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A brief history of Jericho

For a more detailed history see the Jericho Sketchbook


Illustration: Norman Pollock

The former 'Jericho House' inn on Walton Street

The origins of the name Jericho remain clouded in the mists of time.

In the Bible, Jericho signifies a 'remote place' and could have referred to the area's location just outside the Oxford city walls. In the 17th Century, people coming to Oxford from the north after the city gates were shut could take refuge in 'The Jericho House'. This inn, which was subsequently rebuilt in its three-storey form in 1818, is now called 'The Jericho Tavern'.

Most of Jericho's first round of housing development took place in the 19th Century as a means of accomodating workers in expanding local businesses. Their numbers increased after the construction of the Oxford Canal (1790), the building of the Jericho Iron and Brass Foundry, now Lucy's (1825), and the arrival of Oxford University Press (1826).

Their houses were small and basic, lacking even basic drainage. As a result most of Jericho was little more than a squalid slum and vulnerable to outbreaks of cholera. The worst area was a block of small houses behind the Jericho House in an area called 'Jericho Gardens'. These tenements were demolished in 1937 and the land they stood on is now occupied by the school.

Initially, building was only possible on the higher land closer to Walton Street. It was only after the 1860s, as the land closer to the canal was steadily drained, that the area below Albert Street was developed. This included the building on Canal Street of St. Barnabas Church (1870)— whose arrival provided some moral uplift and started to dispel the area's sordid reputation. A lot of the housing was, and remains, two-up, two-down terraced housing, built by speculators or by landlords such as St. John's College or Lucy's.

Jericho faced a major crisis in the 1960s with proposals to demolish most of the fairly dilapidated houses and turn the area over to offices and light industry. This was resisted vigorously by the Residents' Association, with the support of the Church and local councillors, particularly the late Olive Gibbs.

While some of the housing by then was too far gone and had to be destroyed, most of the area was saved and renovated. As result of its convenient location close to the city centre, Jericho has now become a desirable area for young professional people, though it also retains many residents who have spent all their lives here.