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Radley Heritage Walk launched

Radley History Club’s new leaflet describes a walk around the village that combines glimpses of everyday life in days gone by in Radley with an introduction to its historic buildings.

Discover the history of Radley by comparing old photos with what you see now. Pick up a free Heritage Walk leaflet from various sites around the village, including the Bowyer Arms, where the walk starts. The leaflet features 24 points of interest and includes a map.

The walk is in two halves, both starting at the pub. One half includes St James the Great church and the ancient ‘Radley Oak’ in the grounds of Radley College. The other explores some of the old farmhouses and cottages of Lower Radley, and the River Thames.

Find out more and download a copy of the leaflet

Front cover of Radley Heritage Walk leaflet

July 2024 meeting: Highways and Byways: The History of our Footpaths

Our speaker on 8 July 2024 was Bob Evans, a local historian and keen rambler. Bob began his talk by explaining that our footpaths and byways are a direct result of human locomotion through the landscape. Some routes between places have long history such as the Ridgeway or Icknield Way, Trod’s on the North York Moors, and Abbots Way in Somerset. Later paths that led to water and other places start to become managed from the Middle Ages, but at this time no legal definition existed and so paths could be argued about. Maps are made to show land ownership, so paths are often left out of them. By the mid-18th Century, the country starts to transition from an open field structure to enclosed land; maps are updated and, while some paths get recorded, lots are lost.

In the late 19th Century, paths begin to become classified and are generally categorised by width and surface. Main Roads (1879) were the widest and best maintained (many became Trunk Roads from 1936); many of the rest had lower status as bridleways at most The ownership of these paths slowly moved to local government, with the larger routes (highways) managed by the district council and the smaller paths (byways and footpaths) by the parish council. Over time – particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century – our paths start to become at risk due to development and growth.

From the mid-19th century, numerous groups (Open Space Society, Peak and Northern Paths Society) start to emerge to seek to protect spaces from being overdeveloped and paths being lost. In the early 20th century, rambling starts and increases the popularity of walking in nature. These groups campaigned for a higher right of access, with the first key piece of legislation, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, delivering national parks and, for the first time, recording paths. The Oxford area had rambling societies from the 1920s and local champions, notably ‘Colonel’ d’Arcy Dalton. Access was enhanced in 2000 when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW) delivered the right to roam on mountains, moors, heaths and downs. Thankfully, we enjoy a rich path network in the local area, so take a moment to put on your walking shoes and explore!

June 2024 meeting: From the Valleys to the Spires: how the Welsh came to Oxford

Our speaker on 10 June was Sharron Jenkinson to whom we were very grateful for coming at short notice when the original speaker had to pull out due to ill-health.

Economic hardship during the 1920s in Wales was on the increase due to a decline in coal exports after WW1 and cheaper imports from abroad. Pay and conditions continued to decline even for those who still had work, these factors led to strikes and political action. In 1926 the general strike lasted 9 days and the Welsh coal miners’ strike lasted 9 months. This was later followed by a hunger march in 1927 to London from Wales.

It wasn’t long before those facing uncertainty in Wales heard of the job opportunities at Morris Motors, Pressed Steel and MG in Oxford. Welsh migrants in turn told friends and relations to join them and by January 1929, 250 men and boys had been offered work in Cowley. Noting the trend in migration from Wales to Oxford a speculative Welsh builder Frederick Moss arrived in Oxford to take advantage of the increased demand for housing. He was responsible for building numerous estates in the interwar years, including Florence Park which was exclusively for the rental market. Moss later became an Oxford City Councillor and remained a prominent member of the local community.

Amongst the Welsh migrants were former choir members and soon the Cowley Choir was formed. It grew in numbers and reputation becoming the Oxford Welsh Prize Glee Singers (1931) and later the Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir (1978). Today they continue to be very active part of the local community and preserve the heritage of the Welsh migrants. The Welsh migrants also had a significant impact on trade unionism and politics in Oxford, by 1937 over 90% of the Cowley workforce were in the TGWU and most shop stewards were migrants. They also influenced the local political scene with Labour becoming a force in Conservative Oxford. There is no doubt the Welsh migrants left a rich and lasting legacy on the City of Spires.

May 2024 meeting: Morris’ Motopolis: the motor works and the transformation of Oxford

Simon Wenham was our speaker on 13 May. Morris Motors, founded in Oxford by William Morris in 1912, significantly transformed the city. Morris not only established Oxford as a major car producer in Britain, but his company’s success rippled throughout the city.

The Morris Motors factory in Cowley became a central hub, employing a large portion of the city’s workforce. Associated industries like car body production also sprung up around the factory. This economic boom led to Oxford becoming a leader in British car manufacturing.

William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, wasn’t just an industrialist. His wealth funded philanthropic initiatives like the Nuffield College at Oxford University and the Nuffield Health organisation. These long-lasting contributions continue to shape the city’s educational and healthcare landscape.

