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Celebrating the Oxford Canal

In April and May a series of exciting events will be taking place celebrating the industrial and cultural heritage of the Oxford Canal.

Organised by the Heritage Lottery funded Oxford Canal Heritage project, the events aim to raise the profile of the final 3 mile section of one of England’s oldest and narrowest canals from rural Duke’s Cut to Hythe Bridge Street in the city centre.

A quiet green corridor, lined by residential boats, the canal brings pleasure to many who walk, feed ducks, fish, cycle along the towpath, cruise for leisure into Oxford, or on the water. What a contrast to the days when the Oxford canal bustled with narrow boats bringing coal from the Midlands and driving the development of industries such as ironworks, brick making, breweries and the Oxford University Press Paper Mill.

Tuesday 1st April sees the start of Oxfordshire Artweeks at the Jam Factory, Oxford, with an exhibition that is ‘Inspired by the Canal’. The winners of Oxford Canal multigenerational Art competition will be presented with their prizes by David Pollock, the Chair of Oxfordshire Artweeks at this Private View.

The exhibition is open to the public from Wednesday 2nd to Sunday 27th April when Oxford Canal prize winning pieces will be exhibited alongside paintings, photographs, and an installation by professional artists inspired by canals at the Jam Factory.

On Saturday 27th April between 2.30 and 3.30pm, local historian Mark Davies presents a free talk ‘The Oxford Canal: an artistic history’ at the Jam Factory, Oxford

The Oxford Canal Heritage Day on Saturday May 3rd offers an exciting free May Bank holiday event for young and old. Besides showcasing new Oxford Canal heritage information and resources, there will be talks, presentations, performances, poetry and music, an art show, community stalls and books for sale.

At 10.30am on Saturday 3rd May, the Deputy Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Tony Brett and Ron Heritage Chairman of the Oxfordshire Branch of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) will open a new Oxford Canal Heritage Trail at Pocket Park, Hythe Bridge Street.

After the ceremony, the public are invited to join in Oxford Canal Heritage Day taking place between 11.30am and 5pm at the Old Fire Station. The programme includes

A tour of the new website www.oxfordcanalheritage.org with its downloadable new Oxford Canal Heritage Trail Guides in audio or as a PDF.
A discussion about past times on the canal at Wolvercote showing how oral histories were gathered from people interviewed about their canal memories.
A talk about the 300 year history of the canal, its boats, boaters, buildings, bridges and locks by 2 historians of the Oxford canal.
Performances by children at St Barnabas, Phil and Jim, Wolvercote and Cutteslowe schools interpreting the canal.
Presentations of prose, poetry and plays inspired by the Oxford canal.

There will also be stalls run by local societies and books about the canal, exhibitions of Oxford Canal art competition winning art, a photo gallery of boats and boaters and demonstrations of traditional Castles and Roses canal folk art.

The full programme is available at www.oxfordcanalheritage.org/.There is no need to book, just drop in for an hour or why not make a day of the visit? The Crisis café in the Old Fire Stations serves delicious food and drink from 9am until 4pm.

In the evening of Saturday May 3 there will be an Oxford Canal Celebration concert of singing, music and dance featuring local musicians, poets and performers and local choir the Jericho Singers. This wll be taking place at the Old Fire Station from 8-10.30 pm. A raffle will be held to raise money for a signature gateway for the canal. Tickets for the event are available from Tickets in Oxford and cost £8 with £5 concessions. Details from www.jlht.org/celebration

On Sunday 4th May and Bank Holiday Monday 5th May at 10am and 12noon, Oxford based canal historian and author Mark Davies will lead short and undemanding one hour historical and literary walks taking in the canal, Castle Mill Stream, Oxford Castle, and Jericho. Tickets cost £3 via email from towpathpress@btopenworld.com

On Thursday May 29th radio play enthusiasts will be gathering at the The Old Bookbinders public house in Jericho (next to the canal) for a live performance of the winning radio plays from the Canal Play competition (?) with opportunities for questions and discussion with the writers.

Background

Over the last year, the Oxford Canal Heritage project, led by the Jericho Living Heritage Trust, has worked with the Oxford Canal Partnership Board, local people, and voluntary organisations to produce information and resources about the history of the canal from 1790 to the present day.

Maria Parsons, Project Manager of the Oxford Canal Heritage Project, said: “I’m delighted that we’re able to launch new information and resources that raise the profile of the Oxford canal which as Oxford author and canal enthusiast Philip Pullman observes: ‘comes into the centre of town, quietly, almost surreptitiously, without many people being aware of it’. The project helps to make more people aware of this once working waterway and the fascinating hidden history of one of the country’s oldest, narrowest canals.”

