses and employment. 

The businesses in this advert may kindle memories for some readers of this blog. I would be very interested in hearing your memories of these shops and descriptions of what they were like. You can get in touch via the comments section below.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

"The other Oxford"

When I tell people about my work around what used to be St Ebbe’s I am usually met with blank looks – even from people who have lived in the City for a while. Some people know where St Ebbe’s is but can’t understand why I am interested in the area. The old multi-storey car park (now demolished) is the key landmark everyone knows, along with the A420 which channels traffic past the ice rink and around the City centre. The car park is a piece of civic architecture most Oxonians loved to hate, though I have to admit that I always quite liked its well-thought out but functional design. The old car park control room is intriguing. I will write more about this later but you can see photos of it here. As a use of City centre space the car park made no sense, but at it’s opening it was clearly the source of civic pride.

St Ebbe’s is not designed for pedestrians; it's a space that people usually hurry through to get somewhere else, frustrated by pavements disappearing along Thames Street and the awkward placement of pedestrian crossings. Friars Wharf, an area to the south of Thames Street, is a 1960's development of maisonettes around leafy courtyards  that borders the Thames, but so hard to access on foot because of fast roads and the river.

Housing between Preachers Lane and Friars Wharf 
Copyright Rachel Barbaresi

Not long ago there was another St Ebbe’s (also known as ‘The Friars’). It is when talking to an older generation of Oxonians that eyes light up at the mention of St Ebbe’s. But even the older generation is divided. I am discovering that for many, St Ebbe’s was an area that they would avoid, or they might just venture into a few shops at the fringes, whereas for others it is a place rich with stories and memories.

In 1945, Thomas Sharp wrote in ‘Oxford re-planned’ “The other Oxford, the Oxford of the slum districts is almost entirely unknown to the outside world, and is apt to be ignored and forgotten in many pleasanter quarters of the City itself. But in St Ebbe’s and in Jericho, St Clement’s and Botley Road there are between 3,000 and 4,000 houses that are actually slums or so outworn and badly blighted that they should be pulled down along with the slums.”

This comparison with Jericho creates an immediate picture of St Ebbe’s - characterful workers' terraces, Georgian and Victorian housing, small shops and businesses, old Victorian industrial buildings – but even this doesn’t do justice to St Ebbe’s which is one of the key areas where the town (as opposed to gown) of Oxford began to emerge, growing up around the Franciscan and Dominican monasteries which were established outside the West Gate of the city in the 1200’sSt Ebbe’s had evolved gradually over a period of 800 years and many medieval cottages and fragments of earlier times had survived as the area adapted and grew to reflect a changing city.

Penson's Gardens, St Ebbe's
Copyright Oxfordshire History Centre

St Ebbe’s was an interface between urban and rural with market gardens, a mill, abattoirs, tanneries, a fishing community and dairies. It supplied the City’s beer and bread, printed the City’s ideas and imaginings, connected Oxford with other cities via the river and more recently powered Oxford with gas. Though St Ebbe’s, like other parts of Oxford, had experienced change and turbulent times, the community was relatively stable and had evolved gradually. In the 21st Century we don’t know what it is like to be as embedded in a community as the people of St Ebbe’s seemed to be. There are many stories to share with you that reflect the sense of connection between neighbours and the security (and therefore freedom) for children as they grew up in this vibrant and close-knit community. “We didn’t have much, but we were very happy.” “The people of the Friars were a bit rough and tough, but we always looked out for each other.” “You always left your door unlocked in the day, even when you went out shopping.” “People shared what they had.”

When the quote from Thomas Sharp was shared with a reminiscence group they were understandably indignant at the use of the word ‘slum’. This didn’t fit at all with their perception of St Ebbe’s, probably because the word ‘slum’ is so emotive and negative. Conversations with people from St Ebbe’s suggest people were incredibly hard-working and took good care of their homes, despite the lack of modern sanitation. By the 20th century houses had cold running water and outside toilets, resolving the public health issues faced in the 1850’s.  People bathed in front of the fire in old tin baths with hot water from the ‘copper’. Janice and Diane described how their father had himself paid to bring electricity to their rented home after narrowly avoiding an accident with a gas lamp when Diane was a baby. He had also asked the council for permission to install a proper bathroom in their house – a request that was turned down. Gillian has memories of her mother scrubbing the doorstep and pavement in front of the house regularly. This was standard practice back then.

