Oct 2017: Autumn in the OPT offices

Oct 2017: Autumn in the OPT offices

‘Keeping the best of the old, and encouraging the best of the new’

40 in 40 – celebrating 40 years of the Oxford Preservation Trust Awards 

From the start in 1927, OPT has taken a forward thinking approach to ‘keeping the best of the old and encouraging the best of the new’. To celebrate our first 50 years in 1977 we held the first OPT Awards, and it was so successful that we just kept going.

In 2017 Oxford Brookes student Harry Hammond spent the Summer term trawling through the OPT archive to find the past winners and then we had fun going through and picking a winner from each year.  40 in 40 has been running in the Oxford Times and Oxford Mail over the past five weeks with 8 projects displayed each week. Now you have the chance to VOTE.  Just keep your eye on The Oxford Times, here on our website or via our Facebook and Twitter feeds and we'll tell you how you can cast your vote for your favourite and enter the prize draw to win two tickets to the Annual OPT Awards which are taking place in early November at St. Catherine’s College. 

Manor Place Planning Inquiry

St Catherine’s is an Arne Jacobsen’s masterpiece, and Oxford’s only 20th century Grade I listed building.  I have got to know it well whilst Roger Ainsworth has been OPT Chair, as he is the Master there.  Over the past month it has also been centre stage at the two week long Manor Place Planning Inquiry which took place in the Town Hall.  This is Merton College land and their developers had challenged the City Council’s refusal of permission for a large and somewhat unsympathetic speculative student housing scheme on this special site in between Holywell Manor, St Cross Church, Holywell Cemetery, St Catz and the Magdalen Deer Park.  OPT partnered Magdalen College to say this was the wrong building for the site.   The Inspector inspected the area on a lovely sunny Oxford day, and with not just St Catz but the Grade II Bodleian Law Library by Sir Leslie Martin, who also designed the Royal Festival Hall, and Sir Norman Foster’s Manor Road Social Science Library as near neighbours we are hopeful that he will share our collective view that the site deserves better. 

Architecture old and new

Old and new, architects and architecture, were a constant theme running through the OPT work this month.  I was delighted to be invited by Green Templeton College, which has the Radcliffe Observatory at its heart, to be an observer, alongside Gill Butter, City Conservation Officer, as they began their exercise to choose a firm of architects for their latest project.  Eight architects’ practices made presentations to the Principal, Bursar, Fellows and student representatives, looking to appoint the right people who can build on the welcoming ethos at GTC.  The decision to appoint an exciting and thoughtful firm of young architects, Feilden Fowles seems just right and I look forward to seeing how the project evolves to the benefit of the College and wider Oxford.   

Within a few days another Radcliffe building was in my sights as I enjoyed the OPT members tour of the Radcliffe Camera with the twelve lucky winners from the Oxford Open Doors prize draw.   It is no cliché to say that it is Oxford’s most wonderful space, making me catch my breath as I reached to top of the grand staircase to  enter the library within the dome, still being used as it was intended over 350 years ago.  Our Bodleian host put on a great tour and included the Gladstone link under Broad Street so that people were surprised when a door opened and we found ourselves in the Proscholium at the Divinity School.  We went underground because we could not go up and onto the roof this time because there were just too many wires and trip hazards as the University planned for the Curiosity Carnival.  A couple of nights later I was back again to enjoy the most wonderful lighting display of, not just the Camera but, the front of Duke Humfreys and the University of Science, and up the road where the Natural History Museum, Radcliffe Infirmary and Radcliffe Observatory were doing their dramatic best ... and Oxford people came out in their numbers to talk together and enjoy the wonderful balmy early Autumn evening.

Painted Room

We were back in time again, later in the week when our special supporters joined us for tea in the Painted Room with paintings expert, Madeleine Katkov who has been carrying out emergency repairs to the wall paintings to stabilise those precious flakes of plaster and is advising us on the work that now needs to happen.  With her advice we will now remove the sliding wall panelling and hope to move it up a flight to the floor above where we are doing some improvement works and hope to set up an Oxford Reading Room, in due course.

In the 1940s the Painted Room was the OPT office and our Secretary, which role I now have, was (Sir) John Betjeman.  In the adjoining room sat the Urban Planner, Thomas Sharpe, who was preparing his work on Oxford’s townscape, to include his ideas for the Meadow Road which would have cut across Christ Church Meadows bowing to the era about to begin when the car would be king.  We can only guess at the conversations between Sharpe and Betjeman as they passed on the stairs.

Revealing Hidden Oxford

Thomas Sharpe’s original plan is on display in the Revealing Hidden Oxford display in the Proscholium at the Bodleian Library until 5 November with thanks to Oxford City Council and the Bodleian Library.  It is open to the public each day and free of charge – don’t miss the opportunity to see what Oxford might have become? 

What have we learnt?

Have we really learned so much since those days?  This week we are struggling with the traffic plans being put in place in order to accommodate the vast Westgate Shopping Centre which opens on 24 October.  We have just learned that there is to be a taxi rank installed across the front of the Golden Cross and the Painted Room to clear the way in Queen Street, and we watch as a plethora of signs appears almost daily to guide the dos and don’ts of loading and unloading.   Do our traffic colleagues ever consider Oxford as a place of character and history or is it just a series of roads and buses to be managed?  Needless to say we are taking this up with them...

There’s never been a better time to join OPT

Our members are vital to us. Please help us to continue this vital work and become a member.

There are a host of great benefits:

  • Get your own copy of the Oxford Open Doors brochure delivered to your door in advance of the event, with a host of special member only events.
  • Free year-round access to the Castle Mound and Oxford Castle visitor attraction.
  • 10% discount at the Castle Gift Shop.
  • 10% discount in the newly refurbished Castleyard Café.
  • 15% discount at the Victoria Arms Pub on the banks of the Cherwell at Old Marston – famed for its literary links and Morse/Lewis connections.
  • A varied programme of annual activities including lectures, visits and walks in town and country.
  • Volunteer opportunities
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