Guy Fawkes’ Lantern

The British don’t go in much for dates and anniversaries. We’ve heard of 1066 – and of course 1966; but who can name the feasts of St George or St Andrew, still less the actual day when the battle of Hastings was fought or England won the world cup? (23 April, 30 November, 14 October, 30 July for ... CONTINUE READING

The Gaffer’s Desk

Welcome, booklovers, to the inner sanctum! Basil Blackwell’s very own office. The room the ‘Gaffer’ (1889-1984) made his home for so many years. The hub, the heart, the epicentre of a book business that grew to be one of the biggest in the world. Behold: the bakelite telephone connecting him to an ever-expanding network of shop managers around ... CONTINUE READING

John Bigg’s Other Shoe

This month’s story was supposed to have been about the ruined abbey of Godstow, but the response to Bradshaw’s Hat has been so rich and so interesting that we feel compelled to postpone the Dissolution for a while. Martin Sheppard, distinguished publisher of History books, got straight to the point with a reminder of the semiotics of millinery in the ... CONTINUE READING

A Little More Allotment

Mrs Thatcher was not a friend of allotments, despite (or perhaps because of) being a grocer’s daughter from the famously potato-growing county of Lincolnshire. In July 1980 her government attempted to repeal Section 8 of the 1925 Act. Had she succeeded it would have meant abolition of the last remaining safeguards against local authorities wishing to dispose of ... CONTINUE READING

Allotments

The Right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Oxford, Mrs E F M Standingford, couldn’t quite believe her eyes as she stepped decorously through the gates of Osney, St Thomas and New Botley allotments, one warm August afternoon in 1986. Patiently waiting for her on the other side was Mr Trevor Green, and beside him a pumpkin of gargantuan proportions. ... CONTINUE READING

Swing Bridge

Once it was pivotal. Now, ivy-clad and rusting, it tells of an era long since past. Yet still it retains a grandeur and a fascination, like the mouldering carcass of some giant metal dinosaur. It’s a railway swing bridge. It dates from 1851. It was designed by none other than Robert, son of George 'Rocket' Stephenson. And it stands ... CONTINUE READING

Turl Street Kitchen

Not many loos these days are spanned by vaulted ceilings built of centuries-old stone and brick. Even rarer is it, on a call of nature, to encounter blackened mediaeval timbers and joists, let alone to discover a lavatory with a collection of logs outside, chopped and ready to take their place on an open fire. Situated on the ... CONTINUE READING

Flying Over Wolvercote

The members of Oxford Model Flying Club (which celebrated its half-century in 2019) consider Port Meadow to be one of their most important and highly prized gathering places. These aren’t people playing with annoying drones. They are cognoscenti, devoted to lovingly crafted replicas of the real thing. Their club meets monthly and abides by clear protocols. Flying – ... CONTINUE READING

Canalboats

Stretched out along the canal they lie, from Wolvercote to Hythe Bridge, in every shade and hue, from psychedelic hippy swirls, via sensible dark-blue college livery, to load-bearing gunmetal greys and rusty blacks. And it’s not just the canalboats themselves which fascinate. It’s what’s on their roofs, what’s on their decks, and what’s around them, on the tow-path and ... CONTINUE READING

Shark!

Residents of the quiet, well ordered and perfectly sensible thoroughfare that is New High Street, Headington, might have been surprised as they pulled back their bedroom curtains on the morning of 9 August 1986. Protruding out of the roof of Number 2, was the tail-fin of a giant shark. Twenty-five feet long and weighing 200 kilos, the fibreglass ... CONTINUE READING