Odds & Ends

Memories of Bloxham

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My name is Russell Cairns, I was born at the War Memorial Hospital in Chipping Norton shortly before the end of WW2. I grew up in Bloxham, moving there, with my parents and brother, from Banbury at age 10 in 1954. My parents were H. H. E. P. (Pat) Cairns and Mrs. D. I. (Rene) Cairns. We first moved to Ashwell House, Stonehill, then to Hartwell House, Banbury Road and, finally, to Cotswolds, Steeple Close.

When we first moved to Bloxham, I attended the Bloxham C of E Primary School. The headmaster, at that time, was Monty Hirons and he helped me a lot in preparing for my 11+ examinations. I remember that the bells in Bloxham Church were re-cast while I was at primary school and I clearly remember hearing them peal out for the first time after they were re-hung.

My memories of Ashwell House include wanting my father to open up the tunnel that led off the cellar in a southerly direction. Unfortunately, he never did and I never found out where the tunnel actually led. I would be very interested to learn whether any subsequent owners ever opened the tunnel and, if so, what they found.

The Evans brothers, from Hook Norton, used to come to our door with their fresh fish and grocery van every week.

Every Tuesday evening a fish and chip van would come through Bloxham and I would walk down and get “a shilling bag of both” – fish and chips for a shilling! I’m guessing they cost a little more than that now!

I remember taking our Christmas turkey to Haynes’ Bakery each Christmas morning to be cooked and, especially, the first year that my mother covered the turkey in aluminium foil which old Mr. Haynes had never seen before and insisted on removing because he thought it would burn. I recollect that John Haynes (the son) was the church organist at that time. This would have been in about 1958 I think. I also remember being sent down to the bakery every Saturday morning to get a loaf of bread, fresh from the oven – still the best tasting bread I have ever had.

After leaving primary school, I attended Magdalen College School at Brackley from 1956 until 1962, initially as a day pupil and subsequently as a boarder. I had my first paid job, for a week, working for the GPO as a temporary postal delivery person, helping the normal “postie” Mrs. Liversidge, during the Christmas period in 1961. The post office was run by Mr. Connell (I can’t remember his first name) and I was quite sweet on his daughter, Lorna (never got a date, though!). I got paid £5.3s 6d (£5.17p) for a bit over 60 hours’ work that week. That year there was quite a lot of snow leading up to Christmas and it got seriously cold right after – cold enough for pigeons to freeze while flying.

l to rt - Stewart and his wife and their two sons; centre Russell and Pauline, and right Russell’s mum with their two daughters.  Family photograph taken in 1995

l to rt – Stewart and his wife and their two sons; centre Russell and Pauline, and right Russell’s mum with their two daughters.
Family photograph taken in 1995

Once I turned 17, my father took me to the Red Lion pub on High Street where I learned to like beer! The Red Lion became my favourite pub and I have fond memories of Sunday morning get-togethers with our friends. One particular memory was one Sunday morning when we were talking with our friend Bill Blakey who noticed that there was a clinical thermometer in my father’s breast pocket. Bill whipped it out and stuck it in his own mouth, pronouncing that his own temperature was normal. My father’s rejoinder was “That’s good, you’re a lot better than the pig in whose fundamental orifice that thermometer was inserted half an hour ago”, (well, his actual words were somewhat more succinct and to the point, so to speak). I seem to recall Bill making a rather quick trip to the loo!

Following secondary school, I started work at Martins Bank in Banbury under Manager Bob Raw. My first salary was £360 per annum. With Martins Bank I worked in Banbury, Coventry, Liverpool, London and Northampton before Martins was taken over by Barclays in 1969 and I was offered an overseas secondment.

I left England on 3rd January, 1970 flying on Qantas flight QF581 and spent the next four years as a tax haven banker with Barclays in Nassau, Bahamas. Whilst in Nassau I became heavily involved in air-sea rescue (on a voluntary basis). I returned, briefly, to England in 1974, representing the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association at the Bahamas themed Boat Show at Earls Court in London that January. This happened during the infamous miners’ strike (so Earls Court was absolutely freezing!) and during the Irish “Troubles” which resulted in several bomb scares (and one actual bomb that blew up an expensive boat) during the Boat Show.

I went back to Nassau later in 1974, working for another international bank, one that was half owned by Howard De Walden Estates – which, at that time, was the freehold owner of most of Harley Street and Wimpole Street in London.

On 3rd January, 1978 (3rd January is a propitious date for me) I married Pauline Hawthorne (UK born but raised in the Bahamas) at St. Christopher’s Church in Lyford Cay – a gated community at the western end of New Providence Island.

A wedding present from my parents was a set of four water colour paintings of Bloxham by Horace Gillett. These still have pride of place on my bedroom walls. Pauline and I left the Bahamas late in 1978 and lived and worked in the USA (with a few months in France) until 1985 when we migrated to Australia.

Our first daughter, Briony, was born in the USA (Atlanta) in 1981 and our second daughter, Rhiannon, was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1988. In 1991 we moved from Melbourne to Hobart, Tasmania. Pauline died in January, 2014 and I continue to live at Gordon, about 50km south of Hobart. My daughters both live and work in Melbourne, so I don’t see them often.

cairns2_cOf possible interest to some may be the fact that my father was the navigator in the lead Mosquito bomber that conducted the Operation Oyster raid on 6th December, 1943. The pilot of his aircraft was Wing Commander H. I. Edwards, VC who eventually retired (as Air Marshall Sir Hugh Edwards) from the RAF and returned to his native Western Australia where he served as Governor of that state. A Google search for Operation Oyster reveals quite a lot of information about this event including video showing Edwards and my father both before and after the raid.               My mother was a prominent member of the Banbury Rural District Council for some years and, subsequently, served on the Oxfordshire County Council.

My parents sold the Steeple Close house in 1979 and moved to New Zealand to be near my brother, Stewart. My father died in 1984 and my mother commissioned a park bench as a memorial to him, located near the intersection of High Street and Courtington Lane and facing towards the church, which was one of his all-time favourite places. My mother died in 1998 at the age of 93. My brother, Stewart, still lives in New Zealand and is currently working as a dairy industry consultant in Indonesia.

My email address is russell.p.cairns@bigpond.com and I would love to hear from anyone in Bloxham who might remember me.

Russell Cairns – by email from his home in Tasmania.


One Comment

  1. Mark Wills says:

    Was quite interested in reading this article. Although I have never met Mr Cairns, I am Mr Connell’s (from the post grandson. His name was Jack, and my name was Cynthia (nee Mallet). Lorna is my mother, and married Peter Wills from Banbury, my father.

    I now live in Bloxham, in my Nan and Grandads old house, where the bench Mr Cairns refers to is only couple of 100 yards away.

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