Morris Oxford already has nearly two thousand subscribers, simply via word of mouth. All of these good people – all of YOU good people – are bubbling with Oxford stories to relate. So we’ve added this FEEDBACK section. If you have any comments, reflections, anecdotes or photographs, do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
Edward Lear was only sixteen when James Sadler died, but who knows if the Oxford aeronaut inspired this charming drawing, sent in by Elizabeth English?
Have you ever walked down Brasenose Lane and wondered what lies to the other side of the wall? Here’s part of the answer … It comes from Lina Gibb who describes herself as ‘a Bodleian subject consultant with an old iPhone’. More of her fine photographs can be seen at https://www.instagram.com/linafromoxford/
The lighting of Brasenose Lane is an important aspect of its charm and character. Liz Woolley explains how a small group of dedicated people rescued us from ‘the last word in sheer ugliness’.
Four of your pictures feature the lovely scrolled lamp brackets designed by Robert Maccoun of the Oxford Civic Society in the 1970s.
In his book The Erosion of Oxford James Stevens Curl, one of the founders of the Society, noted that old street lamps of pleasing design, fixed to the walls of buildings, were rapidly being replaced by “the last word in sheer ugliness”: modern lights, many shaped like ping-pong bats, on stand-alone poles which quickly became plastered with signs. Moreover, these replacement lamps were in an unsightly and bewildering variety of styles; those along the middle of St Giles had no fewer than four different kinds of fittings, resulting in “virtual anarchy”. The Civic Society’s working group on street lighting produced a booklet Street Lighting in Oxford, researched and written by Thomas Braun. It advocated the retention and rehabilitation of Windsor lanterns, which were being taken down and sold off to the public from the City Council’s depot on Nelson Street in Jericho for £7 each.
As a result of Braun’s study, the City Engineer’s Department began to work in close consultation with the Society’s working group and with John Ashdown, the newly-appointed City Conservation Officer. It was decided to use a modern replica of the old Windsor lantern in the minor roads of the city centre and in Old Headington. What was needed was a way of attaching these lanterns to the walls of historic buildings. A member of the group, Robert Maccoun, designed a special wrought iron wall-mounted bracket, as shown in your photographs. Maccoun was an American engineer who lived on a former college barge and repaired boats for a living. He got on particularly well with Derek Parfit, the distinguished Oxford philosopher and convenor of the working group; both men cared deeply about the detail and appearance of historic Oxford. Parfit offered to pay for prototypes of Maccoun’s lamp brackets to be manufactured and they were installed on the High Street frontage of Parfit’s college, All Souls, and other nearby locations. Eventually the replica Windsor lanterns and Civic Society brackets were adopted in most of the small city streets and in Old Headington.
Your readers can learn more of the story, and of the Oxford Civic Society’s many other activities to preserve and enhance Oxford, in Changing Oxford: Fifty years of Oxford Civic Society 1969 – 2019, downloadable from the Society’s website at https://www.oxcivicsoc.org.uk/what-we-do/communications/books-and-pamphlets/ – LW
Edith Gollnast, inimitable illustrator of Oxford, worked for many years in Oxford’s town planning department, with particular responsibility for historic buildings and conservation areas. She makes a very important distinction: a cobble is not the same as a sett.
“Cobblestones are natural, hard, round, or roughly oval shaped stones that have been washed smooth over the years by the action of sea water. Radcliffe Square is a predominantly cobbled surface on its south, west and north sides.
”Setts are traditionally cut from granite, very hard wearing, usually square when laid on the ground. They can be tumbled to soften the appearance of their edges. Bath Place features setts and stones for paving and drainage channels – with a short cobble strip margin on the west.
“Flooring stones can also take the form of a brick shape, usually brick sized but it can be more slender. Brasenose Lane’s drainage channels are stone setts and stone brick shapes while the lane’s surface is asphalt. There are no cobbles.” – EG
Stephanie Jenkins brings a diabolical dimension to the Brasenose Lane story! She has referred us to these two spooky links:
Thanks are also due to Professor Bob Evans who draws our attention to an alternative version (in two separate tales) in J. Mordaunt Crook’s Brasenose: the Biography of an Oxford College (2008) pp 189 and 213. The suggestion is that the second scandal of 1840 can be seen as ‘marking the College’s passage from a riotous Regency age to a sober Victorian one’.
Meanwhile, a legion of Latinists wrote in to point out that, evocative though it might be to imagine scavenging medieval dogs, the term ‘kennel’ is in fact derived from canalis meaning ‘pipe, groove, channel’ (from canna, a ‘cane, or reed’).
Revered publishing consultant, Adrian Bullock, has this memory of the Gaffer:
“In 1978 I published Ten Oxford Poets, an anthology of poems by poets living in or near Oxford. I wrote to the ‘Gaffer’, asking him for the name of the buyer I should see to sell copies to. A day or so later I received a letter from him asking me to come and see him at 8 a.m. in his office in Broad Street (now part of the coffee shop on the first floor, where there is still the fireplace). I was taken to his office where he told me that Blackwell’s would take 50 copies immediately and that he would let me have a shop window display for my books for 3 days on publication. He told me that he wanted to do this as what I was doing reminded him of the annual collection of poetry by Oxford undergraduates he had started publishing in 1910 as Oxford Poetry, and which continued publication with some gaps in the interwar years right up till 1951.” – AB
Adrian also dug out this charming advert for Elliston & Cavell, ‘Oxford’s Fashionable Shopping Centre’ as mentioned by Jane Mollison below.
Taube Marks (second from right in the photo below) worked at Blackwell’s for more than eleven years. She has this recollection of the Gaffer and of her time there.
“Sir Basil used to come to work in a black Bentley, driven by his chauffeur, a ruddy-faced local by the name of Cuthbert. Each day he would make a tour of the office and say hello to staff. When the Gaffer reached my desk he would always ask me the same question: ‘Are you any good?’ To which I always replied: ‘My mother thinks so.’
“I joined the firm in 1976 as a bibliographer then editor before going on to become research assistant to Blackwell Technical Services. I think my name had something to do with my advancement … Sir Basil’s son Julian (later Chair of the business) was also known as Toby. I think he was surprised that someone else shared the same name – let alone a woman!” – TM
The Story evoked a more poignant memory for the artist, Jane Mollison
“On the wall of the Gaffer’s office is a family photo taken in 1935 featuring the three Blackwell girls. My grandfather owned Elliston & Cavell, the main department store in Oxford at the time, and his son – my uncle – Tom Rose, was being trained in Paris and New York to continue the family business. He was close to one of the Blackwell girls, and there were hopes of a dynastic alliance. Alas, Tom was killed at Arnhem in War II. As a result the store was eventually sold to Debenhams. What will become of it now?!” – JM
Tom Hassall has this wonderful remembrance of the Gaffer’s assistance in a very important mission.
“It was good to see the Gaffer’s Desk on the latest Morris Oxford post. I have a special feeling for that desk.
“In April 1976 I was appearing at a public enquiry into a proposed development at Wallingford Castle. I urgently needed to provide a reference from a book (W.F. Grimes, The Excavation of Roman and Medieval London) as part of my evidence. There wasn’t enough time to borrow a copy from a library, but I knew it was on sale at Blackwell’s. I realised that if I bought a copy as soon as the shop opened I could just about manage to get to the enquiry before it resumed. I did not know what time the shop officially opened, so I went round at about 8.00 am in order to be able to go straight in as soon as I could. I had only just arrived when a large car pulled up and Sir Basil got out. I rushed up to him and said: ‘Sir Basil, I would like to buy a book from you.’ He immediately replied: ‘Find the book and you can come up to my office and pay for it.’ This I duly did. At my request the Gaffer, sitting at his desk inscribed it: Bought from Basil Blackwell himself, 14 April ’76.
“At that moment one of the senior members of staff came into the office. Sir Basil turned to him and said: ‘I have just sold a book,’ at which the other replied: ‘Oh Gaffer, what a wonderful way to start the day.’ Needless to say the book is now one of my most treasured possessions. Furthermore we won the enquiry and Wallingford Castle has been preserved intact for future generations.” – TH
Those interested in castles, *must* check out this magnificent model of Wallingford Castle – and imagine what might have been. https://www.wallingfordmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions-2021
Far, far from the Gaffer’s desk, this was spotted at Six Mile Lake, Ontario, and sent in by marine archaeologist Nick Bartos.
We recently featured a video of the giant bell, Great Tom, in full swing. Little did we imagine that the Crotch Crescent story would prompt a further tintinnabulatory revelation, this time from no less an eminence than John Lloyd, the legendary producer of Blackadder and founder of QI. He writes:
“William Crotch (1775-1847) was a musician and musical genius. He started playing his father’s organ at the age of two. There is a painting of him wearing a dress, aged three, in the National Portrait Gallery. Aged four, he played for the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace. He was Organist of Christ Church at 15, Oxford Professor of Music at 22 and the first President of the Royal Academy of Music (1822-1832). He wrote the well-known hymn ‘Lo, star-led chiefs Assyrian odours bring’. Less well-known is his ‘Experiment in Motivic Saturation’, which theorists still pore over. His lasting legacy is having written the Westminster Chimes of Big Ben.” – JL
Two final reflections on street names, before we leave this fascinating topic. Thanks, as ever, to Colin Bundy and Liz Woolley:
“You didn’t mention Turl Street. Until 1722, it was accessed through a ‘twirling gate’ in the old city wall – hence Turl. And, your readers probably know this already – forgive me – but one of the better donnish jokes asks: ‘How is Turl Street like the Anglican Church? Because it runs from Broad to High – and bypasses Jesus entirely.’
