It’s strange that Henry Taunt isn’t more of a household name in Oxford; but then we don’t seem to be very good at honouring our home-grown heroes. The reason we know about him at all is in large part thanks to another, more recent photographer, someone with Taunt’s love of the camera and devotion to Oxford.
Malcolm Graham was appointed as Oxford’s first specialist local history librarian in October 1970. As a young man with a keen eye he spent his lunchtimes and weekends acquainting himself with his new location, walking its streets, and taking pictures of what he saw.
It was a particularly grim period in Oxford’s architectural history, before statutory protection had come into place. Old houses large and small (including Henry Taunt’s birthplace) were being torn down at every turn to make way for supposedly fashionable ‘modern’ development. Malcolm’s early photographs are a wistful, and at times shocking record of the world we have lost – and an important reminder of the hubris of town planners and builders. He writes:
Take these houses on the west side of Paradise Square, for example, photographed in April 1971. The square, containing houses built between 1838 and 1847, was a peaceful enclave just minutes away from Carfax, but it was cleared for the Westgate carpark development. These last few properties were demolished in 1972. They would now be worth well over £1m each at today’s prices …