SOAPSUD poured out of the drains; kids played football in the streets with a pig's bladder and there were so many shops that locals rarely ventured as far as Summertown – let alone Oxford city centre.

This was 'Soapsud Island' – better known today as the quiet north Oxford neighbourhood of Sunnymead.

Now resident Elaine Steane has compiled a collection of memories and photographs from the borough's forgotten past.

In an exclusive extract, she gives Oxford Mail readers a brief guided tour of her neighbourhood.

WHY Soapsud Island? The name is due to the previous thriving laundry businesses in this quiet area of North Oxford, known as Sunnymead.

Soapsuds frequently poured out of the drains from both the commercial laundries and the thriving ‘hand’ laundries of the residents in the ‘island’ of Harpes, Islip and Water Eaton Road.

As many of the houses were built by the Inness family, originally from Cumnor, this area was also nicknamed ‘Inness Island’.

It was the exodus of the dons from their colleges to North Oxford, once they were allowed to marry and have families, that led to a demand for various trades and services to support their lifestyles.

One of these needs was laundry services.

Many women in the area took in laundry, as one of the crucial features of the Sunnymead houses were that the south-facing ones had narrow gardens known as ‘six-sheeter’ gardens with washing lines long enough to take six double sheets.

The oral histories, some gathered to display at the annual street parties, also describe life during and after the Second World War, including the childhood games and fights in the streets, the wartime austerity, the work and recreation in the neighbourhood, the shops, dairy, cobbler, chimney sweep, pub, Cherwell Hotel, and a rag and bone man who gave children a goldfish in exchange for rags.

With so many local provisions, the islanders found most of their needs were met locally, so rarely ventured as far as Summertown or central Oxford.

Many of the residents worked locally either in the electric laundry or ‘The Rads’ (Oxford Radiators) although some of the men cycled to the Morris works in Cowley.

Women could be seen carrying baskets of laundry on their hips, taking it from the Banbury Road to the hand laundries in ‘Soapsud Island’.

I still have the large galvanised tin washtub that the previous occupant left behind when I bought my house in the 1970s.

Two local women worked as midwives and laid out the dead.

There were almost as many local schools as there were laundries.

Some of the most vivid memories were from school days – pupils running to the air-raid shelters with their small wooden chairs held over their heads to protect themselves; vigorous inter-street fights; street football with an inflated pig’s bladder (which smelt awful); bowling hoops and playing cricket across the road using an elderly neighbour’s walking stick as the wicket.

People eked out their wages by keeping pigs, chickens and ducks and growing their own vegetables either in their gardens or on the allotments nearby.

The sounds of the livestock were joined by the chug-chug as the engines of the electric laundry were fired up, its 7.55am hooter summoning workers and the clanging of its big metal gates; the hooter of the Oxford Radiators in Osberton Road and the bells for the eight o’clock mass at the convent where Diamond Court now stands.

The size of the electric laundry can be judged by the fact that it has been replaced by two blocks of flats, Harris Court and Drew House.

It was a space big enough to park the six Rolls Royce delivery vans, as well as the huge copper as big as one of the local terraced houses' front parlours.

The soot produced by its engines was good for growing vegetables, but the smuts stained the nappies of the next-door neighbours’ washing.

There are fond memories of the succession of street parties: the V.E. Day party in 1945, with feasting by all ages at the long trestle tables, had an effigy of Hitler strung across the road.

A big cake, iced in red, white and blue, was made for the Coronation in 1953, and Queen’s Silver Jubilee included a fancy dress competition.

These street parties continue each year with slow bicycle races, country dancing to live music in the street and bring-and-share lunches.

The stories of both late and present residents make these traditions live on.

Soapsud Island: Oral Histories from Sunnymead, Oxford, written and self-published by Elaine Steane (£4.99 or £6.49 inc p&p), is available from local bookshops, Oxo’s shop at 104 Islip Road, OX2 7SW or from

ISBN no 978-1-912804-38-2