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Laurel Drive, Southmoor – 1974 onwards

Susan Green

I moved to Laurel Drive in April 1974, with my husband and one small daughter. We had been living in rented accommodation in Stokenchurch, so were very happy to be having our own home again. By 1976 we had added another daughter to the family. It was a very friendly street and we had lovely neighbours, among them, Michael and Ann Brown and their 4 children. Nicola, the older of the two girls loved to come and play with Judith and gave me time to get on with ‘chores’ while she entertained the baby.

When the estate was built, Miss Raphael who lived at Kingston House, as it was known then, managed to get a preservation order put on the stand of pines so each of the gardens of in Laurel Drive and Greenhart Way had several very large trees in their gardens. We had 7 but nearer to the school one garden had more than 12. While the children were small it did mean that they could play outside without fear of sunburn but other plants did not do too well in the garden. In the early 80s after some severe storms, when some trees did fall, we had permission to remove them and many of us did. Gerald Broughton who was a fount of information said that these trees were planted between the wars, to be used as pit props, but the invention of hydraulic props meant that they were just left to grow.

There were not nearly as many cars on the estate as there are now, most families having only one. There was a great sense of community; more mothers stayed at home, at least for the early years of their children’s lives so there were quite a lot of coffee mornings, when the children played while the mums caught up on the news. There were two babysitting circles. This meant that one could go out for an evening without having to pay for babysitting and that there were responsible adults looking after the children! There were quite strict rules about leaving coffee and biscuits, for the sitter and the sitter would be taken or at least escorted home at the end of the evening. In our circle each family was given about 20 tokens on joining and these were the currency for paying for your sitter. So you had to earn tokens in order to be able to go out.

Ann Thompson and I revived the Mother and Toddler group and this met one afternoon a week in the Methodist Hall. For the older pre-schoolers there was a playgroup which also met in the Methodist Church Hall. There were no day nurseries or preschool at that time. In the years before the bypass came, there was a huge amount of traffic going through the village and getting out of Draycott Road to go to work in the morning was quite a challenge. As the children grew up and started school, they made friends with children from ‘across the main road’ but it was rare for them to go and play because of the problem of crossing the road.

In those days it was easy to walk to Longworth and I used to walk to the Broughton’s small holding in Beggars Lane for vegetables and flowers, with one child in the pram and the other on a seat on top. As well as the produce there were also stories of how Gerald used to deliver the milk to the village in a can on the handle bars of his bike and of life in quieter times. The children loved to see their Springer Spaniel Bruce, and it was because they loved him so that we ended up have 2 Springers ourselves.

In the early days there were few if any supermarkets locally, I used to go to Witney to Waitrose for my big shop, but we had good butcher, where the Munch is now and the Log Cabin, was just that, and was on the other side of the road on the edge of the asparagus field. It sold newspapers and magazines, sweets and cigarettes. The grocery shop was at one time a Spar and then became Southmoor Food and Wine, before changing into the One Stop You could buy petrol from the Cross Roads Garage and from Palmers, which was nearly opposite. There was another small food shop at the cross roads and that turned into an antique shop for a short while. At the other end of the village in the house behind the current Post Office, there was a bakery and the old Post Office. None of the estates along the Faringdon Road had been built then and Heath House stood with a large field in front with ponies in where Lime Grove is now. The science fiction writer, Brian Aldiss lived there at one time. The riding school occupied the fields adjacent to the Draycott Road and behind the Log Cabin and many children spent many happy hours there.

The new village hall had not been built and the old one was near to the Old School on the Faringdon Road. It was much smaller and made of brick and corrugated iron. The well baby clinic was held there. When we came the Doctor’s surgery was in the house on the corner by the new War Memorial, and then moved to a porta cabin in the car park of the Scout HQ in the Old School. For a while there was a surgery in the new village hall, but now although there are many more people we have no doctor’s presence in the village at all. There have been many changes in the 40 years that I have lived here, and the village continues to grow and develop. But I think it is still a good place to live. There are many amenities which make it a thriving village, still.