“Local residents and visitors will now be able to learn much more about the three stretch of the 77 mile Oxford canal from rural Duke’s Cut to busy Hythe Bridge Street in the city centre. I’d like to thank everyone who has helped with the project and everyone taking part in the series of events in the next few weeks. This project would not have succeeded without their input and the Heritage Lottery funding.”
Ends

Note to News Editors: You are invited to cover

Oxford Canal Art Competition winners receiving prizes at the opening of Oxfordshire Artweeks at the Jam Factory at 6.30pm Tuesday April 1

The opening of the Oxford Canal Heritage Trail at Pocket Park, Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford city centre, on Saturday 3rd May at 10.30am.

The Deputy Mayor and other VIPs speaking at the opening of the Oxford Canal Day at the Old Fire Station at 11.30am. Also the programme of events between 12.00 and 5pm as outlined in the Press Release.

You are very welcome to attend all events.

For more information and to record pre-event interviews, please contact Maria Parsons on 07801 509993 or mariastparsons@gmail.com

A brief history of the Oxford Canal

The 77 mile Oxford Canal from Coventry finally reached the city in 1790 after which narrow boats began bringing in coal from the Midlands coalfields. A fall in the price of coal triggered a period of considerable economic development.

The boaters and their families worked very long hours and lived on their boats in the smallest of spaces. They were a tightly knit, largely illiterate, and somewhat marginalised community whose traditional lives inspired Phillip Pullman to create the ‘Gyptians, who feature in his famous trilogy: Dark Materials.

By the 20th century rail and then road replaced narrow boats. Many canals fell into disuse. In Oxford, Nuffield College and a council car park occupy what was once the canal basin and a busy canal terminus. By the 1960s a rubbish strewn Oxford canal was saved from being filled in by the Oxford City Council by community action. The case for retaining the canal championed by Sir John Betjeman, and the rising popularity of leisure boating, saved the Oxford canal.

In the 1990s, the British Waterways sale of the Jericho boatyard and its environs to property speculators outraged many people in Oxford City. Boaters and communities protested against the loss of the nearest boatyard for many miles and new housing proposals that were unsympathetic to the architecture of this historic canal suburb and iconic St Barnabas Church. After the ending of the boatyard occupation, a period of planning blight was ended when Oxford City Council published stricter planning guidance that favoured local community interests. The Jericho Wharf Trust continues to play a crucial role in ensuring that new commercial development plans by Strategic Iconic Assets Heritage Acquisition Fund (SIAHAF) prioritise community needs for a new boatyard, public space, community centre and accessible bridge over the canal.

JLHT Seeks project Manager for Lottery funded Oxford Canal Heritage Project.

Heritage Lottery Fund

The Jericho Living Heritage Trust is seeking a part-time manager to lead a project which is ‘Celebrating the heritage of Oxford’s canal’. The post-holder will oversee implementation of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is a great opportunity to make an immediate and lasting contribution to the city and its canal. For more information and to apply online click here: http://www.jlht.org/project-leader-post

Heritage Lottery Fund backs project: Celebrating the heritage of Oxford's Canal

Today, the Jericho Living Heritage Trust, working on behalf of the Oxford City Canal Partnership has received a £65,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting project in Oxford. The project aims to raise awareness of the Oxford Canal and to celebrate its history and will begin in Spring/Summer 2013.

Heritage Lottery Fund

Through the project people will learn more about the role that the Oxford Canal has played in the development of the city, and about the lives of people who worked on the canal and lived in neighbouring communities. Local schools will also be involved in the project which will include better signposting of the canal, an art exhibition, radio plays, an oral history archive and a community event later in the year. A web site will also be produced to ensure that information remains accessible after the project has been completed.

The story of the Oxford Canal is varied and colourful. From its beginnings as a busy industrial trade route in the 18th and early 19th centuries, through gradual decline, to its current role as a leisure resource and host to a floating residential community, this hidden green corridor of Oxford has a rich, if little-realised, heritage. Its importance to the city has been huge, bringing benefits to both Town and Gown. The canal has also been the focus of two high-profile campaigns in recent decades: one in the 1950s, championed by Sir John Betjeman, saved the canal from possible closure; and more recently there have been the ongoing efforts, in which JLHT has been instrumental, to retain a boatyard in Jericho.

A project manager is currently being recruited to lead the project, working with local volunteers, schools and writers. The team will also be drawing on the skills of local professional writers and experts in oral history. Potential volunteers are invited to visit www.jlht.org for more information about how to get involved.

