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The Bridge Interviews

John and Sarah Horner

John and Sarah Horner

May 2024

Sometimes we get the impression that Fulbrook and Burford are two separate communities, separated by a narrow strip of water and leading their own lives. But then you meet a couple like Sarah and John Horner who have deep roots here and who have contributed greatly to life on both sides of the divide.

John was born in Dublin, the second of three children. He has an older brother Jack who lives in the far distant island of St Helena and younger sister Ann. Their father was a crane driver in Dublin docks but as a Protestant he saw little future in what was then an overwhelmingly Catholic society. He and his wife decided to emigrate, as many of the extended family did, and came here in 1953 when John was seven. Their intended destination was Canada, but on the way they stopped off in Burford to say goodbye to John’s Aunt Emily (Weir) who ran the Crypt Cafe in the building which now houses Manfred Schotten Antiques. They discovered that the Highway Hotel was for sale and, with a quick change of plan, bought it. John’s father initially worked nights at Smith’s Industries in Witney and days in the Highway. John was educated at Burford Primary School and at what was then called Burford Grammar School, where he was taught by (among others) Raymond Moody. He enjoyed all that Burford had to offer, especially sport. Out of school he led what he calls a “Just William” life, roaming around with Howard Agg and other contemporaries, swimming in the river and shooting rooks at the Priory (but only with the permission of the Mother Superior).

On leaving school at 16 he became articled as a trainee Building Surveyor to a firm in Oxford. At that time a great deal of restoration work was being done to the historic university buildings and one of his first jobs was to crawl under the lead roof of the Radcliffe Camera to inspect the timbers. In 1970 he started his own surveying business based in the Highway, soon taking on a partner to create Horner Allen Partnership (HAP).

John played for Stow Rugby Club before moving to play on the wing for Gloucester, one of the top English teams, from 1969 to 1974 before returning to play for Stow. Having sourced second hand barrack huts to create Stow’s first clubhouse in the late 1960s he later became chairman and at that time designed the new clubhouse and oversaw the construction which opened in 1983.

Sarah’s roots in our area go even deeper. She was brought up in Wyck Rissington, the youngest of five sisters, where her father was the Rector. In her youth she was a member of Stow Young Farmers and it was at an event at the rugby club that she met John. They were married in 1975. They have three daughters (clearly a female-dominated family). Chloe owns “Chloe’s cafe” in Charlbury, Verity works for Homeless Oxfordshire and Bryony is a cognitive behavioural therapist for the NHS in Bristol. All three were schooled in Burford and are a great source of pride to their parents.

In 1974 John’s parents were keen to retire but it was not easy to find a buyer as the Highway was a temperance hotel then, so John and Sarah took it over. In those days the hospitality industry in Burford largely closed down from November until Gold Cup week in March. They developed the hotel by making alterations, opening a restaurant in the cellar and by obtaining a full “on” licence. Sarah was front of house and John learned to cook in the evening while continuing his daytime job with HAP. It was hard work but, having built up the business, they were able to sell the hotel in 1978 -“phew!”

They bought Grafton House, just across the road, and did a lot of renovation to it. Sarah ran a clothes shop where La Bulle is now situated. HAP moved from their temporary home in Milton and then relocated to Sheep Street where Kendall & Davies’s offices are now. They also created two apartments above the shop, possibly Burford’s very first holiday lets (they are no longer used as such).

In 1980 the family, now two daughters with Bryony still to come, set up home in Fulbrook. Here they found a lively village atmosphere with two pubs, active amenities committee, annual Church fetes and plant sales among other village offerings. They moved into The Roarings right at the bottom of the hill leading towards Shipton where they all became very involved in village activities and made lifelong friends. The Roarings was a massive project, but a lovely family home (“Always a work in progress until the day we left” says John.). It was 26 years later when, the girls had grown up that they moved to their present home, Broadmead, at the other end of the village on Westhall Hill. The new home, originally an 18th century barn, became (you’ve guessed it) another massive renovation project. They extended the house upwards, sideways, forwards, perhaps not downwards. They love their home which commands a wonderful view towards Burford. All three daughters were married from there and now John and Sarah’s six grandchildren are regular visitors.

John’s work for the community includes four years as a governor of Burford Primary School followed by 20 years as a foundation governor of Burford School where he used his expertise to unravel some of the Foundation’s property matters, releasing tenancies, refurbishing buildings and acquiring permissions for changes of use. Sarah developed and applied interior design skills on a number of the developments. John had left the Foundation by the time the Cotswold Gate development on the Foundation’s land hove into view although his last advice before leaving was to hang onto the site for possible future development. At that time he envisaged it being used for a care home and some light industrial employment use rather than a large residential development. He and Sarah also created what is now Burford Library, moving it into a building they converted and so ensuring its survival. (The beams in the building have been dated as being made from trees felled in 1431, 30 years later than the ones in Reavley’s Pharmacy).

Having had an architectural and surveying practice in Burford and Fulbrook for over 40 years, the list of projects he has worked on is much too long to set out here: Warwick Almshouses, Brewery Yard, Christmas Court, National Trust properties, numerous Listed Buildings…the list goes on. It is literally true to say that he has left his mark on our area. Although he is now retired, John has helped with the design and development of the Archive building in Swan Lane.

We shall let him have the last word: “Fulbrook has been our home for 44 years, such a great and friendly village. Our three amazing daughters have been brought up and educated here and although we haven’t travelled very far in our lives, we feel very proud, lucky and privileged to be rooted in this special community.”


John and Sarah Horner
John and Sarah Horner
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