Though Morris Motors merged with Austin in 1952, its legacy lives on. The Mini, still produced at the Cowley plant (now owned by BMW), is a direct descendant of the early Morris Motors vehicles. In short, Morris Motors put Oxford on the map as a car city, brought prosperity to its residents, and left a lasting mark on the city’s social fabric.

April 2024 meeting: Tea, Coffee and Chocolate – how the British first fell in love with caffeine

Melanie King gave a lively talk on how our favourite drinks originated outside Great Britain but all arrived on our shores between 1650 and 1657. They had a lasting impact on our diet and societal norms. These beverages were often met with controversy during their early years and much fake news surrounded them – that tea affected marital harmony, coffee affected fertility in men, and excessive chocolate consumption by pregnant mothers might turn their babies brown. Thankfully none of these myths held true.

Tea (Camellia sinensis), an evergreen shrub, is native to East Asia and likely originated in the borderlands of southwestern China and northern India. A Chinese legend says that Emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered tea when leaves from a nearby plant blew into a pot of boiling water; it is well-documented that tea consumption in China likely goes back thousands of years. In the early 1600s, the British East India Company started bringing it back from Asia and tea was first sold in a London coffeehouse in 1657, although its consumption was limited to the elite (royalty and aristocracy). In 1706 Thomas Twining opened the first dedicated tea shop in London and, by the mid-1700s, falling prices allowed the working class to start enjoying the beverage. By the 1800s the popularity of tea secured it forever as a national drink. Tea remains an important part of British culture enjoyed throughout the day from breakfast to afternoon tea.

Coffee (Coffea or Arabica coffee) is a shrub or small tree native to Africa, Madagascar, South Asia, South-east Asia and Australia. Legend says that it was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder who noticed how energetic his goats were after eating the berries and decided to try it himself. It was later adopted by monks to help them stay alert during the long hours of prayer. In the late 1500s coffee arrived in Britain via the Dutch East India Company and the first coffee house in England was established in Oxford in 1650. Coffee houses flourished and became centres for enlightenment, where writers, artists and thinkers gathered. By 1700 coffee houses become ingrained in British social life and even faced suspicion from the government because of the political discussions that happened within. Coffee consumption and houses later declined due to government regulations and the growing popularity of tea. Today there are a variety of coffees on offer and specialist coffee houses seem to be growing again in popularity.

Chocolate (Theobroma cacao), a small evergreen tree, is native to the tropical rainforests of the Americas. The cacao pods containing the seeds grow directly from the trunk. Its name meaning ‘food of the gods’ originated in Mesoamerica with the Maya and Aztecs, although their drink was bitter and made from ground cacao beans, cornmeal, chilli peppers and spices. Spanish conquistadors brought the cocoa beans back to Spain and Europeans transformed the bitter spicy beverage into a much sweeter one that might be recognised today. While hot chocolate houses thrived initially, chocolate bars eventually became the more popular form. Chocolate today remains a popular warm, comforting and indulgent drink enjoyed by many.

So, next time you raise a cup, remember the fascinating journeys these drinks have taken!

March 2024 meeting: Rose Hill – an Oxford suburb of surprising contrasts and great historical interest

Our speaker, Liz Woolley, began her talk by pointing out that Rose Hill is often thought of as a modern settlement but in fact the area had been occupied throughout the centuries. During the development of the northern part of the estate in 1935, Iron Age ditches and two Roman pottery kilns were discovered. Later in medieval times, this area was mainly surrounded by fields and some forest existed to the south known as ‘The Grove’ (mentioned in the Doomsday Book) and a few oak trees from this grove still survive.

In the 18th century, Rose Hill was a small hamlet between the villages of Iffley and Cowley on the road to London. It was noted as a desirable place to live based on its elevated location overlooking the city of Oxford. In the 19th century, it gained a Methodist Chapel and by this time the ‘King of Prussia’ public house was well established. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Rose Hill Cemetery opened.

In the 20th century after the First World War, there was a clear need for houses in the local area, but the City Council had always been reluctant to get involved in providing housing. This reluctance was overcome by the 1930 Greenwood Act, which empowered local authorities to identify and clear slum areas and replace poor housing with new builds. The growing car industry in Oxford also created a large demand for cheap housing for the working population and, by 1931, there were over 5,000 applications on the City Council’s register for housing.

The City Council responded by building council houses at numerous locations including Rose Hill. The Planning Office took considerable care over the design to ensure the estate had a sensible housing density and pleasant open spaces so that the houses got enough sunlight, as well as the estate having a uniformity of design. The first estate of 145 houses was completed in 1935, while the second part of the estate was mostly finished four years later. The final part of the development of the Rose Hill estate took place after the Second World War when most of the houses were prefabricated due to a shortage of labour and skills in the post-war period.

Today the estate features a primary school, a community centre, allotments and, nearby, the Rivermead Nature Park. It has changed much since its original inception, but still enjoys many of the open spaces and green communal areas established during its development. You can find out more about Rose Hill through the Oxford Preservation Trust’s website, including a historical walk around the area.