“Tony Joyce, chairman of the Jericho Living Heritage Trust said: As the Canal  and River Trust’s resources are fully committed to their main responsibility, the operation and maintenance of the waterways, it is excellent news that the Heritage Lottery Fund can step in to fund this project which ensures that the very significant heritage aspects of the canal are not neglected.”

Commenting on the award Roger Hanbury, chairman of the Oxford City Canal Partnership and head of governance services at The Canal and Rivers Trust said:

“The Canal Partnership is delighted that we have won this grant which will help to bring a unique part of Oxford’s heritage alive, telling its story, improving signage and providing interpretation and opportunities for learning”.

Progress Report on the Castlemill Boatyard Project

We have reached another key point in the campaign to acquire and develop the boatyard site for the community, and would like to bring everyone up to date. In the first stage of this project you helped us to raise £120,000 to cover the campaign and legal costs for protecting a very special part of Oxford. The funds ensured that we were able to put forward a compelling case to the Planning Inspector, who ruled that the proposed commercial development on the Jericho Boatyard site was quite unsuitable.

We then focused, working with the other local Jericho organisations, on our own plans to acquire and develop the site. In 2010 we were awarded a £70,000 feasibility grant from the Community Builders fund, with mentorship from Coin Street Community Builders. Using these funds we engaged architects Haworth Tompkins to develop a Masterplan for development of the site in a way that would meet the needs of the community. The plans were displayed during a community consultation event at St Barnabas Church in December 2010, and an abbreviated version of the Haworth Tompkins report can be accessed HERE. The plans were also discussed with senior Planning managers at Oxford City Council, and one result of these discussions is that the City has now proposed new development guidelines for the site which specify provision of all the components we have been campaigning for, including a new operating boatyard to support the community of live-aboard boaters in Jericho and on the Oxford canal.

The outstanding challenge is of course to raise the funds required for site acquisition and development. We need to raise an estimated £4.3 million in public grants and donations, out of a total project budget of £9 million. One of the things we have learned in confronting this challenge is the importance - to those who provide grants, to potential benefactors, and to the City Council – of having a single organisation to take full responsibility for the project. During 2011 the JLHT agreed, together with the Jericho Community Association, the Jericho Community Boatyard, and St Barnabas Parochial Church Council, to create a new Charitable Society – the Jericho Wharf Trust (JWT) – to take on this responsibility. Its Board members are drawn from across the four founding organisations, and include Tony Joyce, Stephanie Pirrie and David Feeny from JLHT.

JWT is now in full operation under the chairmanship of Phyllis Starkey, a long term Jericho resident who brings the experience of thirteen years as an MP and also several years as Leader of Oxford City Council. We very much hope that you will want to engage with JWT and continue your support for the project. You can find out more from their website www.jerichowharf.com where you can sign up to receive information on progress.

JLHT will continue to exist, and will increasingly focus its work on supporting the JWT’s understanding and planning of heritage aspects within the project. We are proud – as we hope you are – of the contribution that JLHT has made up to this point, a contribution that is formally described in our Annual Report and Accounts which you can access HERE. Thank you once again for your support. There is still much to do but the ultimate success of the project will ensure a Jericho future worthy of its history.

Oxford City Council's bid for a sustainable community development

Headline news in The Oxford Times!

JLHT welcomes the news that Oxford City Council has unveiled plans to buy the Castlemill Boatyard under new legislation designed to promote sustainable communities. Click here to read more.

Developers: What's the score on the Boatyard?

It’s important for all of us to understand what ‘doing a deal’ or making a compromise with a developer adds up to regarding the Boatyard site, and just why a community-led scheme is the best option for Jericho, the boaters, and for Oxford as a whole.

The Boatyard site is a tiny patch by developers’ standards - however, a very expensive one. Developers make their profits by building residential units for sale: houses or flats. Eight years of battle with developers has shown us that no developer can make what they see as an adequate profit (c.8%) from building on this site without stuffing it with housing units.

The battle with Bellway Homes (appeal 2004) came to this crunch: they couldn’t possibly make a profit without packing the site. A boatyard replacement couldn’t be squeezed into the area, and they were not prepared to go to the profit-eating expense of providing a replacement yard elsewhere along the canal. Away they went.

The battle with Spring Residential (appeal 2008) was fought with the same economic demands in the minds of the developers. They couldn’t see their way to making a satisfactory profit without putting high, massive, and crammed-together blocks onto the site.

