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Sunday 20th January 2013

This, I suppose should be read as a sequel for my previous entry, “In search of the Quarrymen.” The author CS Lewis worshipped and was buried in Headington Quarry, in Oxford but actually lived about half a mile away, in Risinghurst.

These days Risinghurst is a suburb on Oxford’s eastern edge, and is separated from Headington Quarry by the Eastern by-pass section of the Oxford Ring-Road. Unlike Headington Quarry there are fewer clues to its past. As you walk up the slight incline of Kiln Lane, you are unaware that the Limestone of the Quarry beneath your feet has now given way to clay, just the name of the street gives the hint of Risinghurst’s former industry.

During Roman times Kilns were established here, and many people, my father included, in Risinghurst have dug up coins dating from Tiberius (AD 14–37) to Honorius (AD 395–423). I remember Dad taking his coin to the Ashmolean Museum, to find out more, and the eight year old me being disappointed his coin wasn’t worth millions!

The vast majority of the houses were built by Benfield and Loxley in the 1930’s to take advantage of the burgeoning car plant two miles away in Cowley. The aim was to give the appeal of a Garden City, but while two pubs, and 2 parades of shops were included, curiously there was neither a school, or initially a church. A childhood memory is of mother walking me across the by-pass to attend school in Headington Quarry.

Another oddity was the question of whether you had a grass verge outside your house! A verge meant you were outside of Oxford, so your children would receive secondary education from the county, a bus ride out to Wheatley 5 miles away. No verge (as was my experience) meant you fell within the City of Oxford and so cycled to one of the secondary schools within Oxford itself. Us “City,” dwellers regarded compulsory agriculture lessons at Wheatley as highly amusing! I remember 2 children who lived a few yards into the county, walking to Cheney School in the city for around 2 months, and being turned away each and every day, as they wanted to be educated in the city but lived the wrong side of the boundary. Eventually the school relented, and they both were enrolled.

Perhaps it goes without saying that none of this particularly worried Clive Staples Lewis. He bought,””The Kilns,” just off Kiln Lane in 1930 and lived there until his death in 1963. Here, most of his most famous works were written such as “The Chronicles of Narnia,” apparently influenced by 3 evacuees, Margaret, Mary and Katherine who came to stay in 1939, escaping the Nazi bombing of London.

It would have been a wonderful place to stay, as the house is large and Lewis had bought 8 acres of land too, including a small lake formed from the Romans extracting clay centuries earlier. In 1969 The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust bought the lake and spinney, and described it thus,

“Steeply rising woodland includes beech, birch, alder, sycamore and larch. Dotted around the reserve are large sandstone boulders known as doggers on the slopes in the trees. The pond is full of aquatic plants and many toads migrate here to spawn in spring, when the garden is also full of birdsong. Moorhens and coots regularly nest here and other visitors include herons, kingfishers and warblers. Giant horsetail grows at the margins of a stream which flows in from the east and there are spectacular displays of dragonflies and damselflies in summer.”

I remember visiting as a primary school pupil and feeling it was a special treat just being there, with the dragonflies, and tadpoles to catch, but sadly I’ve never managed to visit The Kilns.

The California-based C.S. Lewis Foundation bought the house in the 1980s for £130,000 and has restored it to its original 1930s appearance – though there is no original furniture as it was auctioned off when the property was sold by Lewis estate. A bid to gain listed status for the house was rejected in February 2002, but the house is open by appointment only.

The Kilns now lies at one end of a close of large houses, called unsurprising Lewis Close. The other dwellings have a slightly uneasy relationship with their famous relative, on one hand there’s a notice on the street sign saying,” No Coaches,” but then again two houses are named “Lewis Lodge,” and “Narnia,” respectively!

I crept past and walked round the spinney and lake, and the memories flooded back despite me previously visiting during a hot summer. Perhaps I’ll return to this tucked away corner of Oxford in the summer and update my photos.