“On the North Parade/South Parade story: in his entry on North Parade, Hibbert dismisses as ‘myth’ the civil war explanation. But his South Parade entry is fun. In the nineteenth century the road was called Double Ditch and Prospect Road. In 1930, when Summertown became part of the city, it was renamed South Parade ‘supposedly on the suggestion of a German professor said to be an authority on Oxford history’ who claimed that it had been the patrolling area of the Parliamentarians during the siege of Oxford.” – CB
“I’m afraid there is no evidence for the Parliamentarian/Roundheads idea. There were civil war parade and exercise grounds, but these were on Port Meadow and the ‘New Parks’. The name ‘North Parade’ was most likely chosen when the estate was laid out in the 1830s, simply to indicate a development north of the then city. Similarly ‘South Parade’ was the southern edge of Summertown, an ‘island village’ which developed in the 1820s and ’30s, far out of the city and unconnected to it until decades later. ‘North Parade Avenue’ gradually became known simply as ‘North Parade’. Miss Margaret Lee, the formidable headmistress of nearby Wychwood School, who lived at 77 Banbury Road, deprecated the use of the word ‘Avenue’ as being redundant and pretentious. It ‘merely excites ridicule,’ she declaimed: ‘No-one ever calls the street by that name.’” – LW
Jerry Hibbert, the celebrated animation director, whose father Edward and uncle Christopher co-edited the magnificent *Enyclopaedia of Oxford* has views about street names.
“I was on the Parish Council here (before being rudely expelled from it) and we were tasked with naming a new road in the village (Southrop). I was strongly in favour of lifting a name from our War Memorial, but others felt that ‘Stunfiel’ (or something like it) was better – the old word for a stony field, which is what it was before the builders ruined it. That motion was passed, and it went before Gloucestershire Highways for approval – where it failed on the grounds that ambulance drivers and firemen wouldn’t understand Stunfiel, spell it wrongly and end up going to the wrong address in an emergency. They said it had to be ‘Stonesfield’, which it now is, and which I think is so crushingly dull.” – JH
Talking of the Encyclopaedia, here’s a typically informative entry (p.72) about one of Oxford’s oldest and best-known streets:
“Now partly paved, the street runs between the High and Broad Streets on the east side of Radcliffe Square … Early spellings included Kattestreete (c.1210) Catte Street (1402) Cate or Kate Street (17th century) and Cat Street (18th century). It was once referred to as the street of mouse-catchers, but for 500 years it housed the headquarters of the bookbinders. In the 14th century it was a narrow alley with shops and small tenements on both sides. A hall called Saint Catherine’s (or Cat Hall) stood in the street in the 15th century. It being presumed that Cat was the diminutive of Catherine, the name was made ‘respectable’ by being turned into St Catherine’s Street in the 19th century. The poet Robert Bridges, in the preface to Herbert Salter’s Street Names of Oxford (1921) wrote: ‘If the silly modernism St Catherine Street were done away with and the historic Cat restored there is I believe no single human being whose affairs would be in any way affected.’ The Highways Committee of Oxford City Council proposed that the name revert to Cat Street and this was agreed by the Council in December 1930, but with the older spelling of Catte. Until its southern end was restricted to pedestrians in 1973 the road was heavily used by motor traffic on its way from the east to North Oxford.”
We are fortunate indeed to have in our midst several outstanding local historians. Stephanie Jenkins (Kennett Road) has compiled an extensive set of resources for researching your own street name (as well as identifying the many difficulties to do with changing boundaries and systems of classification). She points out that the eponymous William Crotch was far from alone.
“Did you know that there was a set of sixteen streets in Marston named after musicians (Crotch being just one of them) http://www.headington.org.uk/history/marston_history/misc/street_names.htm
“We may think we recognise the musical names of two of the sixteen streets: Taverner Place and Purcell Road – but these refer to long-gone Oxford organists, John Taverner (c.1490-1545) at Christ Church, and Daniel Purcell (c. 1670-1717) at Magdalen.”
Stephanie also goes on to solve the mystery of Toot Hill Butts. (Thanks also to Penny Drayton who confesses to having once lived in Crumps Butts, Bicester.)
“The Headington Enclosure Award of 1804 says, ‘Also one other public Carriage Road and Driftway of the like breadth of forty feet numbered V [= Green Road] likewise branching out of the said Turnpike Road at a furlong called Toot-hill Butts Furlong.’ So it’s the old name of a furlong. Ann Spokes Symonds, in her book The Origins of Oxford Street Names (co-authored with Nigel Morgan) says that Toot means a lookout point (cf. Toot Baldon), and Butts means to abut or bound (to form a boundary).” – SJ
Liz Woolley (Marlborough Road) adds further insights:
“A lovely lost street name is Harpsichord Row, which was on St Clements, at the bottom of Headington Hill, a row of houses between London Place and the main road, demolished for road-widening. A former student of mine lived nearby and became fascinated with its history, to the extent that she wrote a song about it and named her (excellent) first album after it: https://bethanyweimers.bandcamp.com/album/harpsichord-row
“There’s a bit about South Oxford street names here: https://southoxfordhistory.org.uk/interesting-aspects-of-grandpont-and-south-oxford-s-history/the-meaning-of-street-names-in-grandpont-and-south-oxford
“and for East Oxford names see this link: http://www.archeox.net/investigations/place-names.html
White Teeth: not just a Zadie Smith novel it would seem, but a postscript to the Godstow story c/o Graham Halliday:
“Fair Rosamund was indeed buried in the Benedictine nunnery of Godstow, as you note in the most recent Morris Oxford posting. What you don’t mention is that the mournful King Henry II subsequently showered money on the convent, and her grave rapidly became a shrine. Fifteen years after Rosamund’s death, Bishop Hugh of Lincoln made an episcopal visit to the site (1191) and was horrified to see evidence of what he regarded as idolatry. He ordered that the shrine be moved from its position near the high altar to a different location – presumably to the cemetery in the precinct grounds. The grave was much diminished in the process of transition and, after the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, it disappeared from view.
“There is an intriguing, hand-written note by the diarist John Aubrey, inside his copy of Robert Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire (1677) now in the Bodleian library. It states that ‘not long since, her grave was digged, where some of her bones were found, and her Teeth so white (as ye dwellers there report) that the beholders did much wonder at them.’” – GH
Nick Wright came across this photograph of a sketch, which shows how much of Godstow remained intact a century ago.
“In the course of my researches into Champs Chapel, East Hendred – an enigmatic fifteenth-century building with a floor in its west end – I explored other buildings with a similar layout. The closest similar building is the chapel at Godstow Nunnery. The building now has neither floor nor roof, but joist holes in the wall and a doorway at the upper level show that there was once a first-floor room at the west end. We can get some idea of what the chapel formerly looked like from a number of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century illustrations, including several by Samuel Grimm. Perhaps the most interesting is a drawing made by Elizabeth Wigram in 1890, based on a sketch of the interior of the chapel made by her father, William Dalby, in 1809. It shows the interior of the chapel with roof still in place, and some remains of the western first-floor room intact. Elizabeth’s drawing was photographed in 1904 by great Oxford photographer, Henry Taunt in 1904. A copy of Taunt’s photograph is in the collection of the Oxfordshire History Centre (HWT 12570).” – NW
Once more we have Stephanie Jenkins to thank for adding a couple of important details to the recent story about Godstow and the Dissolution.
“The disappearance of Osney Abbey is indeed remarkable. There is, however, one bit of masonry that remains. It’s in what is now Mill Street (photograph attached). I see that the remains are Grade II listed. The listing mentions another structure relating to the abbey that I have never seen: I don’t think you can get into it:
MILL STREET 1. 1485 (South End) Osney Abbey SP 50 NW 24/65 12.1.54. II 2. The Augustinian Priory was founded 1129. All the buildings have been destroyed except a rubble and timber-framed structure which may be Cl5 in date; it has a queenpost roof (?C16) and a blocked 2-light window. Joined to it by a wall on the North-East is a stone C15 archway with a 4-centred head and moulded jambs. There is a commemorative plaque to Haggai of Oxford, martyred in 1222. – SJ
Liz Woolley adds some fascinating detail.