In Jericho itself all Spring would have been prepared to think about in the direction of providing for boaters’ needs for a repair facility was a solitary (and expensive to rent) mooring space stuck next to the pumping station on the south end of the site. As for a proper replacement boatyard provision further along the canal - which is a Planning Requirement for anyone seeking to granted planning permission for the site in Jericho - it became increasingly clear to the JLHT and others that Spring wasn’t prepared, or in a position to afford, to provide an alternative boatyard; not one, that is, with any long-term security of tenancy or ownership or provision of services which would be acceptable to boaters both resident and visiting.

Yes, land prices have for the moment fallen. But the late Spring’s administrators Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) have now made it known that they intend to sit on land bank assets until such time as prices rise. The fact remains that the economics of the Boatyard site won’t ever change appreciably for any developer thinking to be making a profit from it: any developer who touches it will have to fill the space with housing – either a mass of units, or fewer units of a higher build quality for the executive market. Nothing can be clearer than this: it has been roundly proven to us by sitting through two Public Inquiries where each developer has fought tooth-and-nail to try to get onto this site as many units as possible.

In the Bellway Homes and Spring Residential battles the community and boaters had been pressured to surrender their greatest common community asset, the boatyard site, for (apart from a new community centre) just one or two trifling concessions which didn’t look to be deliverable in any case. They (the developers) didn’t succeed. Our Trust’s hard won view is that there can never be a good deal for the community, canal boaters - and, indeed, so the JLHT contends, the city of Oxford itself - that can come from commercial developers’ schemes. The site is simply too small to give developers and community their quarts out of a pint pot.

Consequently, the only answer for us all is to go for a community-led development incorporating features that can bring Jericho, canal boaters, and city, undeniable advantages. Not only are we as a Trust convinced that a community-led scheme is the way ahead, we also believe that achieving a community ownership in perpetuity of the Boatyard site is a necessity. The JLHT and its fellow members on the Jericho Coordination Committee are together in this thinking. And together too we look with some hope to the recently formed Oxford City Canal Partnership, which, it seems, has begun to recognise and address the potential value to the city of its canal and canal-side asset. The partnership brings into concert the city, the County Council, and various canal organisations (even including British Waterways). This partnership recently at its last meeting voted unanimously that Jericho’s Boatyard was the most important present issue on the agenda of a new page for Oxford’s canal revival.

Credit Crunch Boosts Community Plans for Jericho Canalside

Castlemore Securities, a well-known property development company, has gone into administration providing a unique opportunity for the community to acquire the old boatyard site in Jericho. The Jericho Living Heritage Trust (JLHT), a registered charity, is currently in discussions with the company’s administrators about the future of the Boatyard site.The Jericho Living Heritage Trust (JLHT), a registered charity, is currently in discussions with the company’s administrators about the future of the Boatyard site. Colin Dexter, author of the Morse TV series and Patron of the Trust said “We are all behind the Jericho Living Heritage Trust and its
tremendous efforts to acquire the old boatyard site for the community. Jericho will forever be my favourite location in this beautiful city of Oxford, and one of the only remaining places in the centre of Oxford were people can linger and enjoy the Canalside.”

“We are uniquely placed to acquire the site for the community and to take advantage of these extraordinary times,” said Peter Strong, chairman of the Trust. “We have been working extremely hard on this project, raising the necessary finances and listening to and liaising with all the groups involved.”

In August 2008 the Trust, working together with other groups, successfully defeated an appeal by the owners to build 54 residential flats on the boatyard site, raising significant funds to support the campaign.

The Inspector’s decision was the second time that a commercial planning application had been refused on the site. “There were over 700 letters of objection lodged during the appeal by local residents and people who care about the future of Jericho,” said Sir Christopher Ball, founder Patron of the Jericho Living Heritage Trust. “The Inspector’s decision gives hope to communities across the country wanting to safeguard the beauty and heritage of their local environment.”

"I am delighted that the work of the Jericho Living Heritage Trust is gathering momentum, and that the possibility of a locally-led redevelopment of the boatyard is drawing together such an exciting mix of interest, talent and enthusiasm. It will be a great achievement for all who care about the future of this fascinating quarter of Oxford. It will be a beacon of hope to many other communities who are facing similar challenges. I wholeheartedly support the aspirations of JLHT" said Father Jonathan Beswick, parish priest of St Barnabas, Jericho.

Spring Residential Lose their Appeal!

The JLHT is delighted to announce that Spring Residential's appeal was rejected by the Planning Inspector. Congratulations to all involved for your hard work and support in the helping the JLHT and the community achieve this important victory!

