There may not be a Plato Place or Socrates Street in Oxford; but how many towns outside Greece can boast an Aristotle Bridge?
No one knows for sure how the name came about, but it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Philosophy dons once strolled here on their way to Port Meadow and Wolvercote, discussing Logic and Epistemology as they went. Aristotle’s method of teaching was, after all, peripatetic.
Perhaps they paused to refresh themselves at Dolly’s Hut? There has been a watering spot here for centuries – since pre-Classical times in fact, when this was the site of an ancient well-spring. Dolly, alas, turns out not to be a buxom barmaid but a whiskery Victorian landlord – Mr William Dolley, who presided over the establishment from 1852-1877. Once his successors had sold up, the hut was demolished, to be replaced in 1937 by the solid red brick (and magnificent grouting) of The Anchor Inn.
It’s still a prime meeting point, but considerably more sedate than in times past. Once its clientele would have been bargees from Hayfield wharf, in need of beer after unloading tons of coal from the canal. Now it offers frothy cappuccino and light lunches to mums who have dropped off their children at Phil & Jim primary school, elderflower pressé to vegetable cultivators on their way back from Trap Allotments, bowls of water to dogs who have enjoyed careering round the nearby park, and something uplifting for escapees from the rather sad box of pale-blue 1970s offices across the road.
In 1996 the humpback bridge was widened to carry cars to the residential estate known as Waterside, and a set of traffic lights was installed. But the canal world has not disappeared completely. Hayfield Road, a long terrace of workers’ cottages with front doors opening flat onto the street, looks much as it did in sepia postcards from a century ago. And, as a reminder of its mechanical heritage, there is still a busy garage in operation – Aladdins, where Gill and her ever-ready team polish our car-lamps so lustrously.
Next to it, distinctly post-industrial but harking back to the times of Aristotle, is the Hayfield Road Delicatessen, where beautiful Mediterranean snacks are served – hummus, dolmades, gigantes – following the noble tradition pioneered here half a century ago by Nikolaos Vernicos and his son Manos – Greek as it happens.