“Just to say that the building Stephanie Jenkins refers to in her feedback to your Godstow Story about Osney Mill is actually in the picture – it is the one behind and to the left of the arch, with a salmon-coloured rendered end wall and a steeply-pitched slated roof. It has an impressive queen-post roof (photo attached, taken when I visited in 2013):
“It and the adjacent arch are on the Osney Mill site at the end of Mill Street, and it was restored in 2012/3 as part of the Munsey family’s development of the mill for housing. You can hire it for events (or at least you used to be able to). This photo is from 2010, before restoration:
“And there’s a Taunt picture of it in 1911 on the OCC Picture Oxon Website here.
“It is thought to have been a service building of some kind, like a kitchen. It certainly is a remarkable survival.” – LW
There was one other very significant remnant from Osney Abbey. Judith Curthoys, Archivist of Christ Church, takes up the story.
“Osney Abbey may long since have disappeared; but the people of Oxford have a permanent reminder of it in our midst. Whereas the fabric of the building was left to rot and ruin, its giant bell was rescued and taken away to be used in Henry VIII’s new religious showcase – Christ Church, from where I now write.
“The loudest and heaviest bell in Oxford (weighing over six tons) it was eventually (after various recastings) winched up into Tom Tower. It still rings out to sound the historic student curfew every evening at five past nine – 101 times, in memory of the original hundred scholars of Christ Church plus another added in 1663.”
“I have written about it in The Cardinal’s College (2012) an extract from which (pp.133-35) may be of interest:
In 1546, the chief carpenter, John Wesburn, was given the awesome responsibility of taking down the bells of Osney Abbey and reinstalling them in the tower of the newly-designated cathedral. The eight bells – Hautclere, Douce, Clement, Austin, Marie, Gabriel, and John, and the largest of them all, Great Tom – were carted through St Thomas’s parish into the city by Mr Willoughby of Eynsham who was paid twenty shillings for his trouble. No doubt they rang at the foundation feast, and then for the accessions of Edward VI and his half-sister, Mary. For a short while, during the reign of Mary Tudor, Tom was re-christened by William Tresham in honour of the new monarch.
The bells were much used, marking not just services and celebrations, but the daily timetable. New bell wheels were needed as soon as 1583, and there were frequent payments for clappers and baldricks. Although there is no evidence for the beginning of the ringing of the bell one hundred times each evening, representing the original number of Students on the foundation, there is no reason to doubt that it started soon after 1546. But Tom, no longer Mary, was not a happy bell. It was recast in 1612, possibly to rid it of a ‘papist’ inscription, but something was evidently not quite right so, in 1654, Michael Darby of Whitechapel, who had worked on the bells at both Merton and New Colleges, was called in to do a second recasting. Darby’s work was less than satisfactory; the Merton bells were recast by another London founder, Christopher Hodson, but Christ Church tried a local man, Richard Keene of Woodstock, to bring Tom up to scratch. The work was done on-site at Christ Church, but after three unsuccessful attempts, the Dean and Chapter turned to Hodson, not just to recast Tom but also to make new bells.
In October 1680, ten bells were re-hung in the cathedral tower, with Tom set aside for a new home. The recasting coincided with Fell’s decision to build the new tower at the Great Gate. The bell was installed and was ready by May 1684 to ring out in celebration of the anniversary of the Restoration.
Over the years, the ringing of Great Tom has become synonymous with great events. A regular muffled toll was heard after the two minute silence every Armistice Day until the outbreak of World War II. Then, after a six year silence, along with bells across the nation, Tom celebrated the end of the war on VE Day. He has tolled, with the clapper muffled, on the occasions of royal and decanal funerals. When Edward VIII died, in 1910, and again in 1936 and 1952, on the deaths of George V and George VI, Tom was rung for half an hour at half-minute intervals. It would have been a difficult thing to do; the normal toll, once every four or five seconds would have been reasonably easy once started, but for a thirty-second toll it would have been necessary to start the swing for every strike. In 1984, the bell was rung 300 times on its own anniversary.
We couldn’t resist featuring this close-up of Great Tom in action, clapper muffled in deference to the late Duke of Edinburgh.
Sheila Ottway, a former tutor in architectural and garden history at Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education, has contributed a floral note to the Godstow story:
“I lived in Oxford between 1998 and 2015, during which time I frequently enjoyed walking across Port Meadow and along the Thames Path to Godstow. I was interested to discover that one of the wild plants growing amidst the abbey ruins at Godstow was Birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis). This medicinal herb, with its distinctive bright yellow flowers, was, in earlier centuries, used to aid women in childbirth. I presume the plants visible at Godstow today ‘escaped’ from the herb garden of the former abbey.
“As a member of what is now the Oxfordshire Flora Group, I took on the task, between 2003 and 2013, of monitoring the occurrence of Birthwort at Godstow. During that period, I visited two or three times every summer to get an idea of how well the plant was doing. I observed that shoots of Birthwort came up every year in the same general area around the abbey ruins, often among hawthorn bushes and nettles. In some years there was a profusion of shoots bearing flowers for several weeks during the summer.
“Birthwort seems to have had a close association with Oxford. The poet Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) wrote a long didactic poem in Latin, entitled Plantarum libri sex (‘Six Books of Plants’) published in 1668. In one passage the poet imagines a meeting held on a moonlit night in Oxford’s Botanic Garden (then known as the Physic Garden). “The meeting takes the form of a debate held by a council of medicinal plants, its purpose being to decide which among them is the most effective in terms of its medicinal properties. Birthwort argues eloquently for her own pre-eminence, but the debate is interrupted at the crack of dawn by the intrusion of a human being, namely the gardener.
“We know that Birthwort was already growing in the Physic Garden in the seventeenth century, as it is listed in each of the three catalogues of plants compiled in 1648, 1658 and 1676. Perhaps Abraham Cowley was inspired to write his poem after visiting the Physic Garden? Perhaps he also enjoyed the occasional walk from Oxford to Godstow? There he may well have seen Birthwort growing – where it is still to be found to this day.” – SO
Catherine Robinson takes the story further:
“Sheila Ottway’s feedback is very interesting, but it fails to answer the question that occurred to me and a friend when we discovered Birthwort growing in a secluded corner of the ruined abbey at Godstow several years ago. It seemed strange to find an uncommon plant with abortifacient properties growing on the site of a medieval nunnery – but then again perhaps not, given the rumours of scandalous goings-on there that still survive in the neighbourhood today. According to The Encyclopaedia of Oxford (ed. Christopher Hibbert), “… it was said by Oxford scholars that they could have ‘all kinds of good cheer with the nuns to their hearts’ desire’.” On the other hand, there could be an innocent explanation: Birthwort was also used in the past to induce labour; and, when taken after childbirth, to prevent infection. Perhaps the nuns grew it in their herb garden for the benefit of local midwives? Or perhaps it was introduced for similar purposes by George Owen, the King’s Physician, who (according to Hibbert) came to live in part of the nunnery after the Dissolution of the Monasteries? Anyone tempted to go looking for it at Godstow should be warned that it is highly toxic: it can cause kidney failure and is now thought to be carcinogenic.”– CR
We shall look into these theories. Meanwhile, is this the most charmingly fatuous blue plaque in Oxford?
During the English Civil War Oxford was besieged on no fewer than three occasions. The assumption has always been that the Parliamentarian forces were grouped on Headington Hill, as inferred from the famous painting by Jan Wyck (below: on display at the Oxford Museum). Catherine Robinson and Mick Winter argue that the actual position was further north, on the hills above Barton. Are they onto something?
“Most accounts of Oxford during the Civil War tell the story from the point of view of the besieged Royal court, not from the perspective of the Parliamentarian forces camped outside the city. Indeed, although General Fairfax is known to have moved his HQ from Marston – his main base during the second siege of Oxford – up the hill to Headington for the third siege (May/June 1646), the precise location of the new base has never been identified, as far as we know. (The reason for the shift was perhaps the decision of the Royalists to flood the meadows surrounding the city and burn down all houses within a three-mile radius to prevent the enemy using them as billets.)
“We suggest that the HQ was in fact established in the hamlet of Barton, within the parish of Headington, and that the most suitable location would have been the land then known as ‘Hengrove Common’, now Barton Fields, on the west-facing slope alongside today’s A40. From this airy elevation, Fairfax would have had a clear line of sight over to the artillery base at Elsfield and down to Colonel Rainsborough’s quarter at Marston, plus easy access to Colonel Herbert’s quarter at Cowley and the rendezvous point at Bullingdon Green. The nearby Bayswater Brook (originally called ‘Loud Brook’ and presumably much wider and faster-flowing than it is nowadays) would have provided a source of water, with grain supplied by Bayswater Mill. There would have been plenty of space on Hengrove Common for an encampment of 3,000 men, with all the associated wagons and tents depicted in Jan Wyck’s painting of the siege.
“Recent finds on the present-day Barton allotments include fragments of seventeenth-century stone beer bottles, a stray musket ball and two silk tokens (presumably produced to compensate for the shortage of currency during the Civil War). Numerous clay-pipe fragments have also been dug up, many with the distinctive small bowls that signify seventeenth-century origins.
“Such pipes are known to have been supplied from the neighbourhood of Headington Quarry to the besieged Royalists – so why not to the besieging Parliamentarians as well?