If St Ebbe’s was already slightly cut-off from the rest of Oxford, the label ‘slum’ may have made the situation worse. Similarly today the term ‘sink estate’ is used for housing on prime land that could conveniently be demolished and sold off. How does the label affect the on-going reputation of the estate as a place to live? Words like these become excuses for withdrawing maintenance and investment, triggering a downward spiral until eventually demolition seems inevitable and the label is proved correct.

Despite experiencing the neglect and isolation of an area set for demolition, the residents valued St Ebbe's and many didn’t want to leave. New housing was much needed to resolve overcrowding, and many people were keen to have a new life at the edge of the City in a home with modern amenities. The new estates were attractive with lots of green space and well-designed homes, so a good alternative was offered and many welcomed the move to the suburbs. But some who had spent their lives in St Ebbe’s resisted leaving, and for those who had built up their livelihoods and businesses in St Ebbe’s, the suburbs were not the ideal place to be. Unfortunately decisions were made at a high level and the idea was imposed top down. Those making the decisions had little investment in the area beyond seeing the flattening of St Ebbe’s as a convenient solution to managing traffic and parking for the City. The  ‘slum’ quote from Thomas Sharp opens a chapter about creating parking for the city centre. The motive behind the demolition is not even disguised. 

View of the Multi-storey car park from Turn Again Lane, mid 1970's
Copyright Elizabeth Richardson

With Jericho, St Clements and Botley included in the list of slums, it is easy to see how close we were to losing an even bigger swathe of housing and history in Oxford. Thankfully Councillor Olive Gibbs, who had grown up in neighbouring St Thomas, realised what a mistake it had been to place traffic concerns above the life of the City. Some parts of Jericho were demolished but plans to continue Oxford’s inner ring-road were ditched. Visions of the City as a finely-tuned machine that prioritized the car were questioned and eventually superceded by a model that aims to encourage pedestrians, public transport and cycles.

Oxford/Paris Correspondence no. 3, Barbaresi & Round, 2009
This work is based on one of Thomas Sharp's diagrams showing proposed inner and outer ring-roads for Oxford. There is an elegance and sense of order in the diagram (and throughout Sharp's proposals for Oxford) which defies the organic and disorderly way in which cities usually grow. In this work the forms of the road plan are intermingled with imagery from Wytham showing sheep being herded down a lane and put inside boundaries while cars queue up.

Usually a starting point for understanding a place is the space itself, the streets and houses, the shops and businesses, geographical features. In St Ebbe’s the footprint of the pre-60’s streets and houses has mostly been erased and replaced by new roads, two small housing developments, civic buildings and offices. There is little left in St Ebbe’s to tell its previous story and the residents were dispersed throughout Oxford, many of them losing touch with friends and neighbours in the process.

With the help of the team at the Museum of Oxford and word of mouth it was surprisingly easy to find people who had lived or worked in St Ebbe’s. There seems to be enthusiasm for re-visiting memories, particularly in response to recent archaeology on the site of the new Westgate Oxford development. 

It is not yet clear to me what I will find of St Ebbe's and my outcomes will only reflect a small trace of this place, but people are sharing fascinating stories and material that are well worth passing on. Through this project I want to enable a wide spectrum of people in Oxford to engage creatively with St Ebbe's as a way of extending the way we imagine and think about the city. The first stage of this will be an artist's book which will be exhibited in the autumn.

Thank you for reading this post. Please get in touch with your comments and contributions and feel free to share this with others.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The last bastion of the old St Ebbe's part 1

The Museum of Oxford carry out reminiscence workshops throughout the City and work with a network of organisations and people who are interested in Oxford's history. They have been very supportive of this project, connecting me with people who have been collecting, documenting, researching and reflecting on the history of St Ebbe's.

At the recent 'Memory Lane' event organised by the Museum, I met Ruth Waddle, archivist at the Oxford Centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Ruth's links with the centre go back to 1964 when she was seconded to work there. She went on to train in social work and continued supporting people who are deaf and hard of hearing or have disabilities throughout her career. Since retiring Ruth has organised the extensive archives at the centre and researched into the organisation's history enabling her to share this with members of the public at anniversaries and 'Open Doors' events.

