THE CHARACTER of a street reflects the occupations of the community that lives and works there. Ock Street was once a thriving working- class area with malthouses, breweries and pubs cheek by jowl with chapels, sackcloth-weaving sheds and tanneries.

William Enock , who was born in Cumnor, settled here in the 1880s and established himself as a coal and wood merchant. Coal had become a much cheaper fuel thanks to the railways and canals, particularly the Wilts and Berks Canal which transported coal from the Somerset coalfields to its Thames-side wharf.

In 1891 his household at no.73 Ock Street comprised himself, wife Mary, two teenage sons William and Tom, and a twenty-five year old labourer from Oxford.

Next to his house was the entrance to Court no. 7, which contained several small cottages plus a large yard hidden from view by the terrace of houses on the street frontage. The yard housed his business operations. William’s main competitor in town was Joseph Copeland of East St Helen Street who had coal depots at both Abingdon and Didcot stations.

Initially William’s four sons were involved in the family business but three of them, George, Tom, and William junior, moved in to the licensed trade: George to the Plasterers’ Arms in West St Helen Street and William to the Old Bell, ie the King’s Head and Bell, in East St Helen Street.

Tom remained in Ock Street as landlord of the Crown next to Tomkins’ almshouses only a few doors away from the family home.

In 1903 Tom was advertising himself in Hooke’s Abingdon Almanack and Directory as a jobmaster offering for hire fashionable small carriages such as Landaus and Broughams, with the attraction of ‘greys for weddings’. In the same year his brother William was running a livery and bait stable stables in ‘Abbey Mews’. He could be contacted by telephone, telegram or in person at 7, Stert Street. Both brothers specialised in weddings and funerals.

In 1905 Abingdon Volunteer Fire Brigade took delivery of its new steam fire engine – the “steamer” – and William Enock took over the contract of ‘horsing the engine’ when the jobmaster, Mr Tombs of the Old Bell, gave his notice. The fees payable were 10 shillings for town fires and £3-3-0d for country fires.

He held the contract for ten years, supplying the horses and driving the team until a motor tractor was bought to tow the steamer. His contribution to the service was recognised by the presentation of a clock.

When his parents died, Tom moved back to the family home. Horses became superfluous as carriages and carts were replaced by motor vehicles but Tom moved with the times, advertising a ‘Motor Hearse and Cars for Hire’. He was succeeded in turn by son and grandson.

The coal merchant’s survived as a family business until the 1990s having operated for over a hundred years. It was still possible even then to trace the circle in the yard where the horses had been exercised. The final owner was his grandson John. It was one of the last surviving family businesses in the street and probably the last coal merchant in town.

In 1998 excavations took place in the yard prior to redevelopment which provided pottery evidence dating from the 12th century. Stone foundations of buildings from the 13th and 14th centuries were uncovered on the street frontage adding to the history of this part of Ock Street which lay outside the medieval town ditch.

The yard, occupying a deep and wide plot next to the Conservative Club, became a small mixed development of houses and flats called Ock Mews. Ironically, an earlier planning application in the 1960s had been turned down on the grounds it would generate extra traffic on Ock Street. Admittedly this was before the opening of the first phase of the A34 Abingdon Bypass in the early 1970s.