“We are not academic historians – just republicans with an amateur interest in archaeology and local history. We would welcome comments from better-qualified followers of MorrisOxford.” – Catherine Robinson (email@example.com) and Mick Winter
Averil Barnes reminds us of the verdict of the Civil War’s most famous historian:
“Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, was King Charles II’s most senior minister, and Chancellor of Oxford University as well as Lord High Chancellor of the entire realm. His History of the Great Rebellion and Civil Wars is reputed to have sold so many copies that its royalties (no pun intended) were sufficient to fund the building – designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor – which is named in his honour and which eventually came to house the University Press. Of Sir Arthur Aston he wrote:
‘He had the fortune to be very much esteemed where he was not known and much detested where he was, and he was at this time too well known at Oxford to be beloved by any.’” – AB
Tim Tatton-Brown, consultant archaeologist at Westminster School and Lambeth Palace, adds an interesting architectural footnote:
“Did you know that, in the wake of the King’s trial, Bradshaw acquired the Deanery of Westminster Abbey, and built an observation chamber above it?!” – TTB
Professor Roger Crisp lives in Old Marston, in the building now known as Cromwell’s House, from where he writes:
“I presume the house was first named in honour of Cromwell some time after the old Mansion House (built in 1622 by the rich lawyer and parliamentarian supporter Unton Croke) was split in two, following a fire in the mid-nineteenth century. Strictly speaking, therefore, General Sir Thomas Fairfax, who commanded the third siege of Oxford and signed the peace treaty, was based not just in our house, but also no.15 next door, now called Manor House – and sometimes misleadingly ‘The Manor House’, which it isn’t, as there is no manor. The census of 1901 refers to Cromwell’s Cottage. I believe that at one time it was also called Cromwell’s Castle, which in a way is more accurate.
“Previous inhabitants in the past century include the classicist E.R. Dodds who lived here from 1947-79, and, in the 1920s, Sir George Clark, the eminent historian of the seventeenth century who went on to become general editor of The Oxford History of England.
“Richard Aylmer, who lived here after Dodds, kindly left me a few interesting historical documents, which may reveal more info. of interest. The house also contains a large bone which we found hidden in the roofspace above the back door, probably to ward off evil spirits.” – RC
Who knew that Bradshaw and Cromwell shared a secret Oxford connection?
“After the execution of Charles I, Bradshaw quickly became president of the Commonwealth’s council of state and head of the party that rivalled Oliver Cromwell for control of the new government’s direction. Cromwell wanted the regime to put the regicide behind it and to woo those moderate parliamentarians who had been alienated as a result of the king’s overthrow. Bradshaw, committed to the sovereignty of the House of Commons, wanted to celebrate the memory of the regicide and confine power to its supporters.
“In 1650-1 the two men, in pursuit of that conflict, competed for the vacant Chancellorship of Oxford University. The Commonwealth could not afford an open contest between its two most prominent leaders, and the struggle, rather than coming to a vote, was silently and secretly resolved at Whitehall in favour of Cromwell (who as Chancellor went on to win admiration and respect by defending the university’s scholarly and institutional traditions against utopian and sectarian demands for reform).
“The two men were brought together again a decade later – posthumously. Following the Restoration, their bodies were exhumed, decapitated, and their heads put on public display for all to see.” – Blair Worden
Dr George Southcombe of Wadham College reminds us of the famous occasion when King Charles had the temerity to cross Bodley’s librarian.
“My favourite Oxford Civil War anecdote centres on a royal book request. The then Vice Chancellor of the University, the formidable Samuel Fell (in whose Deanery at Christ Church King Charles I was lodged at the time), wrote a note to John Rouse, Bodley’s Librarian, requesting the delivery of a book:
December 30, 1645
Deliver under the bearer hereof, for the present use of his Maiesty, a Book intituled Histoire Universelle du Sieur D’Aubigné: and this shall be your warrant.
His maiestyes use: is in commaund to use.
S Fell Vice Can.
“Rouse adamantly refused, on the grounds that the Bodleian was not (as it still is not) a lending library. The King’s request had to be withdrawn.
“It would seem that the Divine Right of Kings could only extend so far.” – GS
What became of Samuel Fell, the thwarted Vice Chancellor? Former Regius Professor of History, R. J. W. Evans has written an impeccable account of the village of Sunningwell, four miles south of Oxford, from where he writes:
“A little local footnote about the execution. It concerns Samuel Fell, formerly Dean of Christ Church and close ally of King Charles.
“In 1619 Fell became a canon of Christ Church, his old college in Oxford. In the fashion of the time, he also acquired several other ecclesiastical offices, one of them that of Rector of Sunningwell. But he operated mainly at the University, where he became Professor of Divinity and in 1638 Dean (i.e. head) of Christ Church. Preferment was smoothed by his advocacy of King Charles’ controversial religious policies. When those policies led to civil war, the King made his headquarters in Oxford and ran his business from the deanery at Christ Church, cheek by jowl with his faithful servant Fell, who was duly appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University.
“Once Charles had lost, Fell’s days in Oxford were numbered. He refused to budge voluntarily from Christ Church and had to be evicted by the incoming parliamentarians. Now, for the first time maybe, he could appreciate Sunningwell, close at hand but remote enough that no one thought to deprive him of the living. He died here just three days after his king was beheaded – from shock it is said. His tombstone lies immediately to the left of the church altar with the single word ‘DEPOSITVM’ [laid down, i.e. buried], the initials ‘S.F.’, and the date. Not for nothing does his tomb also display a skull as a memento mori.” – Bob Evans
Distinguished publisher, Martin Sheppard makes a couple of pithy points – and a request:
“Bradshaw’s refusal to remove his hat in the presence of the King was a political statement in itself.
Charles I’s refusal to remove his hat during the trial was a sign that he did not recognise the court trying him.
“Please investigate Charles I’s beard brush – one of Keble College’s great treasures.” – MLS
Professor Ronald Hutton recalls a story about the fortification of Oxford:
“When I was a young don at Magdalen College I discovered that, at the opening of hostilities in August 1642, the King sent an officer to lecture the heads of houses on how to fortify the city in his cause. The meeting was held in an upper room of the Star Inn, where the grizzled army veteran strode up and down talking about bastions, hornworks, counterscarps, ravelins and palisades while the aged clergymen around him took notes. The President of Magdalen brought these back to be submitted to the Governing Body, which duly listened to them and then voted to have some rocks taken up the Great Tower to be dropped on enemies passing underneath. After further discussion, it was agreed that the bill for this should be sent to the city council. Thus secured, the college settled down to await the outbreak of the Great Civil War …
“The name of the President of Magdalen at the time (who had been raised in, and turned against, a Puritan family) was Accepted Frewen.” – RH
We are indebted to Dr Toby Barnard FBA, Fellow (for forty years) of Hertford College, for this glorious reflection:
“In the 1990s when the Covered Market was under one of its periodic threats I wrote to the Independent that I had more interesting conversations with the butchers than with my academic colleagues. My letter was published. Indeed, Fellers are still delivering to us now, here in West Oxfordshire. Occasionally we are bidden to lunch at their very splendid manor house at (appropriately) Upper Slaughter. I also caused a slight stir by insisting that Mike and Elizabeth Feller be invited to the dinner after the day-long symposium when I retired. They came and Mike approved of the meat. They have a fine collection of antique needlework, much of which has been generously donated to the Ashmolean.
“Cardews also are still delivering my favoured coffee beans, but I lament the passing of Palms (where outside Fortnums can you buy Karlsbad plums?) as also the Waterperry shop in the centre. One Saturday morning, Burke Trend – the Rector of Lincoln College – and his wife were in there. Suddenly Lady Trend turned to him: ‘That’s not the Saturday basket. Go back at once to the Lodgings and bring the Saturday basket.’ How many heads of house and their spouses shop in the market these days, I wonder?” – TB
Mention of the Covered Market prompted an important reminiscence from Malcolm Graham, luminary of Oxford local historians:
“I came to Oxford in 1970 and, for a brief period between 1971 and local government reorganisation in 1974, I was both the City’s Archivist and Local History Librarian. One of my tasks was to seek out archive material in City Council offices and storerooms. A major discovery in a Town Hall basement store was the first minute book of the joint City and University Market Committee which established the market on its present site in the 1770s. For some reason it had become detached from the later minute books, so I had it rebound and reunited with the other volumes. The find helped to spur my early interest in the market which led to the publication of an article about its history in 1979 – http://www.oxoniensia.org/volumes/1979/graham.pdf
‘As to the market itself, I recall that it was still very much a food market in the early 1970s and not at all on the tourist trail – the Oxford guidebook I bought when I came here did not even mention it. Since the 1940s, there had been various plans to relocate the market to a site in St Ebbe’s, and the postwar clearance of so many city centre houses – now much regretted – had robbed it of many local customers. The market had clearly seen better days in the early 1970s: I recall festoons of barbed wire above the Market Street entrances to deter would-be burglars! It was, I think, painted municipal cream, but it retained York stone paving which was subsequently removed. Thursday was still early-closing day in Oxford, and I remember that, if you entered the market at one end just before 1 pm, you might find the gates at the other end locked. I’m not sure whether anyone ever got locked in!” – MG
Malcolm also features in a short film about the Covered Market: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLYKtjypePI
Sally Jenkins, Blue Badge guide and tour co-ordinator, writes:
“In your understandable excitement at the sight of the more-than-a-hundred-year-old ham you perhaps overlooked a more recent adornment to the Covered Market – Zyczliwek the Polish gnome.