The Oxford Deaf & Hard of Hearing Centre seen from the bottom of Littlegate Street

Through a combination of campaigning and chance a few buildings survived the demolition of St Ebbe's. I will write more later about the row of medieval cottages on Turn Again Lane which were saved by the Oxford Preservation Trust. The nearby Centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at the bottom of Littlegate Street also survived. The organisation bought the freehold of this old chapel in 1957 and, as an institution it was possibly easier for them to avoid compulsory purchase orders and demolition than it was for the streets of housing. 

A drawing of the Centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing thought to be by John Henry Brookes

The centre is made up of several buildings, including Mr Bulteel's chapel, a non-conformist baptist church built in 1832, an extension added on the back as a Sunday school room in 1884, the old manse which later became an undertakers and Tudor Cottage, which was built in 1647. Tudor Cottage revealed a surprise when renovations were carried out on the building in the 1980's. Whilst chipping plaster off the walls builders found a very old stone wall with an archway from an older monumental construction. This was a gateway and wall from the Blackfriars Priory of 1246. The only part of this historic structure still surviving.

Archway from the Blackfriars Priory 1246

It is difficult to photograph this grand structure in a small space surrounded by office paraphernalia. It is such a significant structure for St Ebbe's and Oxford, and so strange to find it in the cramped office of this small social enterprise. Seeing and touching these stones was a moving experience. They smell ancient and earthy and there's a sense of tangible connection with St Ebbe's distant past.

Archway from the Blackfriars Priory 1246

As well as saving some very significant buildings, the Oxford Centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have archived the ephemera that is part of the organisation's day to day activities. They kept the kinds of items that most organisations would throw away - posters, flyers, letters and newspaper articles - giving a flavour of life at the centre and in the St Ebbe's area. The first two shown below - for the Grand Bazaar and Anniversary Bazaar - were manually typeset and printed by Halls, a local company who once had premises on nearby Brewer Street. The later posters were re-produced from hand-drawn originals, one of them - for the Food Fair - designed by an ex-student of  John Henry Brookes who studied at the Oxford Technical School which later moved to Headington to become the Oxford Polytechnic. The posters themselves give a sense of transitions during the 1970's. The changing technologies in the print seem to be mirrored by an evolving culture.

Ephemera from the collection at the Centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

There is more to share from my visit to the centre, and I suspect there's much more to discover in their archives. I will post more about Ruth and her work at a later stage.

In the meantime, if you have memories of attending any of these fairs and events in St Ebbe's or have your own St Ebbe's memorabilia to share please get in touch at

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Excavations, a royal visit and an escaped dog

Becky Peacock and I were pleased to be able to spend some time reminiscing about St Ebbe’s with Ann Spokes Symonds, and Tom Hassall. It was special to see Tom and Ann together as part of our discussion focused on a photo which Ann brought to show us, taken when she was Chair of Highways for the City and when Tom was carrying out excavations before the 1970’s Westgate development.

Tom Hassall is seen on Queen Elizabeth's right, with the County Treasurer holding her umbrella.
Photo courtesy of the Oxford Mail
Here are Tom’s memories of the Queen’s visit.

“It was announced that the Queen was coming to Oxford. And when the Queen comes to Oxford she’s always actually coming to do something with the University. And in that case I can’t remember which building she may or may not have been opening, but the main thing, of course, is that she was what’s called the Visitor of Oriel college and she was going to have dinner in Oriel college.

But they tried to give the City a turn and the City said “Well, there’s going to be a re-development, let’s show the Queen the excavations.” Which was fine except that we had only just started the excavation. But that’s what happened. That’s what that photograph is. We’d chosen that site because we’d got two complete medieval properties on it, one of which was subsequently sub-divided and we knew we were going to get about two-thirds/three-quarters of two complete properties which at that time was virtually unheard of to excavate on that sort of scale. Except at Winchester – that was the only place where something similar had been done.

But when she came, in May I think it was, we’d got the site opened up and we’d mainly got 18th and 19th Century cesspits, so that was what I had to tell the Queen about. And she asked the sorts of questions that any other middle-aged housewife would ask. The only problem I had was that at that time I used to have a dog on the site with me and he escaped just as she appeared which was a bit of a drama.

