Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir

Founded in 1928...

Chapter 2: Oxford 1928

Oxford, the ancient University city, insulated for centuries from the harsh realities of commercial and industrial life, its economy based on the needs of the colleges and the endless stream of tourists, was stirring uneasily as the monster on its eastern outskirts grew lustily under the leadership of W.R.Morris, later Lord Nuffield. The year began with the Great Snowfall, the worst in living memory; mountains of frozen snow were removed from city streets to Port Meadow and Headington Hill Park. The thaw which followed caused widespread flooding in the lower parts of the city. In the first three months the city paid its tribute to the passing of three prominent figures - Earl Haig, Lord Oxford and Asquith, and the Earl of Abingdon. Oxford University lost the boat race by ten lengths, and the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary, begun in 1884, was completed with the issue of the final volume, Wise-Wyzen. Lord Gray of Falloden was elected Chancellor of the University, and the late Jimmy Dingle patrolled the streets of the city, advertising Grimbly Hughes’ 1921 vintage Burgundy at 60/- per doz. bottles. On the 26 November property all over the city was damaged by the worst gale since 1881. The Oxford Journal carried a brief report of an event which was to have consequences as far-reaching as the invention of the internal combustion engine; the first television transmission, between London and Harrow, was successfully completed. The Electra Cinema reopened its doors after a refit, films featuring Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton drew the crowds. The Oxford Playhouse in the Woodstock Road attracted good houses. The repertoire included Shaw’s "Arms and the Man", Wilde’s "The Importance of Being Earnest", and Goldsmith’s "She Stoops to Conquer". Among the young actors making their early reputations at the Playhouse were Richard Goolden and Robert Morley. On the 10th March the Oxford Orchestral Society celebrated its 25th Jubilee, the celebratory concert under Sir Hugh Allen included a performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, in which the soloist was Marie Wilson. In May the young Segovia came to Oxford for the first time and gave a guitar recital at the Town Hall. Music lovers welcomed the French composer Ravel who was awarded a doctorate of music by the University, and just before Christmas an audience in the Town Hall was entertained by one of the most distinguished instrumental trios ever assembled — Cortot, Thibaud and Casals.

W.R.Morris was by this time a generous benefactor to the city. As President of the Radcliffe Infirmary he chaired the appeal for £120,000 to build an extension, pledging £40,000 himself, if the community raised the rest. In 1929 his master company, Morris Motors (1926) Ltd. declared profits of £1,335,0O0 on a capital of £5 million. W.R. Morris personally owned the equity capital of £2 million, but paid himself no dividend. After paying the dividend on the £3 million preference capital, £950,000 was ploughed back into the business. Clearly the company had no cash flow problem fifty years ago. Oxford was struggling even then to come to terms with the motor car; every week people from all walks of life were summoned in the Magistrates Court for a variety of motoring offences - obstruction, dangerous driving, no lights, no licence, exceeding the 20 m.p.h. speed limit. The Oxford Illustrated Journal carried a regular weekly column headed "Accidents on the Roads" and the casualty department at the Radcliffe Infirmary was kept busy dealing with victims of the motor menace. It is doubtful if the implications of this rapidly growing industry for the economy of the city, the county, and indeed the country, were properly comprehended in 1928. Industrial relations in the industry were rudimentary and remained so until the arrival from Swansea of Jack Thomas, who was appointed the first secretary of the Oxford Branch of the Transport & General Workers Union in 1936.