What next?

The JLHT is now working to put together a consortium with the intention of purchasing the Jericho Boatyard site for a community-led development. Your support will be as important as ever. Please stay in touch via the website, more information will be forthcoming.

About the Appeal

Spring Residential's appeal against Oxford Council's decision to reject the plan to build a four-storey block of flats on the boayard site took place in Oxford Town Hall from the 12th to the 21st of August.

The case against the appellants (Spring Residential) was fought vigorously by us the Jericho Living Heritage Trust (JLHT) in close partnership with the Jericho Community Association (JCA). Our barrister was Mr.Trevor Standen of the firm RadcliffesLeBrasseur, Westminster, and we had four first-rate expert witnesses, including Mr. Richard Anstis (canal paths, planning policy, etc), Dr. David Lloyd (flood-risk), Mr. Denis McCoy (urban design); and further, on the topic of the design’s appropriateness for Jericho, Mr George Ferguson, the former President of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

There were two other barristers engaged along with ours in what was altogether a gruelling battle against the appellants: Mr. Douglas Edwards representing the Oxford City Council fought the issue of affordable housing; and Mr. Mark Westmoreland-Smith representing the Jericho Community Boatyard Ltd. fought the issue of the developer providing a replacement boatyard elsewhere along the Oxford Canal.

A number of individuals gave their 3rd Party representations, including Philip Pullman's spirited entreaty to the Inspector, Ava Wood. Among others of our team Jenny Mann and Heathcote Williams did excellently. And Father Jonathan Beswick, priest in charge of St Barnabas Church, gave the JLHT and JCA’s stance his fullest support.

Throughout the Inquiry, the sheer strength of local feeling about the insensitivity and unsuitability of this proposal was made abundantly clear.

So, where are we now?

The Inspector will decide the issue within 6-8 weeks. At present we need to finish finding the funds to cover the costs of what was a vitally necessary legal defence of the community’s say in what happens to the boatyard. And if we win, and should Spring choose to sell, there awaits an even greater challenge for us - that of gathering the wherewithal to purchase the boatyard for the community. All the contingency work to enable future actions is now underway with our sub-committee teams of volunteers. Also, our registered charity status application is progressing.

As Heathcote Williams, one voice for Jericho's heritage, expressed in his 3rd Party Statement:

'Oxford is England's Venice, its Florence. Imagine the authorities in Venice - the Serene Republic - being presented with Castlemore Securities' Blocks A, B and C - or Spring Residential's Executive Barracks. They'd be laughed out of court for hatching something so inappropriate and might count themselves fortunate not to find horse's heads on their pillows. Castlemore have now spent some three years laying siege to Jericho with one plan or another. All of them dull if not plug ugly. But if they should have their way and if Oxford continues to be nibbled away at and is then finally turned into Brent Cross Shopping Centre its magic will never come round again.

In 1918 when the poet W.B. Yeats lived here he wrote: "I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all...like an opera." If Yeats could glimpse what Castlemore Securities have been plotting to plant on Jericho I dare say he wouldn't be surprised to discover that the Oxford songbirds of his imagination had now lost their voices and were falling into a despondent silence. Why? because Jericho wants its boatyard back.'

JLHT Announces new founder-patrons

The Jericho Living Heritage Trust is delighted to announce that Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse novels, and Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, have joined Sir Christopher and Lady Wendy Ball to become Patrons of the Trust.

Lady Wendy Ball has said: 'Jericho is a wonderful community with an important artistic and cultural heritage. As residents of Jericho we are both delighted to receive this generous invitation and look forward to working with the trust to protect the heritage of Jericho for the community and for future generations.'

Colin Dexter: 'When I wrote a novel about Jericho, I learned that potential plans had been afoot to "modernise" (i.e. vandalize) the whole area. Happily the wishes of the denizens, sanity, and aesthetic sensitivity prevailed; and I profoundly hope that they willl do so once more. The present hideous proposals should be dishonourably laid to rest in an appropriate recycling-box.'

Philip Pullman: 'The boatyard is going to vanish and it is not just the boatyard itself, it is the importance of the life of the canal that I am concerned with as well as the beautiful view that we have of the church and the trees that will grow. Unfortunately I do think it is symptomatic of how Oxford as a whole is changing. People like myself who have been here for 40 years will remember St Ebbe's as it used to be. It is now the concrete wasteland of the Westgate Centre. The Covered Market is changing, and Cornmarket is now a street like any other High Street in the country, so it is all the more important we protect little spots like this.'