FOXCAN on Oxford Canal Basin

My post on the Oxford Canal Basin, with its commentary on the 1955 photographs from the Thomas Collection, elicits a reaction from Hugh Jaeger of FOXCAN which I give below. It appears that Mr Jaeger was not aware of the Thomas photographs, so I am glad to have pointed him towards them. They were acquired by Oxfordshire County Council relatively recently and had not perhaps been catalogued when he asked about such sources.

Mr Jaeger says:

Thank you for discussing the important issue of whether to include a canal terminal in the redevelopment of Worcester Stret car park. Thank you too for drawing attention to the JW Thomas collection of historic photographs, showing the original 1790 terminal during its demolition in the 1950’s.

When I visited the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies for FOXCAN, the helpful and friendly staff showed me photos by Henry Taunt, Harry Minn, and a botanical illustrator, A H Church, who also photographed the Oxford Canal. However they did not tell me about the Thomas photos. I wonder the staff had the same problem as yourself: their software for searching the electronic catalogue does not come up with all the goods?

The editor of “Waterways World” introduced me to Cyril Arapoff’s photo’s, which were taken in the 1930’s and show the famous Oxford Canal couple Jack and Rose Skinner at work on their narrowboat “Friendship” (The boat is now preserved in the boat museum at Ellesmere Port).

Some of the Minn photo’s show the demolition of canal buildings, but not with as much clarity as the Thomas photo’s do. Photo D217904a is particularly important to the question of how to reconnect Worcester Street terminal to the rest of the Oxford Canal. It shows the south side of bridge 244 (carrying Hythe Bridge Street) partly filled in. The south side was a Georgian brick arch, circa 1790, apparently similar to surviving bridges carrying Walton Well Road, Aristotle Lane etc.

Hythe Bridge Street was a narrow backstreet when the canal was built. Later, while the canal was still in use, the street was widened and bridge 244 was accordingly widened on its north side. The new span was built with iron girders spanning the canal, and brick jack-arching filling in between each pair of girders. The straight line of shadow that you see in the background may be just the girders looming over the former canal channel.

The 18″ water main was laid while canal traffic was still using the terminal. Historic photographs of the northern side of the bridge clearly show the pipe carried beside the bridge decking, with as much clearance under the pipe as under the bridge. The pipe was still visible until the mid-1960’s, after which the present earthen bank was created.

Reinstatement of the canal terminal is a recurrent debate on the “Oxford Times” letters page. One of Oxford’s blue badge guides, Bill Leonard, claims that bridge 244 was a tunnel about two metres wide, with just four feet clearance above the water, through which he says boatmen would have had to walk their boats. Er, two metres is about four inches narrower than a narowboat!

D217904a clearly shows the truth: the channel was about 14 feet wide and had headroom similar to that under the bridges at Walton Well Road etc. The width is confirmed by Nuffield College’s accurate 1951 plan of the site just before demolition.

Indeed, how could bridge 244 have been otherwise? The Oxford Canal Company owned a fleet of Thames barges, several feet wider than narrowboats, which loaded coal at New Road coal wharf and delivered it to Oxford to Eynsham, Wallingford etc. The company widened bridge 245 (under Worcester Street) to admit these barges to New Road coal wharf, so bridge 244 must have been wide and high enough for them too!

The “Oxford Times” archives articles and readers’ letters online. FOXCAN’s “newsletter” webpage http://www.foxcan.co.uk/news.html has hyperlinks to almost every item about Worcester Street canal terminal. That includes each of Mr Leonard’s bitter attacks and every effort to answer him with sweet reason. Keep an eye on the “OT” letters page if you can, dear reader – this debate may not be over yet!

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Oxford, Oxford Canal, Oxford Canal Basin. Bookmark the permalink.

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