The Shepherd residence (West Oxford Democrats Club)

An extract from the memoirs of G. Alan Shepherd, who lived on Osney Island at the start of the twentieth century in the house which is now West Oxford Democrats Club. The tailoring business described here is Shepherd and Woodward.

I was born in Oxford on 10 May 1911 and we lived in a big house called Riverside on Osney Island. The island was 400 yards round on the roadway and ours was one of two large houses — the rest were cottages. We overlooked the new cut of the river which flowed under the road bridge that led to the west. There was a road between us and the river. Opposite was a large tanker yard and the main road bridge looked down on us. Over the stream that swept round the island was a footbridge that came down on our corner. The road to the island came off the main road a couple of hundred yards down.

The house

Our house was tall and the basement stood at ground level. Here were five large rooms and a loo with a passage leading out into the back yard and a stair case leading up to the ground floor, which was in fact the first floor. At the end of the passage was a small laboratory set up by my younger half-brother Bertram. Two of the rooms were stacked with coal and logs of wood and the largest had a cold slab for keeping food and barrels for the wine which we made from the grapes in the greenhouse. Another room had a ping pong table, rarely used, and the fifth had the stove for the greenhouse, with a large pile of slack to stoke the boiler. In the winter my father returning from work would go straight down to this room to stoke up the boiler for the night before he sat down to tea.

The first floor was up two flights of outside stairs to the front door — a largish terrace was halfway — and the front door was most impressive. It led into a large porch and then into the hall, left was the drawing room, with the dining room and stairs on the right, opposite was the kitchen and the scullery with a covered way down to the back door opening onto the road. Straight on was the breakfast room and a lavatory with a door and steps down to the garden. A large conservatory built onto the end of the house came alongside these steps . Below was a backyard which butted on to the row of cottages which stretched down the road some hundred yards to Osney Weir, at the end of the island.

Up the stairs was first a lavatory and the bathroom, with four bedrooms and a dressing room at the top. Mine was on the left, next going clockwise was a huge cupboard which contained my mother’s jams and bottlings, then my younger brother’s room, followed by the dressing room and my parents’ bedroom and finally on the right of the stairs a room for the living-in maid. Above was access to the roof.

The garden

The garden was a couple of acres with a lawn and kitchen garden. My father’s hobby was gardening, and it was well run and had several unusual features, or so I considered as a small boy. First was the tank with a pump for water and this always had minnows and other small fish in it. Then there was the big greenhouse where I was not always welcome. This had the vine which went to making wine and abutted the back of the house. The small greenhouse was used for starting off plants. It had to be opened and shut and I don’t think it was heated. Then there were the cold frames for the chrysanthemums and bedding plants which I dared not touch at all.

Opposite the door of the greenhouse I had a slip of land, almost the size of a large dining table, which was my own garden, and this was never really full. There were two large trees — a pear and a Blenheim apple — both of which produced huge quantities of fruit, much more than we needed. A unique feature was the door into the garden which was connected by a rope passing up through the basement to the kitchen. The kitchen window stood out and overlooked the road which made it easy to see who was ringing the bell. The back door was usually unlocked except at night and led into the yard where a steep flight of steps led up to the scullery.

My first memory of Riverside was in 1914 when I was sitting on a toy horse on the terrace overlooking the main road. A constant stream of mounted soldiers followed by marching men poured across the bridge into the city. They were presumably returning from manoeuvres.

My father

My father, whose name was Frank Shepherd, to me always seemed very old. He was in fact older than my mother. When his first wife died he was left with three sons — Harold, Leeson and the youngest, Bertram, who was about 12 years older than myself. Harold ran a chicken farm, Leeson went to New Zealand and worked on a ranch, while Bertram was still at school before going up to The Queen’s College in Oxford.

My father ran a tailoring business in Oxford. The premises were in the centre of the High Street and the war years were tough years. My father owned the business, having bought out his brother Charles who lived in north Oxford. Frank had worked his way up, starting on the bench, and had worked in London and Edinburgh before moving to Oxford. The family was of lowland Scottish lineage but his parents had moved to Daventry where my grandfather looked after a section of the Grand National Canal at Braunston.

It was here that my father’s love of fishing was born. He was also a middle-distance runner. In his youth he would tour the countryside on his bicycle to enter the local race meetings and his success is shown by the trophies in the house. In latter years gardening took over. He always went on fishing holidays.

Thanks to Chris Willis for the information