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Village Life in the 1980s and 90s

Current Inhabitants of Elsfield

In 1954, Susan Tweedsmuir wrote:

‘A village may be now only a shell of former things. The church has been joined to that of another parish, the Vicar lives in another place, and there are only services on alternate Sundays, the school has been ‘beheaded’ (by which she means the older children have been sent to secondary school in another village). The manor is in the possession of an industrial company, or civil servants or a school of some kind, possibly for retarded children. A good many of the cottages are lived in by men and women who depart daily to work in a nearby factory. The country quiet has largely gone owing to the mechanisation of the farms, the farmers screech up and down the village streets in jeeps and the roar and clatter of agricultural machinery is heard.’

Quite a tirade! Elsfield may have hung on to its traditional way of life longer than most, but some of what Lady Tweedsmuir wrote had come to pass in Elsfield. The Manor was not taken over by an industrial company or made into a school, but by the 1990s the vicar had moved out, church services were no longer a weekly occurrence and the school had disappeared altogether. It could also be argued that the social life of the village had atrophied and that the housing stock, some of it occupied only seasonally, was deteriorating. By the year 2000, even greater changes were afoot. In that year, Christ Church decided to sell off the cottages. They could not sell them all, of course, because some people had protected agricultural tenancies but several people were given notice to quit the houses they were renting. Because of its proximity to Oxford, good schools and the John Radcliffe Hospital, houses were in great demand and prices were high, which resulted in an influx of new people with considerable incomes who wanted country living and were happy to pay for it.

Four families who had protected tenancies have spoken about the village in the last twenty or so years since they came to live here. It is instructive to see how in every case social networks play an important part in finding suitable housing and how the present preoccupation with how we heat our homes is reflected in the accounts people have given of their daily lives. They also in some cases point up the poor condition of the house they moved into, and the social make-up of the village, which fell into two categories: well-to do employees or ex-employees of Christ Church and casual farm labourers, along with a smattering of long-term residents such as the Bradfords.

Some people had contacts in the village before they moved here, others had none. Anne started renting her tiny cottage in 1970 when she was a student. She shared the tenancy with a friend and got to hear of the cottage from the lab assistant at her school in Oxford who was married to a farm worker at Forest Farm.  "The farmer had no workers who needed accommodation and was keen to let it. Surprising, as it might seem, at that time Elsfield was not a fashionable place to live, and the cottage was so small that it would be no good to a family", she said.

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