Funded by the Heritage Lottery, and managed by the Jericho Living Heritage Trust, the Oxford Canal Heritage project is working with local communities to raise the profile of the Oxford Canal from Duke’s Cut just north of the city to Hythe Bridge Street in the centre.
Oxford’s canal today offers a green and pleasant towpath walk on a route also used by cyclists, runners and anglers besides being home to a small boating community and a favourite destination for leisure craft. Contrast this with 1790s when the Oxford canal became a thriving trade route for coal and other cargoes that narrow boats transported from the Midlands stimulating an important chapter in the economic growth of Oxford with the paper mill at Wolvercote, ironworks, breweries and the Oxford University Press in Jericho all the beneficiaries of cheaper fuel. Boating families toiled long hours unloading coal at the wharves along the canal including those at the canal basin now occupied by Nuffield College and a city car park.
Much of the canal trade was superseded by the railway which came to Oxford in 1840 and slowly Oxford canal’s importance diminished. The last few journeys of the commercial narrow boats were made in the 1950s. So what happened to the Oxford Canal in the last the last half century? On the website you will find lots of information about the decline of this historic waterway, the threat of its closure and then its revival. It is the story of the loss of some iconic features of the industrial past, new developments and other changes.
However it is also a story of the way in which local communities came to its rescue and who better in this world famous city of arts and learning to rally support than a famous poet and an author. In 1955, the poet John Betjeman spoke out against the threatened closure of the Oxford Canal at a Town Hall meeting whilst some 50 years later when the Jericho boatyard and adjoining land was closed and sold for development, Phillip Pullman lent his voice to the campaign for its restitution declaring: “It feels like a battle; it is battle for the soul of something, it is a battle for a little bit of Oxford.” Whilst that battle is not yet won, the many thousands of people for whom the Oxford canal is the industrial jewel in the crown of the city of dreaming spires are cautiously welcoming recent development plans for a new boatyard, community centre, town square and affordable as well as private housing on the Jericho bankside.
On May 3, 2014 the Oxford Canal Heritage Trail will be opened at Pocket Park and it will be followed by a project Launch where we will celebrate through of a day of talks, exhibitions, performances and music at the Old Fire Station. When complete you will find a range of audio and visual information about the Oxford Canal on this site, most of which will be downloadable, including a new Oxford Heritage Canal Audio Trail, an Oxford Heritage Canal Guide and map. We shall feature the winners and runners up of our short play competition, local schools drama work, and excerpts from oral histories of boaters old and young, past and present – the full histories will be deposited in the Oxfordshire History Centre. Information about many different aspects of the Oxford Canal will be available so whether you are interested in the construction of narrow boats or the flora and fauna of the canal do return and visit as the story of Oxford’s canal unfolds. Canal Art Competition inspired by the canal in partnership with Oxfordshire Artweeks, Ecco shoes, Oxford City Culture team and the Jam Factory. Winning entries and runners up will be posted on this web site as well as being exhibited at the Jam Factory during April and St Barnabas Church afterwards.