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Culture

Oxfordshire's Finest: Famous Oxfordshire Women

Dusty Springfield, Agatha Christie, PD James, Jane Burden, Pam Ayres, Miriam Margolyes & more!


She took part in the Atlantic rowing race and successfully completed 3,044 nautical miles with her son from Tenerife to Barbados. She then took part in the Polar Race in 2007 in which she set two world records

Oxford has a long list of famous past and present residents. Housing one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, it is natural that a few famous names have lived within the county boundary. Lists of famous Oxonians are often dominated by males. However, there is also a long list of notable females to hail from this area as well.

Agatha Christie, Wallingford

One of the world’s most prolific writers, Agatha wrote around 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections and 17 plays, including the longest running West End play ever.

She is also noted by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the best-selling novelist of all time.

Nevertheless, she lead a modest life, often choosing to drink water at social events and spending the last years of her life in a pleasant but not ostentatious house in Nettlebed, near Wallingford.


Nancy Mitford, Swinbrook

Although her sisters are also notable, and not always for the right reasons, Nancy is the best known writer of the family. Her 1949 novel Love in a Cold Climate was serialised in the 1980s, attracting a new audience to her work.

She grew up in the family home, Asthall Manor, in Swinbrook and later lived with her family in a smaller house after the manor was sold. She wrote throughout her life and is buried in the family plot in the village.

PD James, Oxford

Born to a local tax inspector in Oxford, Phyllis Dorothy James, started writing in the 1950s after her husband returned mentally ill from World War II and spent much of his time in hospital.

Her most famous novels featured the character Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard and many of her books were best sellers. She was also created a life peer, Baroness James of Holland Park, in 1991.

Jane Burden, Oxford and Kelmscot

Jane was the daughter of a stableman and grew up in the Hollywell Street area of Oxford.

Her background was, by all accounts, a poor one and her father had to scrape a living for the family as a stableman.

Jane’s fortunes changed when she caught the eye of artist William Morris. She became a muse for the famous Pre-Raphaelite movement and she personally used her new wealth to get an education, which had previously been beyond her means.

Sarah-Jane Cooper, Oxford

Married to a high-class grocer called Frank Cooper, Sarah-Jane made her first batch of marmalade at her home in Oxford High Street in 1874. It was sold in her husband’s shop and soon became very popular. In 1903, Frank Cooper had a striking looking factory built to supply the newly acquired world-wide demand for the marmalade.

Maureen Gardner, Cowley

Born and brought up in the Florence Park area of Cowley, Maureen competed in flat running at the 1946 European Athletics championships and turned her attention to the hurdles for the 1948 games, narrowly missing out on the gold medal. She picked up silver in the 1950 European Athletics Championship as well before returning to have a family.

Felicia Skene, Oxford

Born to a well-off family, one of Felicia’s early friends was Florence Nightingale. Felicia shared her interest in improving health and hygiene and when cholera broke out in Oxford in 1854, she volunteered to work with a band of nurses.

Felicia would later be the first female visitors of prisons and fought for improved conditions within the prison system in Britain.

Janice Meek, Chipping Norton

Janice settled in Chipping Norton in 1983. In 1997 she took part in the Atlantic rowing race and successfully completed 3,044 nautical miles with her son from Tenerife to Barbados. She then took part in the Polar Race in 2007 in which she set two world records.

A year later, she was head hunted to take part in an expedition to the North Pole to highlight climate change. She has broken four world records in her lifetime and is now a motivational speaker.

Mary Augusta-Ward, Oxford

Born in Australia in 1851, Mary moved to Oxford at 16. She began her career as a writer with a book for children, which was published in 1881.

She also worked to establish organisations to educate the poor and the Mary Ward Centre in London, which still operates today.

She also visited the trenches during World War I and wrote three books about her experience and the political situation in the UK during the war years.

Dusty Springfield, Henley-on-Thames

Born in London, Dusty had a successful career as a singer and was iconic of the 60s London look.

She had six top 20 singles and is a member of both the US and the UK Music Hall of Fame.

Her collaboration with The Pet Shop Boys later in her career brought her to the attention of younger audiences. She lived in Henley in the 1990s and there is a memorial dedicated to her in the churchyard of St Mary’s.

Cressida Dick, Oxford

Born in Oxford in 1960, Cressida had a successful career as a police constable.

She joined the accelerated promotion course in 1995 and rose to become the highest ranked female in the Metropolitan Police.

She later served as the commander for Oxford for three years and in 2013 she was named as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK in a poll by Women’s Hour.

Barbara Woodhouse, Headington

Born in Oxford, Barbara grew up in Dublin but returned back to the city aged 9. She attended Headington School and established Headington Riding School. She rose to fame when she started to make television appearances related to her dog training skills. At one point she had her own TV show and she remains a household name today.

Martha Lane Fox, Oxford

Born in Oxford and educated at Oxford High School, Martha joined an IT consultation firm after attending Oxford University.

In 1998 she founded lastminute.com and became a multi-millionaire.

She has served on several boards and works on various public service digital projects.

She also sits in the House of Lords after she was made Baroness Lane-Fox of Sogo in 2013, becoming the youngest female member of the House.

Katharine Feilden, Headington

Born to a rich family, Katharine paid for the construction of two wooden huts containing 40 hospital beds for recovering soldiers from the front at the Wingfield Military Hospital, which is now known as Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.  By 1917, she had also become the Commandant of the hospital and kept a life-long interest in the institution.

Dame Iris Murdoch, Oxford

Iris Murdoch first came to Oxford to study at Somerville and after a short time working with the Government, she returned to study philosophy at Cambridge before returning to Oxford as a fellow of St Anne’s college.

She has been named as the 12th greatest novelist of all time and published 26 novels. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her literary contributions.

Dorothy L Sayers, Oxford

Dorothy was born at the Master’s House at Christ Church College as her father was the choir master.

After studying at Somerville College, she published her first book of poetry in 1916. She then branched out into detective fiction, for which she became best known. She also wrote many academic texts and plays.

Barbara Toy, Chipping Norton

Barbara settled in Chipping Norton after a lifetime of adventure.

Born in Australia, she took part in six major expeditions between 1950 and 1961, all of them in traditional style Land Rovers. She remained linked to Land Rover all her life and was Vice President of the Land Rover Register and did her last expedition at the age of 81.

Miriam Margolyes, Oxford

Born in Oxford, Miriam Margolyes is one of the UKs best loved actresses. After attending Oxford High School she headed for ‘the other university’ where she read English. Her career started in the Cambridge footlights and she has since had starring roles in various major films. Her most famous role is as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter film series.

Pam Ayres, Faringdon

Born in the village of Stanford in the Vale, Pam worked as a Civil Servant and served in the Women’s Royal Air Force before appearing on Opportunity Knocks with her poetry.

She soon became the nation’s best known poet and made many TV appearances. She still performs her poetry live around the country.

 

This is by no means a complete list and has not even mentioned those notable females who lived in Oxford to attend the university. Oxfordshire certainly seems to bring out the best in its residents.

 

Top Image - Dusty Springfield

Middle Image - Jane Burden

Bottom Image - Miriam Margolyes

 

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