Tom Hassall telling the Queen about excavations at St Ebbe's before the first Westgate development.
Photo courtesy of the Oxford Mail

It was quite funny because I was told many years later that that evening she went to Oriel as visitor to have dinner and the other senior lady present was Kathleen Kenyon the redoubtable and very famous excavator of Jericho. I mean the real Jericho not the Oxford Jericho. And apparently KK as she was known turned to the Queen and said “I don’t suppose you found much to see down in St Ebbe’s did you?” And the Queen apparently turned round and told her how important it was to find out about the everyday life of ordinary people. And apparently completely flattened Kathleen Kenyon, which was quite funny.”

The work to find out about the everyday lives of ordinary people is continuing at the Westgate. Oxford Archaeology are carrying out extensive excavations, and these have included some 19th Century housing. Becky Peacock is interested in finding out how the memories we are hearing relate to the finds in these recent excavations. I am interested in how St Ebbe's as it was relates to Oxford as a whole and in re-visiting connections between people and place.

If you have stories to share about St Ebbe's then please get in touch at

Tom Hassall and Ann Spokes Symonds at a St Ebbe's reminiscence session. 

Ann Spokes Symonds was Lord Mayor of Oxford and later Chairman of Oxfordshire County Council. She has written extensively on the history of Oxford.

Tom Hassall OBE MA FSA Hon MCIfA was the founding Director of Oxford Archaeology.

Ann and Tom are both Trustees of Oxford Preservation Trust. You can find out more about their work on the Oxford Preservation Trust website.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

"...the ruination of England..."

'Tradition and Change: shops and shopping in St Ebbe's since 1900', Elizabeth Richardson, 1976

Elizabeth Richardson, who wrote a text about shopping in St Ebbe’s since the 1900’s, gave me an old tape recording of conversations with elderly people created in the 1970’s. One of the interviews was with her grandmother, ‘Granny Gibbs’, who ran sweet shops throughout Oxford, including one in St Ebbe’s along with Uncle Harold Robinson, was had been employed at Cape’s Dept Store in St Ebbe’s.

Granny Gibbs had seen huge changes to Oxford in her lifetime, and had understandable difficulties accepting the way the modern world was moving on. Here is an excerpt from the recording.

Elizabeth: “How did the shops keep things like butter and that fresh… Did they have fridges?”

Harold: “They used marble slabs. Which are cold. They would keep stuff on that. They didn’t have fridges in those days did they?”

Granny Gibbs: “…the ruination of England is ‘fridgerators and tinned food, I’ll tell you that…”

Elizabeth: “Well, I think refrigerators are a good thing, but I’m not sure about tinned food.”

Granny Gibbs: “You see the food already in the shops has been put in fridges, and then you puts it in your own and… oh, I don’t know…”

I shared this comment at a reminiscence session with people who used to live in St Ebbe’s. They immediately responded that people used to buy their food fresh. They would go shopping every day, buying food in the morning ready for the meal that evening. Residents of the old St Ebbe's didn't depend on electricity guzzling fridges stuffed with ozone depleting CFCs to keep their food fresh (Granny Gibbs was strangely prophetic about "the ruination of England"). They had an efficient food chain from supplier to shop to consumer with numerous small businesses to buy from.  

In our reminiscence group eyes lit up as people remembered the cheese shop, the fresh fish shop, the grocers where you could buy finger bananas. There were memories of fish and chips; too expensive for a family meal, but a treat for young people who were earning a little money of their own. A few members of our group remembered Hawkins Faggots & Peas shop at 4 Church Street. Elizabeth Richardson wrote about this institution of St Ebbe’s in her 1976 study ‘Tradition and Change; Shops and shopping in St Ebbe’s since 1900’:
“Faggots and Peas – the very mention of the delicacy is enough to make the mouths of the older residents in the Oxford area water nostalgically. ‘The smell…gosh never mind the flavour. You couldn’t get there quick enough!’….The people of St. Ebbe’s were always popping in for a ‘haporth’ of rice pudding or ‘twopennorth’ of cold faggots.” 
Richardson describes people queuing up for 
“a plate of faggots, half a sheep’s head, tripe and onions, pig or sheep’s trotters with peas and baked potatoes to be eaten in the little dining room behind the shop. There was a large round table which would seat about a dozen people and which was always spread with an immaculate, starched, white table cloth.”

