by John Power
John Betjeman has long been one of my favourite
poets. Indeed he will rank as one of our great poets for he evocatively
caught the mood of pre-post war change in Britain. Yet his salutation
to Jericho was hardly laudatory. In his poem to St.Barnabas he ended with
'Thy redden'd remorselessness, Cardigan St.'
As I had always considered Cardigan Street as a humble, homely, comfortable Street leading to the "baldachin pillar" the very core of his "Byzantine St. Barnabas", I felt Betjeman did Jericho less than justice. Happily Norman Pollock and Christine Cowham have redressed that injustice in their splendid sketch book of Jericho.
The history of Oxford's first suburb is clear, concise and enthralling. Who, for example, could easily recall the reasons for Clarendon Street changing its name to Great Clarendon Street? The authors start with a loyalist innkeeper who in Civil War times called his hostelry the Blackboy Inn. The next step is to relate Charles II to that name, for his family nickname was the Black Boy because of his dark skin and hair. The next step was to call the street we now know as Little Clarendon Street, Black Boy Lane. To the west lay the area which is now Great Clarendon Street and was originally known as Clarendon Street. When the united city parishes built their workhouse adjacent to Black Boy Lane its name was changed to Workhouse Lane. In 1850 its name became Little Clarendon Street. Consequently Clarendon Street became Great Clarendon Street to avoid confusion!
I dwell on this because it was my privilege to
represent the people of Jericho as a city councillor for many years. Without
their support I could not have become both Sheriff of Oxford and the Lord
Mayor of this important international city. In all my dealings with the
people of Jericho I was always conscious of how a community of buildings
had created a community of people. Cheek by jowl terraced housing produced
a sense of togetherness that in turn developed into an overwhelming sense
of community. Where else would you find the only synagogue in the city
adjacent to the only Arab restaurant? The sketches in this book demonstrate
the togetherness of the physical structure of Jericho and also show the
tremendous range of architectural styles and the sense of history that
is Jericho. The people of this city should be extremely grateful to Norman
and Christine for this chronicled sketch book of Oxford's first suburb.