History and stories of Headington to be told in new listening benches

Published: Friday, 6th March 2020

Headington residents will be able to hear the history and stories of their local area with a series of new listening benches.

The listening benches will feature wind-up and solar powered audio devices that will play recordings about the history and stories of Headington.

Oxford City Council will install the devices in eight locations across the area – including Headington Road, London Road and Bury Knowle Park – during April.

People will be able to use the devices to listen to local history, including:

  • Headington’s famous Roman clay pots, which were exported as far as northern Europe in and around 300AD
  • That King Ethelred the Unready, who ruled from 978 to 1016, is believed to have had his palace in Headington
  • The 200-year-old Bury Knowle Park and its sculptures inspired by the work of Headington residents CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien

They will also be able to learn local stories, including

  • The history of the Headington Shark, which landed on 9 August 1986 – the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki
  • The chance meeting in Headington that led to the revival of Morris dancing across England in the early 20th century
  • Quarrying starting in Headington in 1396, when New College built its bell tower from Headington stone
  • How a football team named Headington United – a village team founded in 1893 and known as ‘the boys from the hill’ – became Oxford United
  • The story of John Henry Brookes, who was the first Principal of the Oxford College of Technology, and the university that now bears his name

The scripts were written by and will be read by Headington residents. Oxford Brookes University’s School of Arts is producing the audio.

The devices – which, including installation and maintenance, will cost £30,000 – have been funded through Section 106 developer contributions from Oxford Brookes University.

The full list of locations is:

  • Wind-up audio unit on a mounting pole by the bus stop towards Oxford outside Oxford Brookes University in Headington Road
  • Wind-up audio unit on mounting pole across from Headington School in London Road
  • Solar-powered audio unit in a new bench outside Dorset House in London Road
  • Bespoke cut-out shark and inset wind-up audio unit on the corner of London Road and New High Street
  • Wind-up audio unit on mounting pole between the benches in front of Cancer Research UK in London Road
  • Wind-up audio unit on mounting pole behind the benches in front of Barclays Bank in London Road
  • Wind-up audio unit in the Narnia-themed structure in the playground in Bury Knowle Park
  • Wind-up audio unit on mounting pole within the circular benches in Bury Knowle Park

“Oxford has a rich and diverse history, and photographic boards across the city have been used as a visible record of it. The Headington listening benches are an innovative way of bringing back the oral history tradition and a wonderful way for people to learn about their local area.

“As well as describing significant figures who resided there – from King Ethelred the Unready to JRR Tolkien – they will preserve the stories of the origin of important local landmarks like the Headington Shark. The listening benches will not only be lovely talking points, but will help bring members of the community together too.”

Councillor Marie Tidball, Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities

"While Headington is an important part of Oxford it also has a separate and distinctive history of its own which the listening benches will help bring to life. Yet these benches will also provide the community with something unique that will draw us closer together. It has been a privilege to have been involved with this exciting project."

Councillor Stef Garden, Councillor for Headington Ward