August: Oxford Open Doors - a window onto real Oxford

August: Oxford Open Doors - a window onto real Oxford

A friend recently sent me a link to an article on a recently published book ‘Real Oxford’ and as I love an ‘Oxford’ book I headed to Blackwell’s for my copy.   This is a very personal book and the author, Patrick McGuinness tells a different tale to that of just our well-known University city with its pinnacled honeyed stone and peaking views.  It weaves a web along the streets and water courses where old industry and real townspeople lived and into the places that we live now. As I turn the page I recognise a great deal of the character and characters, including Oxford Preservation Trust’s  ‘…ingenuity, vigilance and grit …’ needed as the often lone voice of an earlier Oxford which would be lost to future generations without us.

The book begins at Oxford station, an arrival to our great city of which no one can be proud and where I have just been looking at Network Rail’s proposals for an improved station, with some more elaborate plans to come. Whilst new development does not guarantee beauty, or indeed, good architecture, we should all hope that this is a key requirement so that this better sense of arrival is achieved at last.  A short walk leads to the ‘…the swing bridge fragments…’ where Mr McGuinness hopes that our ‘valiant efforts’ will restore the bridge.  I make a mental note to add him to the guest list for the opening later in the year, for with the support of Network Rail, Railway Heritage Trust, Historic England and others we are doing just that.  Over 500 rivets have been busted to remove the individual steel plates, taking the whole thing apart, like a massive jigsaw undone, each piece  cleaned, mended and remade, and the whole thing back together, one piece at a time.  To see the expertise and sense the passion of those who work on it, creates a theatre within its own big top, as the huge white tent hugs its scaffold skeleton tight, looking like a massive murder mystery scene, and where inside, unseen and out of harm’s way, the oiling and turning, the scraping and the mending can happen.  It is hard to fathom how something so massive can be at the same time so delicate and intricate, as each well-prepared part is carefully painted by hand.  When the work is done the bridge, which has been raised for the work to happen, will lower again so that the mended cogs and wheels can reconnect and hopefully do their thing.  I look forward to the final celebrations, but will stop at the promise to see it turn, mindful of the Save River Tyne Swing Bridge, earlier this Summer which made the news by jamming at just the wrong moment.    

Real Oxford could be another name for Oxford Preservation’s splendid  Oxford Open Doors event, which takes place each year and with the support of Oxford University will happen this September 11/12.  It’s a celebration of all things Oxford town and gown its people and its places and we are always careful to balance the delights of our College and University buildings which this year include Christ Church, All Souls and Magdalen, together with some of its newer magnificence and the new St. John’s College Library, alongside our town heritage. This year our own projects will feature large, with the restored units in the Covered Market working with the City Council, and the County Council working to repair the Castle Mound paths just in time.   We will need to restrict some things where access is difficult and include here our Shakespeare Painted Room with its too narrow stairway, but there are some booked slots available and a virtual tour too.  There is also a whole series of Heritage & Green Spaces self-guided walks, including our latest walk at Rose Hill, where we have been researching its history and will be working with the local communities here in the autumn.  And if it is the Swing Bridge that has caught your eye then there are two walks that pass it by and where there will be experts on hand to tell you more.  There’s lots more besides all available on our website – I look forward to seeing you over the weekend.

 

Debbie