Issue 64 — April, 2008
A bridge to history
Mark Davies traces the origins of a continuing saga
For many Jericho residents the ongoing uncertainty about the fate of their boatyard is nothing new. This depressing waste of cumulative time and money – for the Council, the landowners, and indeed the potential developers too – stretches back decades. And one aspect of it has remained an issue of controversy for rather longer: the bridge.
As long ago as April 1859, a request was put to the Oxford Canal Company to erect a bridge at almost precisely the same location as in the current Spring Residential application, i.e. aligned with Great Clarendon Street. At this time the site was owned by the Ward family, whose canal-based trading and boat-building businesses had brought them considerable wealth. But the Wards were also great philanthropists, and it was seemingly as much in the public interest as for commercial reasons that they supported the idea of the bridge. The guardians of the canal itself were understandably rather less enthusiastic: the Company rejected the request mainly because the new bridge “would lead directly onto the canal towing path and be a means of greatly increasing the number of people trespassing thereon”. It was a rationale they continued to employ when rejecting similar subsequent requests – in 1867 and 1924, for instance.
The 1867 request does appear to have inspired one concession, however: the introduction of a public ferry, which began operating from the end of Combe (then Ferry) Road in 1868. Until February of this year, when major work commenced on College Cruisers’ wharf, the indent in which the vessel was once berthed was still apparent. The ferry lasted almost 100 years, finally being replaced by the Mount Place footbridge in 1972.
Two other observations made by the Canal Company in 1859 are interesting. One was that they feared particularly that people crossing over the bridge would congregate at Isis/Louse Lock, increasing the risk of accidents, especially to children. This early allusion to ‘health & safety’ seems a little contrived, thrown in for emotional gainsay more than with true concern. Interestingly it has echoes of what British Waterways was, until recently, saying about the lift bridge proposed in the current application.
A third objection was that the existence of other crossing points within half a mile in either direction made a bridge unnecessary anyway. Given that the more convenient Mount Place footbridge was not even in existence then, I leave readers to make their own judgement on whether, of the three points made by the Canal Company in 1859, this latter one might still – to coin a phrase – ‘hold water’!
Mark Davies is co-author of ‘A Towpath Walk in Oxford’, which has a Jericho section. See www.oxfordwaterwalks.co.uk.