In 1851 the London and North Western (LNWR) Railway was extended to Oxford and in June a new station was opened at the western end of Hythe Bridge Street (where the Saïd Business School is now). Meanwhile the Didcot to Oxford branch of the Great Western Railway was extended northwards and the company planned to replace its existing station off the Abingdon Road with a new station adjacent to the LNWR’s (on the site of our current station). The erection of these two new stations was bound to bring a demand for local housing from railway workers, and George Parsons Hester, who was the Town Clerk, saw the opportunity for development. In 1851 he bought an area of land south of the Botley Road, between Osney Bridge and St Frideswide’s Bridge, from the local MP James Langston. It was one of the few parcels of land in West Oxford not owned by Christ Church, and this meant that Hester could buy it, rather than lease it, and thereafter do what he liked with it. He named the area Osney Town or Osney Island and had North, South, East, West and Bridge Streets laid out with 125 18-foot wide plots along them. By September 1851 he had sold off forty plots of “rich meadow land…suitable for gardens or building purposes…”, mainly to small speculative builders. By the following January Jonathan Cripps at the “New Building Ground on Botley Road” was advertising for earth and rubbish to raise the land above flood level.
By October 1852 a number of modest terraced houses had been built and occupied on Osney Island; much of Bridge Street was completed and several groups of houses existed on West and East Streets. The majority of the plots were 18ft wide, but many builders bought two plots and squeezed three 12ft houses on to them, or had three plots with four houses on them, and these narrower houses can be seen all over the Island.
On 18 July 1851 an auction of 64 freehold building plots at the northern end of Osney Island was held at the Three Cups Hotel (44 Queen Street) by auctioneer and estate agent Richard Pike. Lot 1, on the corner of what were to be North and Bridge Streets, was bought for £80 by Christopher Lipscomb, the landlord of the Holly Bush pub on Park End Street (where the Oxford Hotel is now). The plot was described as “part of a meadow…close to the town on the south side of and adjoining the Turnpike Road leading from Oxford to Witney” (the Botley Road). The terms of the conveyance dated 29 September 1851, between GP Hester and Lipscombe, obliged Lipscomb to erect on the south and west sides a “good and sufficient fence” and he, his heirs and assigns were not permitted to erect “any Dwelling House on the said land otherwise than fronting the said intended new road and shall not make or burn on the said land any Bricks or Kiln Ware or any Lime and shall not melt any Fat or Tallow and generally shall not commit any other act which shall be a nuisance to the occupiers of the adjoining land”.
Christopher Libscomb had been born in Wytham and in January 1852 he borrowed £200 from Samuel Churchill of Wytham, Gent, in order to build a beerhouse on this newly-acquired plot of land. By 1853 the pub was in place, and was called the Bush and Railway Inn, a name which combined that of Lipscomb’s previous pub on Park End Street with the local railway connection. The pub had stabling and the Botley and Newland Turnpike Trust was soon complaining about the number of people who left horses and carriages there and walked into town in order to avoid paying tolls at the tollhouse which had been built near the end of Cripley and Abbey Roads in 1850 (now The One Restaurant). [As the suburb of West Oxford expanded, the turnpike gate was moved westwards, initially to just beyond Binsey Lane in 1868, and then to the foot of Cumnor Hill in 1877. Three years later the road ceased to be a turnpike and the gate was removed.]
Christopher Lipscomb died on 11 March 1857, leaving the pub to his widow Elizabeth, then 58, who was originally from Swindon. By 1861 the address of the pub had been assigned as 81 Bridge Street. Living there with Mrs Lipscomb were her two nieces Ellen and Emily Young, also from Swindon and aged 22 and 14 respectively, who were working as barmaids; Eliza Carter, a domestic servant aged 24 and originally from Hinton Waldrist near Faringdon (then in Berkshire); and Daniel Oliver, 24, who was an ostler (employed to look after the horses of people staying at the inn) from Newport in South Wales. By 1871 Mrs Lipscomb had lodgers and ten people were recorded as living at the pub on census night that year.
At this time the Bush and Railway was one of two fully-licensed public houses on Osney Island, the other being the Waterman’s Arms (originally the Waterman) on the corner of East Street and South Street. There were also several beer houses or beer retailers, including the Swan and the Osney and Burton Ale Stores on Bridge Street, another Swan on East Street and Ellis Smith on West Street.
By 1875 the pub was being referred to as the Holly Bush Inn, though the names the ‘Bush and Railway Inn’ and the ‘Bush and Rail Tavern’ were also still in use.
In September 1876 Samuel Churchill transferred the mortgage of £200 (which applied to the plot of land and any structures built upon it) to Mrs Mary Ann Blake of Whitley Farm, Cumnor.
Elizabeth Lipscomb appears to have left the pub in 1879 (having been landlady for around 27 years, the last 22 as a widow) as the tenancy was being advertised in Jackson’s Oxford Journal in December of that year.
It’s not clear what part William Blencowe’s brewery in Brackley were playing at this time: the pub was still owned by the Lipscomb family, as was shown when it and its contents were put up for sale in January 1880 (left).
The lease of the pub appears to have been taken over by Tustin Brothers (Brewers); Charles Hazell, a tailor and publican, formerly of the Coach and Horses at 35 Woodstock Road, became landlord. He was 54, originally from Cowley, and with him were his wife Mary and five children aged between nineteen and six. He also employed 17-year-old Charles Hitchcock as ostler.