Although Cowley has now been swallowed up in the greater Oxford conurbation, it has an ancient history as a separate community. The Romans operated a pottery there from the 1st to the 3rd century A.D. Cowley derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon Cufa’s wood or clearing, The boundaries of the parish changed from time to time, at different stages in its history it included the manors of Temple Cowley, Church Cowley, and Middle Cowley, the last centred around the present Hockmore Street. St Bartholomew’s Hospital was founded in the reign of Henry I to care for lepers; the chapel, much altered. externally, still stands. In the 12th century the trades of skinner, tanner and weaver were carried on in the parish. There is evidence to show that stone was quarried there in the 14th century. At the beginning of the 17th century Oxford and Cowley were still separated by treacherous marshes; Cowley Road, then called Berrye Lane, crossed the marsh on a causeway. In 1644 King Charles I was in occupation of the city, Cromwell was harrying Royalist troops at Islip and Bletchingdon, and on the 21 May the university and town regiments were mustered on Bullingdon Green on the northern outskirts of the parish. In the early 18th century supplies of wood fuel were augmented by peat, cut from Cowley Marsh in the spring of each year and dried for use the following winter. In the 19th century the staple industry in the parish was farming, but the village was being drawn into the Industrial Revolution. In 1864 the Wycombe Railway Co. opened its Oxford - Cowley - Thame line which was taken over by the Great Western Railway six years later. In 1868 John Allen & Co., makers of steam ploughs and traction engines opened its workshops. Cowley Barracks was built in 1877. So into the 20th century, when industry moved into the parish on a major scale, led by W.R.Morris who took over the old military academy for the assembly of cars in 1912. The First World War accelerated the development of the motor car, the Morris factories expanded and were joined in 1926 by the Pressed Steel Co Ltd., makers of car bodies. In 1928 The M.G. Car Co., under its general manager Cecil Kimber opened another factory in Cowley, where the M.G. cars were first assembled; the Morris Motors engine was specially tuned to give the extra power for which the M.G. marque is famed. Cowley was still a village, separated from Oxford by green fields arid swamps. Oxford stopped at Magdalen Road, Cowley Marsh was still undrained and flooded every winter. The vast acres of the Florence Park housing estates were still green meadows. In that year began the long negotiations in local government and Westminster which led to the extension of Oxford boundaries to include, among others, the parish of Cowley. One of its great characters, the Reverend George Moore, described as Cowley’s farmer vicar, represented the parish in these negotiations; regrettably he died and was buried in May 1928, a year before the boundary extensions were ratified by Parliament.

The plight of the South Wales mining communities was being brought to the notice of Oxford’s citizens in a number of ways. In August 1928 1,000 miners and their families from Newport, Mon., came to Oxford, and sailed down stream from Folly Bridge to Sandford Lock, where they disembarked and joined in community singing, supported by the Headington Prize Silver Band. In the Oxford Journal Stevens & Co., fuel merchants, advertised their new 20-ton coal trucks — "Oxford’s contribution to the stricken Welsh coalfields". The Magistrates Court was regularly sentencing young men described as "miner of no fixed abode" for drunkenness, breaking and entering, and assault. Two young Welshmen bound over to keep the peace after a fracas outside the Palace Cinema were advised by the chairman of the bench to be more careful in future. "I am informed that owing to your nationality you are liable to get excited"

It is perhaps difficult to realise that only fifty years ago men women and children, less than 100 miles from Oxford, were starving to death. Following an appeal by the Prince of Wales, the Lord Mayor of London set up a national relief fund at the Mansion House, and towns and cities all over the country were encouraged to participate. Oxford City Council responded without delay by setting up the Oxford Committee for the Relief of Distress in the Coalfields, appealing for food, clothing, bedding and money. Mr.R.R.Jordan of High St. Oxford visited the Rhondda on behalf of the Committee and on his return told the most appalling stories of starvation, tuberculosis and inadequate clothing. Early in 1929 40 sacks of clothing were sent to the Rhondda and 10 sacks to Maesteg. It soon became apparent that towns and cities such as Oxford could make the best possible contribution to the relief work by adopting a specific town or area, and this led to the adoption of Risca, Monmouthshire, in February 1929. Risca was adopted because it was the nearest coalfield to Oxford. Mr. Mason, squire of Eynsham Hall. instigated an imaginative training scheme for young men and boys from the Welsh Valleys, persuading local farmers to take in one or two for a few months, to learn the rudiments of farm work in order to prepare them for similar work in various parts of the British Empire. In January 1929 it was reported in the press that 250 men and boys from the coalfields had been found work in Oxford. Cash from the Oxford Committee was used by the Risca authorities to provide employment on public works. The chairman of the Oxford Committee, Mr.Bailey, suggested in one of his appeals to the community: "it might be possible to form a Welsh choir, which could give concerts, proceeds to go to the appeal fund". Prophetic words indeed. In November 1928 Lloyd George visited Oxford and addressed the Oxford Luncheon Club; his subject was not the plight of the Welsh mining industry however; he addressed the Club on the implementation of the Treaty of Versailles.

Picture of The Party 1931 : Conductor Glyn Jenkins from history of the oxford welsh male voice choir
The Party 1931 : Conductor Glyn Jenkins

 

Chapter 3