The Story of Heyford: The changing character of the village during the 1950’s V1C10

Until the second world war, the village was largely a rural community and the population had been slowly declining. The school had been rebuilt in 1880 to accommodate 170 children at a time when the population was about 800. By the early 1950’s the population had fallen to 700 and the average attendance at school was only 70. This reflected not only the smaller population, but also the reduction in the proportion of younger people. The post war baby boom hadn’t yet hit us. Therefore Heyford in the 1940’s and 1950’s was taking on the profile of an ‘elderly’ village. An article in the Mercury and Herald in November of 1969 recorded that there were 24 residents in the village over the age of 80.

With the end of the war, young people were finding it increasingly difficult to get work in the village or to afford housing. The farms were becoming more mechanised, and the small cottage trades were being replaced by large new businesses such as British Timken which enticed the young men away with modern working conditions and good wages. The young people were therefore beginning to find work and homes outside the village.

Some of the older buildings were becoming derelict and uninhabitable. Many of the old stone and thatch buildings were demolished and replaced by modern homes. These included three cottages on the far side of the green where Pound is now situated, four cottages at the bottom of Furnace Lane, Mrs Lilleys cottage between the Post Office and Methodist Chapel, and Brook Farm. On reflection it seems sad that we weren’t able to preserve these buildings. However some of the older residents recall how they didn’t always live up to their chocolate box image. They were often dark, damp, and infested with mice. Houses like this were expensive to maintain but the families that occupied them didn’t necessarily have the funds to do it. It was therefore quite understandable that people wanted to swap them for the modern comfortable housing which was becoming readily available. During the 1960’s the village began to change dramatically.

Seems unbelievable, but could be true, and wouldn’t it be a pity;
In fifty years our little village could become just like a city!

Written in 1983 by Gordon Hayes of Close Road

Mary Warr’s ‘Diary of Change’
The following notes were made by Mary Warr while she lived in the village. She was the wife of George Warr who was headmaster from 1953 until 1975. Mary also taught at the school. Although they were ‘outsiders’ they spent many happy years in the village and became well respected members of the community. They took a leading role in a number of activities in the village including the Scouts, the WEA, the Library Service and the Theatre Club. During their time in Heyford the village changed enormously, and Mary kept hand-written notes of the changes as they occurred in a school exercise book which she later donated to the record office at Wootton Hall. The following notes are taken largely from that notebook.

‘We came to the village in 1953. The council houses in Furnace Lane and Church Lane, originally built in the 1930’s, were being modernised. Rayburn cookers were put in, along with bathrooms and deep drainage. In those days a cart called at many houses to collect the toilet contents.

In December 1953 Mrs Hazel left the school after many years service. In January 1954 the school children helped to plant trees in Coronation Avenue.

The council began to plan and build houses up Hillside Road and Hillside Avenue, and afterwards the cottages at the corner of Close Road were demolished. In the same year water sanitation was put in the school. 

In 1956 the school was rewired for electricity and repainted – bright colours this time. Also the senior children were removed and the school became a primary and infants school. All the classrooms had new floors, and the hall was built during this time.

In 1962 plans began to ‘make haste’ for the change from village street gas lighting to electric lighting. Electric lighting became a fact in September 1963.

In 1964 the village began to grow quickly. We had watched Mr and Mrs Cowling ’s dormer type house grow next to Mrs Smith’s farm.

Old cottages on the site of The Pound around 1900.


Photo lent by Charlie Copson

Mr Harwin at the Manor House began to build in the Manor field – Church Close. Now we can only dream of the buttercup field across which we brought the children back from church every other Ascension Day. The first people to move in were Mr and Mrs Buck and their son William whose bungalow is next door to Mr and Mrs Denny (the builder and his wife). 

In Manor Lane there are now houses too. At the end of 1964 houses up Furnace Lane next to Mr and Mrs Buck were built and inhabited.

In 1965 building work started on the field between Mr and Mrs Lilley and Mrs Jones. Two houses originally thatched next door to Mr Watson’s shop and the jitty were pulled down and rebuilt by the council.

Work is contemplated by Adkins and Shaw for houses in the Brook Farm Field, now owned by Mr Frank Hodgkiss and originally belonging to Mr Whitton.

In 1964 / 1965 houses were also erected along Bugbrooke Road, the first built for Mr Watson and his family next to Mrs Smith’s mushroom field.

Mrs Potter’s field was for sale in Church Lane in 1965 and it still remains to be seen what happens there. Two council houses built in 1965 to replace four thatched cottages on the green next to Mr Watson’s.

In May 1966 the village has changed its character. The field in front of Brook Farm is being built on by Adkins and Shaw. Houses are going up opposite too along the Bugbrooke Road. By the Rectory in Mrs Potter’s field are standing two bungalows built by Adkins and Shaw. There is to be a new Rectory in the Rectory gardens.

Mr C. Denny has built a new bungalow for his own occupation between Sunnyside and Miss Eales’ house. Furnace Lane has its quota of new houses on both sides now, and Middle Street has new houses from Mrs Buck’s down to the corner of the field. Only one space is left and the road has yet to be built in this area.