The former landlady Elizabeth Lipscomb died on 17 April 1883 aged 84. By her husband Christopher’s will, made in March 1856, she was to leave the Holly Bush to his two nephews James and John Franklin. John had died in March 1868; in September 1884 James Franklin, who was a farmer of Shinhill Farm, South Littledon near Evesham, put the pub up for auction.
William Clinch, the owner of the Eagle Brewery in Witney, bought the freehold of the pub, and its fixtures and fittings, for £1,650 in partnership with his sons-in-law Thomas William Foreshaw of Witney, Gent, and Bellingham Arthur Somerville of Queenstown, Cork, Ireland, Gent. Clinch was a member of wealthy, prominent and somewhat eccentric Witney family, whose business interests included brewing, banking and land ownership. Clinch & Co Ltd was buying other pubs in and around Oxford at this time.
The landlord of the Holly Bush, Charles Hazell, had left owing rent and his furniture was auctioned by Walter Gray in order to recoup some of the debt. Mr Clinch’s purchase of the pub was delayed by a Chancery suit which arose because the vendors, James Franklin and Mary Ann Blake (who still held the £200 mortgage on the property) could not agree who should receive the purchase money: it was supposed to be divided between them but Franklin wanted it all paid into his own account. The case was finally settled in January 1885 and ownership of the pub transferred to William Clinch.
Clinch set about making improvements to the Holly Bush. In April 1885 he replaced a dilapidated stable and in 1886 built a new lock-up coach house and stores (entered from Bridge Street). The builder, William Cantwell and the architect, William Seeley, were both from Clinch’s home town of Witney.
By this time, William Piesley had become the tenant of the pub. He was a 50-year-old former coachman originally from Tetsworth near Thame, who had been living in Finsbury in London with his wife Elizabeth and four sons and one daughter (the couple had two other children who died). By 1891 only William junior (aged 22, and working in the pub as a barman), Charles (20, a jeweller’s apprentice) and Agnes (15 and at school) were still living at home. Ten years later, in 1901, William junior, Charles and Agnes were still living at the pub with their parents; Agnes was now working as a barmaid and also living with them was William and Elizabeth’s 10-year old granddaughter Edith. By now, the Holly Bush was numbered 106, the unforeseen extension of Bridge Street to the south in 1892 having necessitated the renumbering of houses on the western side.
During this period the Holly Bush hosted inquests, particularly of people who had drowned in the nearby river, either by accident or by suicide. It was common for inquests to be held in the saloons of pubs at this time. Similarly, pubs often hosted events held by local societies, and around the turn of the century the Holly Bush’s club room was the venue, for example, for the annual dinner of the Osney Working Men’s Benefit Club.
In 1905 Agnes Piesley married Joseph Hardwick, a draper’s assistant originally from Cambridge, and moved to The Red House on Cumnor Hill. Their daughter Norah was born two years later, and by 1911 Agnes’s parents William and Elizabeth had retired from running the Holly Bush in Osney and were living with Agnes and Joseph.
William and Elizabeth’s second son William had taken over as publican of the Holly Bush, and was living there with his younger brother Charles, now a fishmonger; their niece Edith, who had recently married a postman, Thomas Low; and 32-year-old Timothy Lardner, who was working for them as a groom in the pub’s stables.
Meanwhile, William and Charles’s oldest brother George was landlord of the Leden Porch Hall on Pembroke Street (now part of the Story Museum), and their youngest brother Henry was working as a coachman and living at 64 West Street on Osney Island. Henry had a wife, Mabel and 13-year-old daughter, Gertrude. George’s wife had recently died, leaving him to look after their three sons aged 12 to 15 (another child having died already).
William Piesley senior died in December 1913; his son William junior continued as landlord of the Holly Bush until around 1937. By 1939 the pub had been taken over by Frederick Timms, who remained as landlord throughout the War and until around 1948, when he was replaced by Tom Rowe. Thomas Kernahan became the landlord in around 1955; by 1965 the pub was owned by Courage. Laurence Tripp arrived as landlord in around 1972. In 1993 an application to demolish a storage and functions building was refused by Oxford City Council, and around this time the pub closed for a while, to reopen in 1995 as Walter Mitty’s. By this time it was owned by the Abingdon brewery Morland & Co. By 2007 it had been bought by Greene King and had reverted to the name the Holly Bush Inn. It was bought by development company VO Properties from Greene King in 2014 and underwent a refit, but closed in 2015 and is currently awaiting redevelopment.
Documents relating to the Holly Bush Inn held at the Oxfordshire History Centre, ref: B5/32
Census returns for 1851 to 1911
St Thomas’s parish registers
Trade and Street directories (Kelly’s etc) 1851 to 1973
Oxford City Engineer’s Deposited Building Plans
Oxford City Council planning applications
Jackson’s Oxford Journal
Malcolm Graham, On Foot in Oxford: St Thomas’s and Osney (Oxford Central Library, c.1973)
Derek Honey, An Encyclopedia of Oxford Pubs, Inns and Taverns (Oakwood Press, 1998)
Liz Woolley, ‘Osney: a Railway Enclave?’ Oxfordshire Local History, Vol 8, no 3, Spring 2008
Liz Woolley, July 2016
© Liz Woolley, 2016