“The plaque which accompanies him tells us this:
In 2018 the cities of Oxford and Wroclaw signed a twin city partnership agreement. This gnome is a gift from Wroclaw to Oxford presented on that occasion. The gnome’s name is Zyczliwek, or Well-Wisher, symbolizing Wroclaw’s friendship with partner cities across the world.”
Martin Maw, archivist at OUP, adds another element to the story.
“The very settled life of Oxford University Press was turned upside down at the outbreak of the First World War; 356 of the approximately 700 men who worked for the Press were engaged on active military service, the majority in the first few months. The reduction of half of the workforce and the ever-present uncertainty about the return of friends and colleagues must have made the Press a very difficult place to work …
“The steady dissolution of the workforce, made up of generations of men from the close-knit community of Jericho who had known each other for years, was thought to be too much for the head Printer, Horace Hart (best remembered for Hart’s Rules). He retired and sadly took his own life in 1916.
“A total of 45 men were lost to the war. In 1920 a book was produced: On Active Service, War Work at Home 1914-1919, recording events at the Press during the war and also giving the service record of all the men who were conscripted. A monument to commemorate the soldiers who died was also erected, funded by voluntary contributions from staff.
“A further 21 names were added to it after World War Two. The memorial once stood by the Walton Street gate, but was moved to its current, more prominent, site outside Printer’s House early this century.” – MM
Following Liz Woolley’s reference to Grandpont, we’d also like to mention a moving talk given recently by Councillor Liz Wade, entitled ‘47 Men of North Oxford’, tracing the lives of those men of Jericho, Kingston Road and Hayfield Road who died in the Great War. One of them was Arthur Morris, pictured here, and, below him, the telegram presented to his mother. Liz writes:
“Arthur Morris was the ninth of eighteen children, eleven of whom survived infancy. He was born in 1899 at 74 Hayfield Road, and was a sickly child. ‘Save that last bit for Arthur,’ was often heard around the family table. His parents and siblings constantly worried about his health.
“In March 1918 he was admitted to the Radcliffe Infirmary for an appendectomy. Instead of spending time recuperating, he was bundled off to the Front. His eldest brother Charlie, himself serving in Flanders, wrote: ‘It makes me nearly choke to think about the way he was treated for he was never fit for active service and it’s a wonder he stuck it as well as he did … I think everyone who knew him felt sorry he had to join up … We all should be proud of a lad like him doing his bit without a lot of grumbling.’
“Arthur had been in France for less than three weeks when he suffered a severe shrapnel wound in the abdomen. He died at a Casualty Clearing Station on the same day: 25 April 1918.
“Arthur’s two elder brothers Charlie and Frank both survived the war. Charlie wrote in May 1918: ‘What a thing luck is, there’s Frank been out all the time and not a scratch and Arthur [only] a few weeks. Frank has been doing something great by all accounts, but will he get the reward?’ Frank had saved another man’s life at risk of his own, but never got a medal.
“Both brothers became greengrocers. Frank had a shop in North Parade and Charlie in Summertown Parade. Their sister Elsie, and youngest brother William and his family carried on at 74 Hayfield Road. Elsie, born in 1893, lived until 1979.” – Liz Wade
Liz Woolley writes to bring our attention to a recent discovery (photograph by Philip King):
“During the 2014-18 commemoration period we carried out a project to research the ‘66 Men of Grandpont‘, those who are named on the First World War memorial in St Matthew’s Church in South Oxford. One of them was George Tyrrell of Cobden Crescent, who was killed on New Year’s Eve 1915, aged 20. The Tyrrell family were extremely helpful to us during the project, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Earlier this year, George’s great-nephew Geoff contacted me to say that, by an extraordinary co-incidence, a batch of George’s letters from the Front, written in the weeks leading up to his death, had come to light.” – Liz Woolley
You can read the story in the recent Oxford Mail and Oxford Times: https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/18862039.oxford-born-soldiers-first-world-war-letters-returned-family/
It’s Woodstock rather than Oxford; but several readers have mentioned the spectacular installation in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, entitled Standing with Giants.
We’re grateful to the Reverend Richard Smail for a poetic recollection.
“The intensely poignant Dragon Memorial instantly reminded me of the poem which is partly set there, ‘No Ordinary Sunday’ by Jon Stallworthy, who was a pupil there before becoming, inter alia, the biographer of Wilfred Owen, editor of the Oxford Book of War Poetry, and author of a dozen volumes of poetry.” – RS
It seems that the Treacle Well may not always have been so remote after all. Julian Fox has got everyone at Morris Oxford very excited!
“Did you know that Binsey is pretty close to the site of the deserted village of Seacourt, last occupied circa 1400 so presumably abandoned following the Black Death? There’s a big vitrine dedicated to it in the Ashmoleon, and I have just located this link: https://oxoniensia.org/volumes/1961-2/biddle.pdf
“If you look in page 3 of the file (or page 72 of the book itself) you’ll see that St Margaret’s Well might well have been closer to Seacourt than Binsey. Might Seacourt be another blog for the future?” – JF
Inspired by reading the Oxoniensia article we wrote to the archaeologist who had led the original excavation, Professor Martin Biddle. He replied:
“How good to hear from you! Seacourt is so far back in my past (I dug it in 1958 directly after coming out of the army) that, apart from writing it up, I’ve scarcely given it another thought.
“However, there’s plenty of the Deserted Medieval Village still there to west and east of the line of the road, including, to the east, the site of the church which I would have loved to dig in 1958 but which was not then threatened and so could not be touched.
“I wouldn’t mind having a trip out there sometime post-Covid, perhaps to lead an OUAS party one summer day.” – MB
Jackie Holderness is Cathedral Education Officer at Christ Church. In pre-pandemic times she used to give spellbinding readings of her book ‘The Princess Who Hid in a Tree’ to children’s groups. She writes:
“The Covid scenario can be very disheartening; but, as I sat in Evensong at Christ Church last Thursday, I mused on the tale of St Frideswide and the generations before us who witnessed previous pandemics …
“The Black Death or Bubonic Plague killed over a third of the population of Europe in the years 1347-49. Then in 1485 came the Sweating Sickness:
The exterior is calm in this fever, the interior excited … The heat in the pestilent fever many times does not appear excessive to the doctor nor the heat of the sweat particularly high … But it is on account of the ill-natured, fetid, corrupt, putrid, and loathsome vapours close to the region of the heart and lungs whereby the panting of the breath magnifies and increases and restricts itself. (Thomas Forrestier, Tractatus Contra Pestilentia Thenasomonen et Dissenterium. 1490.)
“In 1569 Oxford was visited by
A newe kind of sickness . . . through the whole region, which was so sore, so peynfull and sharp, that the like was never harde of to any mannes remembrance before that time. (Richard Grafton, A chronicle at large and mere history of the affayres of England. 1569.)
“Then, of course, there was smallpox during the Civil War; the great plague of 1665; and cholera several times in the nineteenth century:
The dreaded cholera again showed itself in Oxford, and continued to carry off its victims through the month, though in small numbers compared with the former visitation. Happily, it disappeared as October commenced; but it was thought safer by the authorities to call up the Undergraduates a week later than usual. (G.V. Cox, Recollections of Oxford. 1868.)
“Throughout all these tribulations, however, the Cathedral (and before it the Priory) remained a place of solace, and the spirit of Frideswide has endured, so we hope and believe that ‘this too must pass’…
“May Frideswide’s prayers for the city she helped to found, and the God to whom she dedicated her life, protect us. Stay well!”
Wendy Skinner Smith recently stood down as long-time Chair of O&DFAA. On its website she records some of her ‘ruminations’ based on more than forty years tending her plot at Cripley Meadow.
“As a vegetarian and an organic gardener, I have watched as insects and birds have diminished over the years. I work hard at reducing my own carbon footprint and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the soil and seasons to grow food. It has been a major recreation for me, and one with benefits.
“Plotholders and allotment communities are diverse but there is a common identity that transcends class and income barriers; a shared relationship with growing things, and often an interest in the culture, folklore and paraphernalia of kitchen gardening. Over the years the inevitable successes and failures have turned me into a gnarled veteran, alert to pests, diseases, barriers and solutions that avoid slaughter. Nowadays I am keenly aware of the health of the land that our children and grandchildren will inherit.”
We are delighted to report, meanwhile, that Jane Mollison recently completed her painting of the other side of her water butt.
Allotmenteers and Archaeologists share in the Fellowship of the Fork. The results are sometimes surprising.
