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The Return of Old Oxo

by Daniel Lawrance
from The Village Voice #2, March 1991

The Return of Old Oxo

The story begins in 1953, in Ripponden. To celebrate the Queen's Coronation, the Ripponden Urban District Old People's Welfare Committee organised a special parade from Slitheroe Bridge in Rishworth to Ripponden. It happened on the 2nd of June.

The climax of the parade was the roasting of a whole ox. It was (it is thought) the first ox-roasting in the country after World War II, because of continuing rationing. The only condition was that all the meat had to be given away, and must not be sold.

The site of the celebrations was Mill Fold, where the new Riverside Complex road has just been (eventually) built.

The roasting of a whole ox is a very complex and time consuming operation. The body was mounted on a large spit (turned by hand) above a sloped pan, which collected the dripping fats. These fats were kept liquid by a small heater, and were then recycled by a small pump, sprayed back onto the body to baste the meat as it cooked. The fire was built behind all this, and the results were apparently delicious.

After the celebrations (which included a grand ball at the Conservative Club that evening), the head of the 9 cwt ox still remained. It was stuffed and mounted, and put on display in the entrance hall of the Ryburn Rooms, where Ripponden Urban District Council met. In the late 1960s it was removed to make way for decorators, and ended up in a storage cupboard while the Council decided what to do with it.

In 1970 an 11-year-old boy, Richard Whiteley, approached the Council and asked if they would donate the head to his little natural history museum, but they refused. They insisted that it should be in public hands, on public display - so, naturally, it went back into the cupboard for another four years!

When local government was reorganised in 1974, Ripponden went over to Calderdale control, and there was a large finale buffet and disco in the Ryburn Rooms, at the end of which an announcement was made. The Chairman of the Council presented the ox head (by now known as 'Old Oxo') to the boy, as a gift. Richard kept the head in his museum for three years, when he was approached by Bill Berry, a butcher with a shop in King Cross, Halifax, who wanted to display it in his shop. It was loaned to him, and Old Oxo was lost to the Whiteleys.

Next, Brian Sampson, now landlord of the Griffin Inn in Barkisland, comes into the story. He was in the process of improving his old pub, the Brown Cow in Bingley, and after a discussion with Bill Berry, the ox head changed hands yet again and stayed in that pub for nearly 15 years. When the Sampsons moved to Barkisland at the end of 1990, Old Oxo moved with them, and is now proudly displayed in the refurbished Griffin Inn.

Several people helped me with this story, and my thanks go to them all. They include Hilda Gledhill, Brian and Chris Sampson, and a letter from Richard Whiteley's parents filled in the gaps.

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