When I was a student I lived with a 90 year old lady – ‘Auntie Molly’ – who had been my father’s guardian when he was a young boy. She often said that food tastes different now; that it doesn’t taste as good as it used to. This was before organic food became fashionable, and I can’t help wondering whether the fresh, local and probably organic food that she had when she was younger did taste much better. It probably wasn’t that her taste buds were failing. The residents of St Ebbe’s may have been eating cheap cuts of meat, but I'm sure the overall quality and freshness of their food would easily compete with our organic veg box deliveries and 'best' ranges at the supermarket. And Ma Hawkins clearly knew how to cook their offal to perfection.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Memory Lane

Helen Fountain, reminiscence officer for Oxford City Council, organized two fantastic ‘Memory Lane’ sessions bringing together people with connections to St Ebbe’s to look at photographs and share their memories.

Many interesting stories and reminiscences were shared. One of the photographs in Helen’s presentation showed the childhood home of two participants, Janice and Diane Stewart, who were born in St Ebbe’s, but re-housed at Harefields after the slum clearances. 

Here they share their memories of the transition from St Ebbe’s to a new home in the suburbs.

Janice:      “My Uncle worked [at the gas works]. We lived by the gas works. We were born in St Ebbes and we lived there until 1965. We were the last two houses standing in Bridport Street before they were condemned. We moved to North Oxford, to Harefields, near Cutteslowe. We moved there in ‘65 to a brand new house.

Gas holders at Oxford Gasworks, 1963
Photograph copyright Oxfordshire History Centre, Oxford County Council

My mother didn’t want to go to Blackbird Leys. She wanted to stay. Nothing against it, but she didn’t want to go to that area because a lot of people had gone. They offered us a place in St Ebbes in Preachers Lane but the community had gone. And she wanted to move away. Years later on they offered my mother and father to move back, but she said you could never re-create what had been. It was such a community. You never locked your doors, everybody helped each other and it was wonderful.”

Diane:      “We got a bathroom for the first time.”

Janice:      “I was seventeen when we’d moved, and we’d never had a bathroom and our toilet was in the garden and we had a tin bath in the kitchen.”

Janice:      “When we moved in it was ‘who’s going to have a bath first?’ It was such a luxury.”

Helen:       “Why didn’t they just put bathrooms in?”

Janice:      “Well, my father approached them, my dad did. They wouldn’t hear of it. And the four houses which were joined together where we lived were built in 1888, and the thing that happened, my sister went through the floorboards in the front room. And my dad was absolutely livid, and he got barred from the council. Her leg was bruised and scraped… so that’s when they decided to move.”

Bridport Street and the Gasworks   
Photograph copyright Oxfordshire History Centre, Oxford County Council

Janice:      “That’s our house. That’s Bridport Street. And you see where the board is over the arch. That was the…”

Diane:      “There were two houses that had already been boarded. But the house on the right of that, that was ours.”

Janice:      “That’s our house, the only house standing.”

Diane:      “We were the last four houses standing in St Ebbes. Well they demolished [St Ebbes] around us.”

Janice:      “We were just those. It was just us and Miss Kemp.”

Friars Wharf with old gas holder.  
Photograph copyright Oxfordshire History Centre, Oxford County Council

A picture of Friars Wharf is shown by Helen.

“That’s the town houses, that’s the ones they offered us. Ours was still standing when those were built. We didn’t want to stay.”

Sunday, 20 March 2016

About urbansuburban

I am pleased to be working on the project ‘urbansuburban’ as part of the programme of art works for Westgate Oxford curated by Modus Operandi.

In urbansuburban, I will explore the relationships within the area of St Ebbes in recent history (within living memory) in the context of the new Westgate Oxford. This activity will principally be through reminiscence work with local groups, working closely with Oxford City Council, and will draw together material ranging from objects, sound, photographic and archival images and drawings. 

When St Ebbes was re-developed in the 1960s many of the residents of the area were moved to new developments at the edge of Oxford. So although the area has changed from being a densely populated area of the City, there are many people living at Blackbird Leys, Barton, Rose Hill and Cutteslowe who originated from St Ebbes. I have called this project 'urbansuburban' to reflect the way St Ebbes' significance extends far beyond the small area that it occupies in Oxford. 

I will be documenting the project on this blog as it progresses, sharing images, stories and archival material.

If you would like to get involved you can attend a reminiscence session on Tuesday 12th April, 2.00 - 3.30 at the Museum of Oxford. This is an open session. No booking necessary. For more information click here

Exploring Oxford through the comprehensive collection of photos at the Oxfordshire History Centre