“I recall many years ago being involved in an abortive attempt to cultivate an allotment on the Trap Grounds. It was plot no.13. I have since wondered if that were the reason it was the only one available. I also wonder if it had ever been cultivated. The weeds came up like parsnips. Night-hawking bottle diggers had been over the site some time in the past and all the clinker from the Victorian rubbish heap that underlies the site had been turned up on the topsoil. I found some good bits of china, including most of a Worcester College dinner plate. Best of all was the old shed, which needed digging out as much as the plot itself: archaeological strata, datable mostly by newspapers and magazines, at the bottom of which were sepia photos of Edwardian ladies without their clothes! … Anyway, I didn’t last long on that patch and I wonder if anyone has tamed it since. It needed a firmer hand than mine.” – JW
Talking of archaeological strata, one of the world’s most distinguished archaeologists also happens to be a dedicated Trap Grounds allotmenteer. We asked if he had discovered anything in the course of his digging.
“There have been no really exciting finds, I must admit; but in the topsoil, above the layer of tipped rubbish containing early twentieth century artefacts, you can find Roman and medieval pottery. Presumably the topsoil was brought in from an archaeological site to make up a cultivation soil. So it’s a kind of archaeology, but in reverse order! It would be interesting to analyse some samples.” – Barry Cunliffe
Two recent subscribers to Morris Oxford are Mike Stone and his cousin Douglas. Their grandfather Harry was a keen allotmenteer. Indeed, he once received a cup for his efforts. It stands only 3½ inches high, but it tells a very human story. Mike has donated it to the O&DFAA to award annually to a budding allotmenteer, plus a cheque for £50. May the name of Harry Stone live on for many growing seasons to come!
“Harry was a larger-than-life character. At the age of sixteen he worked his passage on a tramp steamer to Canada where he became a lumberjack. He came back to Europe with the 48th Canadian Highlanders, fought in World War I, survived the terrible Battle of Passchendaele, and eventually returned to Oxford where he married and had a family. He was one of the first employees of Morris Motors, where he remained for the rest of his working life. He died in 1955 aged 71.
“The cup was awarded to him in 1938 as a member of the Cowley and District Allotment Association (for what we don’t know). Harry had been badly gassed in the war and therefore dug his allotment with the power of his arms alone. His legs did, however, manage to propel him to the Plasterers Arms, a short walk from the main home at 19 London Place, St Clements. He also grew some lovely flowers which his boys trundled up to North Oxford on a hand cart to try and make some extra cash. He was a lovely grandfather. We were very sad when he died.”
Allotmenteers, it would seem, are ingenious and artistic as well as productive. Here’s how Jane Mollison of Cripley Meadow transformed a dull black plastic water butt:
Did you know that Oxford once boasted over a dozen stations – and a house built of paper? We’re very grateful, as ever, to Liz Woolley for some fascinating links.
“Subscribers to Morris Oxford might be interested in ‘The Lost Stations of Oxford’, the latest short documentary from Rediscovering Lost Railways. The film takes you on a fascinating journey through Oxford (via the swing bridge) examining the rise, fall and remains of the city’s thirteen lost railway stations.”
“And those with an interest in the future of the railway, as well as its past, might enjoy Adam Landau’s recent documentary, ‘Brunel and the Original High Speed Railway’, which compares the building of the GWR with that of HS2.“
“One inveterate opponent of the railway attempted to thwart Brunel by building a paper house across the proposed route. It was finally dismantled in 1996.” – Liz Woolley
Keen-eyed readers will have noticed a distinctive yellow flower growing out of the rusty remains of the swing bridge. This is Oxford Ragwort, an unexpected by-product of the railway age. The celebrated animator and gardener, Joanna Harrison, explains:
“I’m a huge fan of Ragwort! It is home to the cinnabar caterpillar which looks a bit like Dennis the Menace, and it has the wonderful Latin name Senecio squalidus. Senecio refers to the way in which the airborne seeds resemble the white hair of an elderly person [Latin: Senex]. The squalidus tag is somewhat unkind in my view as it is far from dirty. In fact it is great for pollinators (although not good for horses, I admit, which perhaps explains the pejorative.) My dear late father, who was a specialist weed scientist, had a story about an invasion of ragwort onto Port Meadow – but I can’t remember it! I SO wish he was still around …
“Better known is the story of Ragwort’s specific connection with Oxford and with the railway. It is said that the original seeds were gathered from the rocks of Mount Etna, Sicily, in the early years of the eighteenth century, and planted in the University’s Botanic Garden. Somehow a few of the seeds must have escaped from behind its high walls, wafted into town on the breeze, and established themselves, first in college crevices and pavings, and later in the cinders of the newly-built railway, the clinker in the sidings being similar to the native volcanic soil in which the flower first flourished. Having reached the railway line it was a matter of time before the trains would usher the seeds along in their steamy slipstream. The botanist George Claridge Druce (1850-1931) describes how ‘the vortex of air following the express train carries the fruits in its wake. I have seen them enter a railway-carriage window near Oxford and remain suspended in the air in the compartment until they found an exit at Tilehurst’ [near Reading]. These days you’ll see bright stragglings of yellow all along the route of the Great Western Railway as far as Bristol (and indeed for mile after mile in various parts of the country). It is one of Oxford’s lesser-known gifts to the nation.” – Joanna Harrison
A recent and very welcome subscriber to Morris Oxford is the Revd John Eade, whose historical cornucopia of a website, Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide, https://thames.me.uk contains no fewer than 84 pages on the rivers of Oxford. He writes:
“I attach a picture of Folly Bridge and Lock taken from a publication about Oxford Rowing (1900). Notice Folly Lock on the left (removed in 1884). This throws light on the way that Salters’ boats still, at times, almost block the river at Folly Bridge. They were originally on a weir pool and not on the main navigation, which was through the lock.”
“I have recently been working on William Morris’s river trips (News from Nowhere, 1890), his vision of what the river might be like in his ideal socialist future, set in, well, more or less now; and his Expedition of the Ark (1880), some sketchy notes on an actual river trip. On that journey he was towed (by a man with a pony) up to Salter’s at Folly Bridge. He then walked to Bossom’s Boatyard at Medley and hired two double skiffs to continue his journey to Kelmscott. Below is a photograph of Bossom’s at that time.” – John Eade
Sunset was in the sky as we skirted Oxford by Oseney; we stopped a minute or two hard by the ancient castle to put Henry Morsom ashore. It was a matter of course that so far as they could be seen from the river, I missed none of the towers and spires of that once don-beridden city; but the meadows all round, which, when I had last passed through them, were getting daily more and more squalid, more and more impressed with the seal of the ‘stir and intellectual life of the nineteenth century’, were no longer intellectual, but had once again become as beautiful as they should be, and the little hill of Hinksey, with two or three very pretty stone houses new-grown on it (I use the word advisedly; for they seemed to belong to it) looked down happily on the full streams and waving grass, grey now, but for the sunset, with its fast-ripening seeds.
William Morris, News from Nowhere, cited in https://thames.me.uk/Nowhere.htm
Meanwhile, just a few miles upstream …
“Recently, in that patch of the loveliest weather, we wheeled our trusty canoe down to the canal, paddled through Dukes Cut and up the Thames for five hours. Then pushed through the wet, trailing branches of a spreading tree and lo – an idyllic secret spot! Cold beers in the sun, chilli con carne on a primus stove for dinner, peaceful sleep and a paddle home next day round Port Meadow through Isis Lock. Bliss!” – K & M
We were inundated with correspondence about The River, including this thought-provoking reflection:
“As usual, this Morris Oxford posting is characterised by great prose and great photos. This blog was instrumental in inspiring me to explore Oxford further. What now strikes me, in that context, though, is that your account of the river takes The Thames as we know it as a given. In fact, though it is natural in some senses, it is also an artefact: the work of people who decided to focus on making this channel navigable, when there were other options, e.g. some people wanted to construct a canal that would have by-passed the city altogether. Naturally, the city fathers didn’t like that, so they set about bringing into being the river that we know, and which you celebrate. But alongside the official river, even now, there run lots of other streams. This is especially evident along the Botley Road, which crosses bridge after bridge.
“The section above uses the 2nd series (1878) OS map as a base map – because it’s nice and clear and has good info. It derives from nls.maps.uk. I’ve coloured in the watercourses in blue.
“I’m also attaching a photograph of the Bulstake Stream – the middle one on the map, though this photo is taken from further down river, from the meadows close to Osney Mead. Between the building of the bridge over this stream in the sixteenth century (meaning there no longer needed to be a ford a bit downriver; instead the Botley Road could keep on going) and the construction of the pound lock at Osney in the 1790s (making Osney Mill Stream hospitable to navigation), this was probably the main navigation channel followed by boats wanting to head beyond Oxford.” – Joanna Innes
Joanna Innes (Somerville College) is one of Oxford’s most distinguished historians. Her recent blog, Life in the Floodplain, is HUGELY informative. The flood map below, which is also the icon of her blog, makes it clear just what a remarkably watery place Oxford is.
