February: Oxford in a Box

February: Oxford in a Box

When I begin a book I have a habit of turning to the acknowledgements page. I like to think about how a book has come about, who encouraged it, helped with the research, who was trusted to read the early texts. It gives me some insight into the person writing and can read like a story within the story of its own.   

I wonder what the reader can tell from the acknowledgements in the Oxford Heritage Books. This series of six books, published by OPT over the past ten years, belong to the author, and the illustrator, Malcolm Graham, and Edith Gollnast. Malcolm spent a working lifetime at the Oxfordshire Studies Library, publishing a set of ‘on Foot’ walking leaflets in the 1970s, with the later illustrations by Edith. In the early 2000s and new at OPT, I was eager to learn more about the city, so I followed the walks and became a fan of both them and the author, and soon met and got to know Edith who was the city’s conservation officer. The leaflets were by then out or date and out of print and we had the charming idea of walking the routes together, updating them as we went, ready to capture Malcolm and Edith’s greater knowledge in a City that had since changed and evolved. Like so many things it did not happen, so when I heard that Edith and Malcolm were to retire I grabbed my chance.   

We should not have been surprised when the walks turned into books, to cover the whole of the city centre. We could not have known how important, rewarding and brilliant they would turn out to be, or how much time and hard work and commitment would be needed by the author and illustrator. It is a testament to two lifetimes working in and for the city, and to their generosity with their knowledge and their time that we can now walk alongside them down Magpie Lane or Blue Lamp Alley, down Alfred Street, past Oxford’s first gymnasium, avoiding the rubble stone wall ahead marking the boundary of Christ Church where Jury Lane once led on. Holding our hand and our attention they walk us up past the site of the former Hen & Chicken pub where a licensed premises has stood for over 350 years, now the Wheatsheaf, letting us pause to remember Gill & Co the nearby ironmongers who claimed to date from 1530 making them one of the oldest businesses in the country before they closed their doors in 2010. All this is a stone’s throw from Carfax and is just one example of the tantalizing layers of history within the pages of ‘From the High to Trill Mill’ the latest and last in the series of On Foot books just published. ‘Paradise’, ‘Sheepwash’ ‘Catte Street to Parson’s Pleasure’ words within the titles of other books to further whet your appetite.  

Malcolm and Edith would be the first to acknowledge that others have helped along the way. Alun Jones who sadly died in 2019 lent his characterful maps, Nick Clarke formerly of OUP used his skill and patience to turn OPTs amateurish enthusiasm into these cleverly designed books, all with our proofreader our printers and our generous funders alongside without whom none of this would have happened, and thank you to Blackwell’s who shared their expertise, agreed to stock the books and made sure we were at the Literary Festival more than once. 

And so now these six little books are complete, bringing the City’s streets to life, entertaining and opening your eyes to what is around you. The final book was published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the day that Malcolm first walked into the Oxford Library, and the story began. We’ve made a special slipcover to hold the books tight ‘Oxford in a Box’, together they capture Oxford at this point in time, an important reference for future historians and Oxford people. So there you have it, the story behind our own page of acknowledgement. Thank you Malcolm and Edith we are indebted to you, and all that remains is for me to urge you to buy the books and do the walks they are brilliant and they are Covid Safe.

Get your 'Oxford in a Box' HERE