In the far corner of the field by the manor one house is inhabited and there is a right of way across the field from that corner to Middle Street. How we miss the freedom of that buttercup field.

The four thatched cottages in Furnace Lane pulled down in 1965


Photo lent by ]udy Armitage

It is rumoured that Mr R Adams is going to sell yet another field and 100 houses are to be built. Ben’s Orchard is for sale – three plots – and three houses or bungalows are to be built in the Manor garden.

Middle Street is to be a one way street to Upper Heyford, and Watery Lane is to be widened to take the the traffic from Upper Heyford.

The Youth Club is now quite at home in the old Methodist chapel which was formally opened in the Autumn of 1965. Adjoining it, Mrs Lilley’s old thatched cottage, now belonging to Mr and Mrs Blaney is derelict. The thatch is falling off, the chimneys look very dangerous, and it looks as though all might collapse like a pack of cards.

The Post Office was moved from the corner to a cottage nearby just before Christmas, also the letter box, and the name of the village from January 1st became Nether Heyford.

A factory – light engineering – is to be opened at the furnaces and local labour will be used. At the parish meeting early this year it was proposed that seats should be erected on the green. Now, May 25th, they are still not there.

People have been turning out at night to hear the nightingale in the Furnace Lane direction. We are getting much more traffic in the village. It is hardly safe for dogs to be loose. People are getting used to seeing roads up – pipes, gas and electric cables have to be laid.

Mrs Potters field in Church Lane before the houses were built


Photo lent by ]udy Armitage

The small Heyford family is definitely having to get used to living with strangers in its midst. Meanwhile one can only conjecture on what will be the effect. It is quite true that nobody now seems to know everybody else. The intimate feeling of knowing our village is disappearing.

May 1967. Houses have been built in Church Lane, Wakefield Way (Mr Hodgkiss’s), Winston Close, Furnace Lane, Middle Street, Manor Walk and Weedon Road. And now building operations commence at the end of Close Road (Wilsons estate). I have lost count, and without walking round or consulting records I cannot estimate how many.

The A45 dual carriageway from Upton Mill to the Heyford flyover has been built this year. It is 3 miles long and cost £520,000

We ourselves, March 1967, have formed a Theatre Club and have 34 members. We are all set to visit the Shakespeare Royal Theatre on June 22nd to see “All’s Well that Ends Well”.

July 1968. Bugbrooke secondary school is now open. For the first time in 16 years a Parish Council election was held. All the members are Old Heyfordians. This I think is a pointer to the resistance the newcomer must meet.

A view of Watery Lane before its development in the 1960’s.


Photograph lent by Mrs Searle

February 1969. It has been impossible to keep pace with all the buildings in the village and do my job as infants teacher. In Middle Street all the lovely trees were cut down in 1968. The school extensions started last year in March and we are now using our new hall. The Wilsons estate grows apace and so does Hillside Crescent and Winston Close.

People come and go. There is a flourishing play group for pre-school children. The WEA group is strong, and my own Theatre Club is now affiliated to the Arts Council.

The shop changed hands from Mrs Blaney to Mrs Eales. Mrs Blaney still has the post office, helped by Miss Humphrey. Mrs Lilley’s old cottage has been partly demolished to make it safe. Middle Street is being widened as far as the bridge and we now have a pavement opposite the School House.

1969. The new Rectory is being built. The school dining hall and kitchen were completed in January. Five Georgian houses have been built in Manor field . Mrs Lilley’s old thatched cottage has been razed to the ground. There is a building site at Brook Farm. There are buildings now on both sides of Middle Street and in the river field near the Manor. Mrs Highfield sold her shop. There is now a Green Shield Stamp shop to compete with the VG stores. John Haynes and his wife live at the post office and his wife helps Mrs Blaney. The Monday Club has been formed – it seems for young newcomers and their friends. The Youth Club is to be revived.

1970. A children’s playground committee has been formed. The brook has been dredged. The river has been dredged. Brook: Farm has been demolished in Watery Lane, and Middle Street has been provided with pavements.’

Mary Warr

The Memorial Green.

Photo lent by ]udy Armitage

The photograph above, lent by ]udy Armitage, was taken in the 1940’s. Towards the right behind the telegraph pole is the old thatched post office, demolished in the early 1950’s and replaced by the modern stores. In the centre behind the tree is the original Methodist chapel built in 1838. To the left of this is the thatched house occupied by Mrs Anne Clarke, Heyford’s midwife in the early 1900’s, and later by her daughter Mrs Lilley. This house was demolished in 1969.

Of bureaucratic interference, no one is deserving,
But certain things in Heyford are truly worth preserving.
John Smith’s lovely farmyard, the school, the village green.
If developers ever get them, they’ll be no longer seen!
So the word ‘conservation’ should never cause a frown,
Let’s keep those lovely treasures so there’s something to hand down.

Gordon Hayes, 27th October 1983


Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 1 of 4 | Chapter 10 of 13 | Pages 24 to 29


Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

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