There was a remarkable response to Stephen Foote’s gallery of photographs. Several readers sent in their own images of Lockdown, including this superb offering from David Priestman:
Some readers found the images decidedly ‘eerie’. Several echoed the sentiments expressed below (by an eminent don). It seems that every pandemic has a silver lining.
“I’m absolutely loving the lockdown and am cycling through town every day. Oxford is so bloody beautiful with empty streets, no students and no tourists. It reminds me of the old days, staggering home at 5 am.”
Other readers found news ways to get exercise – and make friends.
“It was in the second week of lockdown. I had been swimming throughout the winter on Port Meadow. That week I had an urge to swim upriver, so I set off by myself with just a rucksack to put my swimming and drawing things in. I met this impasse: a goose on the path to King’s Lock. I felt so free, leaving the city behind me and the worries of the virus.
“Going past the lock you reach a weir and the landscape feels as though it has been untouched for a long time. I was looking for a place to swim when I came across a little stone memorial to an angler, hidden in the long grass. I dared to swim by myself in the river. It was cold and clear and completely solitary. Afterwards, I spent some time drawing, then came back across the meadow. The goose was still on the path, and just gave me a cursory glance before settling back to rest her beak in her feathers.” – Miranda Creswell
We were delighted when none other than Martin Jennings, sculptor of the JR statue, got in touch.
“What a nice piece about John Radcliffe and the statue I made of him! He was a fabulous subject. I was trying to express something of the generosity of his exceptional bequest to the university, at the same time as putting across his reportedly supercilious personality – in other words to do two opposite things at the same time! … We are told he was forever hanging about in coffee houses when he should have been treating his patients, which prompted the inclusion of a slightly louche demeanour: his shirt is unbuttoned at the throat, and he wears a velvet cap rather than the formal wig of the period. Those might even be slippers on his feet too. He was great fun to sculpt. The commission was a delight.
“Incidentally, the Ashmolean Museum owns a bronze cast of the original maquette – the original small-scale model of the sculpture, only 10 inches high. (It was on show there for a while but I’m not sure if it is at the moment.) I cast a limited edition of these. It’s always interesting to see how a sculpture changes between first and final states. In this case Radcliffe seems to have started out a bit thinner and less supercilious and become more so as he grew taller!” – Martin Jennings
Meanwhile, mention of the Radcliffe Camera prompted this Wise reflection …
“I was particularly taken with your article on JR because it had links of a sort with our early years in Oxford. Before moving to Islip five years ago, we lived in Elsfield, in one of the outhouses of Elsfield Manor. Nowadays the Manor is best known as the former home of John Buchan. But back in the mid-18th century it was the home of one Francis Wise (1695-1767) as commemorated by a plaque in the village church. Francis Wise was a Fellow of Trinity and the first librarian of the Radcliffe Camera.
“As such, he developed a certain notoriety on account of his marked antipathy towards readers. This he expressed through putting a large padlock on the door in order to keep them out! By one account, the Vice-Chancellor of the day sent a blacksmith to remove the padlock; whereupon Wise dispatched his own blacksmith to put it back. It seems that the V-C had the final word, not through force of arms but by quoting to Wise the relevant passage from the university statutes to assert his authority over the librarian’s: the pen proving mightier than the hammer!
“Wise was also a friend of Samuel Johnson, who visited him at the Manor. This event is fictionalised in the opening pages of John Buchan’s historical novel, Midwinter. Wise was also instrumental, with Thomas Wharton, in persuading the University to award Johnson a degree; earlier in his life, Johnson had been obliged to cut short his time as an undergraduate through lack of funds.
“Wise’s other memorable contribution, reflecting his interests as an antiquarian, was to build various ‘objets’ in the classical style in the garden of the Manor. Sadly no evidence remains of the pyramid but there is still an imitation classical gravestone (interestingly, copied from an original once at Dorchester Abbey but now lost) and the shell of a small ‘temple’ overlooking the pond.” – Charles Shaw
Of the three names on the plaque adorning the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine (1945). But what of the unsung hero – Norman Heatley?
“Heatley was a dapper man, charming, modest, and always (when I met him) immaculately dressed. His laboratory notebooks were written in perfect copperplate. In 1990, on the 50th anniversary of the first Oxford paper on penicillin, I suggested to the then Vice-Chancellor of the University, Richard Southwood, that Heatley’s achievement should be celebrated by the award of an honorary degree … Norman was delighted and received his honorary DM degree, the first to do so in modern times, in June 1990. Today the Royal Society of Chemistry has an annual Norman Heatley Award and Oxford’s Dunn School holds an annual Norman Heatley Lecture. A blue plaque commemorating Heatley was unveiled at 12 Oxford Road, Old Marston on 17 July 2010.” – Dr Jeffrey Aronson, Consultant Physician and Clinical Pharmacologist at the Nuffield Department for Primary Care.
“Norman Heatley was a delightful and very modest man. Some time ago we published his memoir on behalf of the Heatley family. It is entitled Penicillin and Luck. It’s a charming read, and the opening paragraph (see below) speaks loudly to us today – Sophie Huxley & Eddie Mizzi (Huxley Scientific Press)
‘Sixty years ago, when I was a student at Cambridge, I most days passed a building on the corner of Downing and Corn Exchange Streets on the walls of which was incised in large capitals Louis Pasteur’s stern warning LE HASARD NE FAVORISE QUE CEUX QUI SONT PRÉPARÉS (Luck only favours those who are prepared). I took this to heart, and later was equally impressed by Paul Ehrlich’s opinion that successful research required the 4Gs: geschick (skill), geduld (patience), geld (money), and glück (luck). Unfortunately he did not explain how to acquire the last of these. It seems to me that luck – and I mean good luck, or serendipity – has played an interesting part in the early history of penicillin and I would like to offer some examples …’”
She’s done it again! Guess what the remarkable Nicola Devine has managed to photograph?
“One day last month, alerted by the alarm calls of two wrens clearly distressed by the presence of something scuffling on the ground below them, I wandered over to see what was going on. Assuming that another wren had entered their territory, I scanned all around. Suddenly a very small gingery creature popped its head up. I could hardly believe my eyes! A handsome Weasel. Britain’s smallest carnivore. (Mustela nivalis).
“The ‘click click’ of the camera alerted it to my presence, but it didn’t mind: if anything, it seemed to enjoy the impromptu photo shoot. I spent several minutes admiring and being entertained by this most charismatic character, which seemed to be as curious about me as I was about it. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone. Yet again, the beauty and the wonder of the Trap Grounds and its inhabitants left me spellbound.” – Nicola Devine
And as a follow-up treat he sent this extraordinary photograph taken on the river early one morning, a while ago:
We received this from Stephen Foote, professional photographer and long-time citizen of this parish.
“Mention of the Taj Mahal in the Turl took me back. As a child I used to go there regularly with my dad …
“I was a day boy at the Dragon school. Wednesday and Saturdays were short days, so I would go into town and meet my pa at Queens, where he was a Fellow. His room was in the rear quad. Every other Wednesday it would be a haircut at the barbers next to Queens, on the High Street. It’s still there. A treat would be to have a squirt of Brylcreem! Then lunch. Either at the Taj – curry and popadums – or Fullers, upstairs, in Cornmarket (roughly where Burger King is now): breaded plaice, chips and peas. And sometimes we’d go to the Cadena café, also in Cornmarket.
“The Cadena was an Oxford institution, which sadly closed in 1970. I found this article about it, which Morris Oxford readers may find of interest.”
– Stephen Foote
THE TRAP GROUNDS
We were honoured and delighted to receive this image from the photographer, Nicola Devine, who has done so much to capture the magic of the Trap Grounds. She writes:
“I do have some extra special spots around the site for all sorts of different reasons … but as for a view, when the sun shines early in the morning, for me, I don’t think there is actually a more stunning view of any part of the Trap Grounds than this … I just hope all this stormy weather doesn’t change it too much.” – Nicola Devine
“Wonderful story! We have similar ones here in Ontario – particularly Cootes Bay in Hamilton where the steel mills dominate the skyline along Lake Ontario. One old fella in particular talked at the launch of a book heralding the success of Ontario’s Greenbelt campaign – he was the one who started hauling stuff out of that magnificent wetland. Over the years he and his volunteers documented a vast array of stuff they salvaged and now that wetland is a fabulous place. Similarly, where we live, the Friends of the Minesing Wetlands have managed to protect a vast wetland along the mighty Nottawasaga River. My husband Dave and I managed to get a guide to take us in there for a day in kayaks. Took seven hours to traverse it, including a magical section of paddling among gigantic old growth silver maples that love the wet it turns out. So – next time I come to Oxford – I look forward to exploring your restored wetland. How marvellous that a small but dedicated group had the means to take that fight so far up the legal ladder and win!!!!!” – Heather O’Halloran
“I had no idea about the Trap Grounds. I assumed you were writing about Aston’s Eyot, which I gather used to be the old corporation tip and is mentioned in Dorothy L Sayers’ Gaudy Night.” – Pippa Thynne
It seems that several of Oxford’s former municipal dumping grounds have now been made into natural havens, most recently the glorious expanse of Burgess Field (see friendsofburgessfield.co.uk). These will doubtless feature in future Morris Oxford stories.
