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Headington Union workhouse was built on the London Road near the present Green Road roundabout in 1838. At that time it was the only building between Windmill and Green Road, and must have presented an imposing facade, as this solitary pillar indicates.
The workhouse served all 22 parishes of the Headington Union, namely Beckley, Chippinghurst, Cowley, Cuddesdon, Denton, Elsfield, Forest Hill & Shotover, Garsington, Holton, Horspath, Horton-cum-Studley, Iffley & Cockmore, Littlemore, Marston, Stanton St John Stowood, Studley, Wheatley, Woodeaton, the parishes of St Clements, St Giles and St John in the city of Oxford, and of course Headington itself.
In the early days, as well as taking in the unemployed, it served as an orphanage and a home for unmarried mothers, destitute widows, the blind, and the elderly. Many of the inmates in their 60s and 70s whose occupation is given in the census as "Farm labourer" would have been totally incapable of such backbreaking work; and who would have employed the 86-year-old female "Domestic Servant" from Iffley who was an inmate in 1861?
Much information about the meagre diet and miserable life of the inmates can be gleaned from the Minute Book of the Headington Union Guardians, which survives from August 1841 (O.C. Archives A61ff.).
In its latter years, the regime softened, and the Oxford Times of 28 December 1923 reports as follows:
Workhouse Christmas: Festivities opened at Headington workhouse on Christmas Eve when the staff sang carols to the sick. Breakfast on Christmas Day was followed by communion in the chapel. Dinner included roast beef, port, vegetables and Christmas pudding and custard. The staff did their best to ensure a happy time for those under their care. At the conclusion of the day the inmates gave a carol concert which lasted for nearly two hours. A Christmas tree was heavily laden with presents which afterwards were distributed.
In the 1930s the old workhouse was turned into a hospital and renamed "The Laurels"; and in the 1960s it was demolished to make way for the houses just to the east of Gladstone Road.
General information about workhouses in Oxfordshire, including Headington.
Stephanie Jenkins, 31 January 2000
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