A Jericho childhood

Jo Elvidge, now living in Frome, Somerset, recently revisited Jericho, and has written these recollections.

Posted - May 03, 1998

Recently my husband and I came once more to Jericho, so that I could feel the stones beneath my feet, and visit St. Sepulchre's cemetery to find the grave of an uncle, a musician, who died very young from T.B. Since the cemetery has been closed for 50 years, it presented a scene of rural charm, with sheets of snowdrops, and, sadly, overturned gravestones. 'Our' grave luckily was still upright, and has a distinctive violin carved there.

We called at Walton Street Post Office, and spotted A Jericho Sketchbook which proved very exciting and filled me with glee - and some nostalgia. When I lived here the area was a cosy enclave of working-class artisans - not of course that I recognized this at the time, I was a child. My great-grandparents moved from Wyatt's Yard, St. Aldates to No. 3 Wellington Street early in 1874, and my grandmother, the youngest of four children, was christened at St. Barnabas Church. Her father was a coachman, and the horse and carriage were kept in the garden which was entered through large gates opposite 56 and 57.

The houses on that side of the street (now demolished) were owned by the University Press and life in Wellington Street when I lived there was regulated by the hooter sounding and the workforce pouring in and out. My home for the first 15 years of my life was at 56 Wellington Street, since demolished with No. 57 - the site where the semis existed lying forlorn still, and rather a tiny space.

I went early to St. Barnabas Infant School at the age of three, and can remember being put to sleep in a hammock. Another memory is of walking to the Junior School on duckboards in Albert Street raised above the floods. Did this problem with the drains contribute to my Gran's scarlet fever at the age of nine? The operation saved her life but left her deaf and dumb. My days at school were punctuated by school crocodiles marching to church and children kneeling with the smell of incense, and taking the ferry from the bottom of Ferry Road (now Combe Road) to Tumbling Bay for swimming lessons.

During the long summer holidays, I read beneath the trees of Worcester College gardens, whose back gate could be entered from Canal Street. St. Paul's, the Synagogue, and the Methodist Chapel, all featured in my life, and with St. Barnabas and Ruskin College, seem like points on a compass. Just before the Second World War, we were moved by Oxford City Council to the new Rose Hill estate. My grandmother who lived at 57, followed us a few weeks later. Gran's sister at No. 53 died during this period. The sisters had made a pact that if heaven existed Gerty would 'move a star', so each night Gran ascended to the roof to gaze. Alas, nothing happened. There must be many former residents with similar memories of the place where they grew up, and the families, friends and neighbours who moulded them. Where are you all?

Did you know?

About the church bells?

Originally the Church only had the single ‘Barney’s Bell’. In 1890, when the clock was installed, it was decided to add a set of tubular bells to ring the chimes and the hour strike, as well as a tune or ‘carillon’. The are driven by an elaborate mechanical contraption.

Margaret Thatcher used to live here?

In her Oxford days, she lived at 12 Richmond Road. It is alleged she shared the house with two red-hot communists who lived on a diet of sausages. This may account for her later views on socialists and known dislike of sausages.