None other than the former Principal of Green Templeton College, Colin Bundy, was moved to respond to our piece on the Radcliffe Observatory.
“I much enjoyed your appreciative account of the Observatory. It is in so many ways a building of the Enlightenment – built when it was, as a place of science, and its architecture so elegant, harmonious and optimistic. You may well already know about the sundial, but I am sending this link in case you don’t:
“The Observatory also has a fascinating and unexpected history in the years between the relocation of its astronomical functions and its being the centre of a new college in the 1980s. Some of my older medical colleagues regaled me with tales of its use in the 1950s and 1960s as an ad hoc research centre. These included the story of getting a sword-swallower from St Giles Fair, and x-raying his throat muscles while he dutifully swallowed a sword; of the neo-natal study which used sheep as subjects (this meant herding pregnant ewes up that spiral staircase to the first floor.) And other similarly unlikely episodes.
“When David Attenborough did a big BBC programme on climate change, in 2007 or 2008, he began it standing next to the little weather station on the lawn. Because the Radcliffe Observatory has yielded the longest unbroken daily weather record in the UK – a record which began during the American revolutionary wars, as I enjoyed telling American students.” – Colin Bundy
The change to Oxford’s apparently ‘timeless’ skyline has been significant in recent years, inducing in one reader “a certain disquiet”.
“Another interesting snippet of Oxford history which did, however, bring a certain disquiet. About half a century ago I spent nearly a year working in an office block on Paradise Street tucked under the castle walls and the mound near to the Morland Brewery. But now, as far too often is the case should I fetch up on Streetview in some location long abandoned to its fate, much has been completely transformed. Apartment builders and time seem to dog my steps and lay waste to trails that were once second nature. Now, for just a while in Paradise Street I can cling on to the upward view and the culvert but the old open views to the South are lost. Where car parks sat flat and a vista of the southern suburbs and Boars Hill rising up high beyond was to be enjoyed, handsome flats now press in close. The collaboration of passing time and the sense of a place leaving one behind is unavoidable after a spotlight homes in again 50 years on. And thus an unreal sensation springs up, of the place belonging to another’s life, not one’s own. I’m sure, though, that Matida, if she somehow managed to return, would have been even more shocked by seeing what I saw in 1971 compared to what she saw before setting out into the snow and the tree line.” – Ian French
“I especially enjoyed the ‘other Morris’ one – partly because I have a slightly spooky connection – Like Morris, I was born and raised in Worcester, his house in James St was owned until quite recently (hence the ‘sold’ placard in the picture) by one of my closest friends, and I have stayed there on many occasions. I’m also, as it happens, a member of Nuffield college.” – DB
TURL STREET KITCHEN
“Did you know that the TSK building was once the home of the Taj Mahal, Oxford’s first Indian restaurant? Long gone, but a marvellous venue in its day.” – Adrian Bullock
We *did* know this remarkable fact. In fact we have reason to believe it may have been the second oldest Indian restaurant in the whole of the UK. The source for this is none other than Aruna Mathur whose father set it up, and who turns out to be a subscriber to Morris Oxford!
On this subject, we can’t resist a reference to Kenneth Tynan’s Diary (p.316). For it turns out that the eminent theatre critic was a frequent diner there. Apparently the Taj had a particularly ornate lavatory which once featured in his dreams:
14 April 1976
Dream about Antonia and Harold Pinter, in which they are living in Sam Spiegel’s New York penthouse, a garish leather padded pleasure-dome full of marble grilles and priceless artwork. (I went to Sam’s housewarming party there and when he asked me what I thought of the place, I said: ‘It looks like the men’s room at the Taj Mahal.’)
In my dream, Pinter and Antonia hold a press conference:
Q: Lady Antonia, can you confirm that you are a convert to Judaism?
Antonia: Yes. But as Dr Jonathan Miller once said, ‘I’m not a Jew. I’m Jew-ish.’
Q: Mr Pinter, are you aware that this apartment was once likened to the men’s room at the Taj Mahal?
Pinter: Yes. But it’s not a lav. It’s lav-ish
FLYING OVER WOLVERCOTE
“I chaired the Wolvercote WW1 Aerodrome Memorial project group that created the stone memorial to the 17 airmen unveiled in May 2018. If your readers are interested the Facebook page for it is: https://www.facebook.com/wolvercoteww1memorial/ . Tim Metcalfe a local Wolvercote resident and former editor, has pulled together a short book on the aerodrome, focusing on the WW1 period. It uses articles I did for John Chipperfield’s Oxford Mail ‘Memory Lane’ feature between 2014 and 2019 plus a few extras. It’s available from the Post Box shop in Lower Wolvercote or West Oxford Community Centre office. All proceeds to the RAF Benevolent Fund.” – Peter Smith
“I was chatting to a neighbour on Monday and discovered a couple of things. He designed the memorial but retired from the stonemasons before it was constructed. And he told me what the concrete box in the middle of the meadow was used for: the pilots used bags of flour for bombing practice and the spotters sheltered in the concrete box!” – Kevin Clarke
“I may have mentioned this before: I normally manage to squeeze it into a conversation. At the outbreak of war, the Royal Flying Corps had 48 planes. By the end of the war they numbered … 21,500!! They were making over 400 a week. ‘Brave’ doesn’t come close.” – Nigel Jowett
“Interesting fact: about 40% of all the De Havilland Tiger Moths ever produced were made between 1941 and 1945 by the Morris factory in Cowley. This was the plane almost all WW2 pilots first learned to fly.” – Jack Holland
PARK TOWN ARCH
“I enjoyed your evocation of ‘arguably the greatest Victorian suburb’ and your description reminded me of how wonderful Pevsner is on the topic of these streets. Wilkinson’s Norham Gardens with its ‘atmosphere of leafy sobriety’. He calls Seckham ‘a young member of the tontine involved in the [Park Town Estate] speculation’ and relishes the fact that it is built on land originally intended for a workhouse, and consequently remote from the city. And on a modern addition to the area, Maison Francaise, ‘crisp, elegant, and not showy, well composed of various parts, very pale buff brick, with much brick wall and no gimmicks.’ (As opposed to 56 Banbury, Wykeham House, ‘a yellow nightmare castle’ by Gibbs.) And much else.” – Colin Bundy
“One correction: the land on which Park Town was built belonged to New College, not St John’s. The previous intention was to use it for setting up a workhouse. I learnt this from an outstandingly interesting and entertaining talk given to the St Margaret’s Area Society a while ago by the Rev William Whyte, Professor of Social and Architectural History and a Fellow of St John’s.” – Simon Mollison
Sincere apologies for the error. This makes Park Town even more remarkable: a piece of North Oxford that is not owned by St John’s!
“Morris Oxford might perhaps be interested to note the Croydon Marlin which was, I think, more or less contemporaneous with the Headington Shark. The Marlin apparently provoked numerous comments from the neighbours who complained of the smell of rotting fish, erroneously assuming that it was a real, stuffed marlin. It was of course fibreglass. I think. The owner drove up to Croydon Town Hall in an armoured car to protest about something or other. (Probably the neighbours…)
I can’t find it on the internet but I’m sure I’m not making it up.” – Sam Kendon
Once more we are afforded an opportunity to pay tribute to the late, great Bill Heine, begetter of the Headington Shark.
No story is more affecting than that of the Oxford Martyrs. A distinguished local historian wrote in to add a further layer of powerfully evocative detail.
“What brings the horror home to me are the matter-of-fact accounts for Friday 20 March 1555 reproduced in the Oxford Council Acts book. It lists the expenses incurred for Cranmer’s food that day (including plenty of fish, because it was a Friday, I assume), and some more expenses relating to the whole week.
“This is followed by the costs of 100 wood faggots, 50 furze faggots, the carriage thereof, and the amount paid to two labourers (presumably for building the pyre).
“You may want to look at other pages in the same volume, e.g. p.218 where there is a Privy Council minute concerning the costs for maintaining the three ‘obstinate heretiks’.” – Stephanie Jenkins
“I’m pleased to read your Einstein’s Blackboard – tho’ it’s a shame you missed the fact that a cleaner actually DID wipe one of them, in the Museum. The Museum originally had two … I broke silence some years ago by adding it to the Museum’s online catalogue. There’s something wrong with the database, it doesn’t offer links to individual pages for some reason, so the only way I can take you to it is via the ‘search’ page https://hsm.ox.ac.uk/database and search for inventory number 11714 (Einstein Blackboard No.2, 1931; no picture!)” – Tony Simcock (former Archivist of the History of Science Museum)
Oh No! A double oversight. We also notice that in 2005 the History of Science Museum mounted an exhibition in which celebrities (including Tony Benn, Raymond Blanc, Glenda Jackson, and Bobby Robson) were encouraged to write their own blackboards. It makes for interesting reading: https://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/blackboard/