How to research an Oxford street

Tracing the history of a street is like tracing a family tree: the only sure way is to work is backwards from the known to the unknown. This way, you will soon see if any of the street names or house numbers have changed over the years.

You need to watch out for the following five pitfalls in Oxford:

Suburbs that were villages prior to 1929

The present-day suburbs of Headington, Cowley, Iffley, and Summertown were not part of Oxford until 1929, so do not expect to find them listed under Oxford in directories until 1930 (and even St Clement’s did not become part of Oxford until 1835). This means that prior to Kelly's Directory of 1930, some roads start off in the city and end up in a village: for instance, the houses on the Woodstock Road up to the present 247 on the south side of Bainton Road were in the city, but north of that they are listed under the village of Wolvercote (with Wolvercote starting on the east side at No.320).

Parts of the present-day Oxford were in Berkshire

Oxford south of Folly Bridge, and parts to the west including Binsey, were not even in the same county, and will be found under Berkshire. The birth of children in these parts of Oxford was registered in the Abingdon registration district.

Not all of Oxford (even the older part in the centre) is in the Oxford Registration District

Some parts of Oxford such as the parishes of St John the Baptist in Merton Street and St Giles, as well as suburbs such as Summertown, Cowley, Headington, and Iffley, were in the Headington Registration district until 1930. Beware of saying that the occupants of your house were born in Headington because their birth was registered in that district.

Many Oxford roads were renamed

Many roads in these suburbs were renamed (each village tended to have a High Street and Church Street of its own, and duplication was removed). So in Summertown, for example, look for Albert Road (not Hobson Road); Church Street (not Rogers Street); and George Street (not Middle Way). Much of the renaming, though, did not take place until the 1950s:

Many roads were renumbered (some more than once)

Some streets were renumbered at much as three times in the twentieth century as they became more developed: this is particular true of long roads such as the Woodstock, Banbury, Headington, and London Road. Even streets which appear to have the same numbering system as they did in the 1840s have anomalies where the layout of buildings has been rejigged. The following link explains how the street-numbering system changed over the years:

Not all houses in a street will be in the same parish

The censuses are done by parish, and often one side of a street will be in one census book and one in another, and even St Giles' Street isn't all in St Giles's parish, while Oxford's High Street is in four parishes and Broad Street in three.

Sources viewable without a subscription from your own computer at home

Some of these links provide all the information you need on screen; but even those that only give an index can be helpful. You will, however, have to visit a library to view the street censuses on Ancestry and FindMyPast free of charge: see next section.

Identifying old postcards showing your street

Many postcards can be dated online via the number that bigger manufacturers printed on either the front or the back of the card, e.g.:


If you have a photograph showing your street that you want to date and it is not catalogued in the PIcture Oxon archive, if it has the name and address of the photographer you can narrow down the time-range by downloading the Picture Oxon PDF lists of Oxford and Oxfordshire photographers here.

StreetView on GoogleMaps goes back to 2008 and already can be useful for recent history of a building

Oxfordshire History Centre

This research centre in Cowley combines the former Oxfordshire Record Office and Centre for Oxfordshire Studies. Always closed on Sunday and Mondays, but it is also worth checking the above link for opening hours, as they sometimes have other closures.

Read their instructions for applying for a CARN card if you want to use original sources.

They have both primary and secondary sources, including:

  • Maps
    There are Ordnance Survey maps from 1876 to 1939 detailed enough to show every building in Oxford. Enclosure award maps are also extremely useful, as many streets still follow the lines of the awards.
  • Street directories, including Kelly’s
    If you are doing a detailed history of a street, It is advisable to photocopy the street from every available directory published since the street was numbered (namely 1839 to 1976). (Photocopying a directory for every five or ten years just doesn’t work; but of course you can avoid all this photocopying if you are able to do all your work at the Centre.) There are also earlier directories that include Oxford from 1841 in the county directory section where you will find the houses listed alphabetically under the inhabitants, and with house numbers. Before the penny post in 1840, very few streets were numbered; and villages such as Headington and Cowley that later became suburbs were not properly numbered until 1930.
  • Censuses
    FindMyPast and Ancestry (including the censuses of 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, and 1911) are all available on computer at the Oxfordshire History Centre (also at the central library).
  • Telephone directories
    Oxford telephone directories go back to the nineteenth century, but before the 1970s so few people had telephones that they will not necessarily be useful. But the ending of Kelly’s Directory in 1976 means that the period from 1977 to the present makes the later directories valuable if you want to check when a person or business moved away and the next one came in
  • Oxford Historical Society books
    All the books published by this society are invaluable: see lists of titles here
    Two books by H. E. Salter are particularly valuable and will take you painlessly back into the seventeenth century: his Survey of Oxford in 1772 gives the occupant and the measurement of the frontage of every house in the city of Oxford, taken in consequence of the Mileways Act of 1771; and his Oxford City Properties lists rental details of the numerous properties that were owned by the city up to 1855
  • Newspapers
    The whole of Jackson’s Oxford Journal is available on microfilm with a bound index for the years 1753 to 1790. See above for online indexes from 1791 to 1800, and full online version from 1800 to 1900 only.
  • Building plans
    The Oxford City Engineer’s Department Deposited Building Plans for 1875 to 1934 are available on microfiche. They list every street in Oxford and clarify which buildings were rebuilt, and when.
  • Parish registers
    Transcripts of nearly all Oxfordshire parish registers both in paper format and available on the computers (also available at central library). These often give clearer details of where people lived than older directories.
    Don’t expect to find a street all listed under one parish: Broad Street and the High, for instance, each comes under four different parishes, and even St Giles’ Street is not all in St Giles’ parish.
  • Oxfordshire wills
    Often just the date of probate in the printed index book is enough to establish why and when a house changed ownership.
  • Alumni Oxonienses The grander houses of Oxford were often occupied by academics, and biographical information can be found here. (If you subscribe to Ancestry, it is also available there.)
  • Electoral registers and title deeds
  • Books with old photographs. These are too numerous to list, but are invaluable in understanding how buildings (whether surviving or not) were laid out. For shops in central Oxford, for example, see Michael L. Turner and David Vaisey, Oxford Shops and Shopping.
  • Oxfordshire Health Archives
    If your house had a medical connection, you will find information here.

Oxfordshire County Library at the Westgate (former Central Library)

Most of the local history resources that used to be here have gone up to the Oxfordshire History Centre in Cowley, but this library has longer opening hours and can be more convenient. If you go to the top floor of the library you will find following:

  • One microfilm reader and a duplicate set of microfilm for the Oxford Journal Illustrated and the Oxford Times. It does not have Jackson's Oxford Journal 1800–1900, because it is available online (but you may still have to go up to Cowley for that if you need the editions in the 1890s missing from the British Library version). Hint: You don't have to pay to take photographs here, so snap the articles that interest you with your phone for transcribing later.
  • A duplicate set of all the parish register transcriptions on paper made by the Oxfordshire Family History Society, and also available online

For those with an Oxfordshire library card:

  • A large set of online resources on a large number of computers including. Ancestry, FindMyPast, Oxfordshire Family History births, marriage, and burials indexes, maps

  • Oxford College archivists
    If your house was built on land owned by a college, you will be able to find out more by visiting college archives.

Online Books

Google are putting more and more old books online, so it is always worth searching Googlebooks for topics that interest you. It is also well worth seeing what books are available at the Oxfordshire History Centre, and the Central Library at the Westgate has a reasonable selection of local history books that can be borrowed.

Bodleian Library

If you are a reader at the Bodleian Library, there is a large amount of material there. Even if you are not a reader, you can often find helpful information in its online catalogue.

There are also two printed books published by the Oxford Historical Society listing the Bodleian holdings of printed items such as Oxford auction catalogues. Remember that suburbs such as Cowley, Headington, and Summertown that were originally villages outside Oxford will be listed under “Individual localities” in the county volume, not the city one:

  • E. H. Cordeaux & D. H. Merry, A Bibliography of Printed Works Relating to the City of Oxford (1976)
  • E. H. Cordeaux & D. H. Merry, A Bibliography of Printed Works Relating to Oxfordshire (Excluding the University and City of Oxford) (1955)

House deeds

Don't forget your own house deeds, or those of your neighbours, which give useful information about the history of your house and usually reveal who originally owned the land.

Resources on Ancestry

If you subscribe to Ancestry, note that they have some Oxfordshire resources you may not have considered. For instance, they have the following directories online:

1830 Pigot´s Directory
1842 Pigot´s Directory
1847 Post Office Directory
1852 Gardner´s Directory of Oxfordshire
1864 Kelly´s Directory
1869 Kelly´s Directory
1876 Harrod´s Directory
1882-1889 Rusher´s Banbury List & Directory
1890-1896 Rusher´s Banbury List & Directory
1895 Kelly´s Directory of Oxfordshire
1903 Kelly´s Directory
1907 Kelly´s Directory
1911 Kelly´s Directory
1939 Kelly´s Directory

Also online on Ancestry are books relating to the University, such as the Brasenose College Register and Oxford Men and their Colleges 1880–1892

Researching Oxfordshire villages

Most of the above information is also relevant to researching a village. A good place to start is 1086:

Stephanie Jenkins