Interview 23 - Michael Stockford

Michael Stockford, local historian and author, now retired

Interviewer: Catherine Robinson
Editor: Emma Coombs
Total recording time: 1 hr : 5 min : 2 sec


  • Michael was interviewed at his home in Bishop Kirk Close, Oxford
Access available in Oxfordshire History Centre and Libraries only

Click on track number below to play

Track Content summary Length
23.1 Michael was born in the Plough at Wolvercote Green in 1931 and has written two books about the history of Wolvercote. His father was landlord as his father before him had been after retiring from the Oxford Police. Michael has a signed letter from Captain Morrell of Morrell’s brewery in Oxford (now closed) confirming receipt of three guineas for the licence.

Michael states that the joy to him of where he was born was (1) the canal and (2) the railway, as they run alongside each other on the other side of Wolvercote Green and are clearly visible from the top window of the pub.
5 min : 27 sec
23.2 Michael remembers barges (working boats) ‘waiting up’ just north of the Plough next to a stone embankment that was used by a wealthy local business man H.O. King as a loading bay. His carts would bring corn and hay that would be weighed on the nearby weighbridge and then poured into the empty boats that had left their first cargo of coal at the Wolvercote Paper Mill. The boats also ran coal to Hayfield Wharf and the city centre basin. 5 min : 33 sec
23.3 Bargees and their children largely kept themselves to themselves. Michael thinks this partly due to the difficulties others had in understanding their accents that were very thick. They were also illiterate. They came to the pub but only as far as the Jug and Bottle – children were usually sent in with a jug for ale, and the adults never used the public bar. 1 min : 55 sec
23.4 The washing would be done canalside by women who used bricks to make a small circle in which they made a fire and then placed a tin bath full of canal water on top. The clean clothes were scattered on bushes to dry. Children were also bathed along the towpath. 1 min : 43 sec
23.5 The boaters lived in very cramped quarters on the barge. There was a small kitchen, partly surrounded by bunks that were let down to sleep on. A bottom bunk when not in use served as a table.

Everything, despite the coal dust was spotless and the brasses were gleaming. He felt they were very proud people.
1 min : 30 sec
23.6 Boat children did not go to school but he remembers Wolvercote teachers going out when they had time and taking classes on the towpath using a blackboard easel and chalking up simple sums. Boat people were highly numerate and checked change carefully. 2 min : 26 sec
23.7 Describes the village before the coming of the A40 with lanes and dirt roads going north. The Godstow Road was not constructed until the 1930s. Describes Williams’s Lane and riding jiggers(?), built from old prams. 2 min : 16 sec
23.8 More about H.O. King and the areas of business activity around the village along with T.H. Kingerlee and Sons builders who made bricks in the brickyard that the Lake at Lakeside now occupies. These yellow bricks were used all over North Oxford including making house in Elmthorpe and Oakthorpe Roads. The ‘Black Ack(?) Gang’, London scrap merchants who lived in the wooden bungalows. 5 min : 11 sec
23.9 Henry Osborne King used Pixie Meadows to grow his corn and hay. He was the unofficial Mayor of Wolvercote, lived in Church House, and his word was law. He wore a three-quarter size top hat and a grey frock coat so had quite a presence. King continued to use canals to transport his good to the Midlands in the 1930s. However after that all trade on the canal declined despite a shift to using powered boats instead of horses. 3 min : 55 sec
23.10 Michael describes some interesting village characters including Percy Gardner the cricket bat maker and Paraffin Anne who fed the horse on Port Meadow. 3 min : 55 sec
23.11 The 18th July was always a good day as the fishing season started. Everyone had to buy a two shilling licence, and a licence warden cycled along to make regular checks amongst those fishing.

Michael and his friends fished for skinny bleakers, chub, roach, perch and pike. He recounts the story of Dave Walker who caught a pike that Michael helped him to land that at 3 foot tall was almost as tall as the boy. Another good place for fishing was the Lasher north of the lock where chub could be pulled out from under a ledge.

Dredging the canal. Uncle Chris’s present of a toy submarine.

The story (apocryphal?) of a boat belonging to ladies of ill-repute which sank in the 1940s.
9 min : 31 sec
23.12 By way of illustrating how honest the boaters were Michael describes how each day he would feed and then release his father’s geese, ducks and hens from the pens in the pub garden. Then after school he would whistle and round them up and collect eggs they had laid. The canal bargees never took even one despite the fact their boats were alongside 4 min : 26 sec
23.13 Tales of the railway. There used to be a carriage, the Fair Rosamund Observation engine, that travelled on a track between Oxford and Woodstock and Ernie Loveridge, a Plate Layer used to jump on board with his gun at Wolvercote, shoot rabbits in filed in Yarnton climb back aboard and come back with half a dozen rabbits which he would sell for a shilling each.

Meanwhile Michael and his friends would watch the munitions trains from the bridge – they were three miles long consisting of two trains and three engines. They always hoped they would blow up.
4 min : 39 sec
23.14 Horses that pulled boats were usually stabled in stables near Duke’s Cut for two pence a night. Most boats were pulled by horse until diesel powered boats were introduced in 1937 but horses were still used in the 1940s. 1 min : 31 sec
23.15 Michael remembers Joe and Rose Skinner and their mule, He thinks they walked 10 miles a day alongside the boat and it took them weeks to get to and from the coalfields.

Michael read some more statistics about the boaters toil and remuneration from one of his books. Hundreds of tons of coal were taken weekly from the Moira Colliery in Leicestershire to the Wolvercote Paper Mill by boat. It was a bit cheaper by rail. Horses were capable of pulling a boat with 50 tons of coal on board. Usually there was a crew of four on board so that they took it in turns to sleep. Michael was able to get a lot of his figures about coal deliveries on working boats from Vera who had been married to Billy King. She had acquired H.O. King’s meticulous records of his transactions.
6 min : 4 sec
23.16 The hymn ‘Wolvercote’ has a disputed ownership. Apparently H.O. King met Henry Randall, Master of St Edward’s School and he borrowed King’s score and words to ‘O Jesus I have promised’ after which he published it as the composer.

H.O. King had a gate made in the stone wall surrounding his house so he could appear at it to distribute sugared almonds to children after church (He was a church warden at St Peter’s).
4 min : 45 sec