Food, Drink, Politics and Tourism in 19th Century Oxford;
City historian Liz Woolley gave a very interesting lecture, at St Paul’s Church Hall, Tadley on 15th Jan 2020.
Liz is a full time Local Historian and specialist on Oxford. Her talk considered the provision of food and drink in Oxford. Oxford is a great University town and there has long been the division of
Town and Gown. (Today it is a City, but Liz said nobody seems to know when and how it was so designated). It is difficult for a university to exist without the support of a thriving town and that was what Oxford became in the 19th century, the population doubling between 1850 and 1905 and having many prosperous businesses who provided regular employment.
All towns needed brewers, if for nothing else because beer is a safe drink compared with the public water supplies of the time. The brewing industry was dominated by four families; Tawney, Morrell, Hall, and Treacher. The industry is still reflected in local road names e.g. Brewer St., Little Brewery St. In 1875 there were 8 major Breweries, but by 1899 there were only four, all in the St. Thomas area of Oxford. The decline in number continued so that just Morells and Halls survived into the mid 20th Century. (Today there are no breweries in
Oxford other than two micro-breweries). Liz showed a photograph from 1916 of the women running Morrell’s Lion Brewery while the men were called up in WWI. The brewing families became prominent in Politics, Education and Philanthropy. In 1878 the politics got mucky to such an extent that due to a corrupt election the town was disenfranchised of its Parliamentary seat for a
whole Parliamentary Term.
Oxford was also an agricultural and market town. Livestock came to the market on hoof and later by train. Naturally the town had a lot of butchers and in the early 18th Century a Mrs Dorothy Spreadbury created what became the ‘Oxford Sausage’. In Victorian times the sausages were available by post. They are still made today and are different in that they contain veal as well as pork. Butc
hery grew into a big industry – Hughes Sausage factory had gates which came from Magdelen College and a very tall chimney. Bakers and corn merchants were also important businesses. In 1875 there were 70 commercial bakers and 20 corn merchants. Of course there were also big grocers like Underhills, Grimbly, and Hughes. Boffins Tea Rooms became a favourite of early tourists.
Perhaps the best known food product from Oxford is ‘Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade’. The business started in 1874 and by 1902 the factory employed 60 people. The marmalade was so liked that it was taken on Scott’s polar expeditions. I remember seeing the distinctive white pots with black lettering at my Grandparents home in the 1950s. It is still sold today, but the company is now part of Premier Foods. Thank you Liz for your interesting and detailed talk about the ‘Town’ which supported the ‘Gowns’ in the beautiful City of Oxford.