Category Archives: Oxford

‘Further outlook stormy’

Driving in and around Oxford has long been an inconvenient experience. Various measures have been introduced over the years; blocking off access to some roads, restricting traffic on others. It is perhaps fortunate that the most ambitious of post-war planning never took place, considering the destruction that would have been caused to some of the prettiest parts of the city. Oxford Replanned was a scheme devised by Thomas Sharp, a planning consultant to the City Council, after the 1939-45 war. Sharp was appointed following work in a number of areas destroyed or damaged during the Blitz. Designed to take traffic away from the High Street by building new roads to the south of Merton College through Christ Church Meadow and then linking up with the Botley Road via a new layout of roads and squares between Queens Street and the Railway Station, the scheme was controversial from the start, something that Sharp himself predicted. In his book ‘Oxford Replanned’ Sharp states in the introduction ‘The task has proved to be an onerous one, and now it is completed I cannot with certainty expect that the result will be generally acceptable even in its main features, let alone in all its details. indeed I know very well that some of the suggestions I make will rouse bitter opposition in some quarters’. The Oxford Times were keen supporters of the plans, even though they could see the reaction the plans would cause, “further outlook stormy”, was their prediction as early as February 1948.

Overview of the city, from ‘Oxford Replanned’, 2479115 d.77.

Sharp passionately believed that radical steps needed to be taken to relieve the pressure on the High Street, which would bring ‘…some peace back into the old heart of the city’. To achieve this he set out a plan that involved  knocking down the large building belonging to Magdalen School between Cowley Place and the River, and building a bridge over the Cherwell at an angle to

Extract from a map showing proposed new bridge and road layout from the Plain (R) C17:70 Oxford (246)

Magdalen bridge which would take a new road from the Plain over the river and through Merton Field and Christ Church Meadow. This would then link up with a square south of Christ Church and then leading onto the Railway Station and Botley Road. For Sharp there were two main benefits to this scheme, the easing of traffic through the High already mentioned and the clearing of the slum areas around the castle. Sharp also envisaged a new building programme, with schools, council buildings and housing centred around public squares where previously there were slums and narrow streets.

Plan from ‘Oxford Replanned’ showing the proposed new road linking the plain to the square by Christ Church

As can be imagined Sharp’s plans were met with some opposition, though many recognized the need to improve the traffic issues that were apparent even then. Sharp appeared at a number of meetings throughout 1948 as his book was published and an exhibition of the proposals was held in the City. Most memorable was the an Oxford Union debate on the 4th of March, which was disrupted by the letting off of smoke bombs, though this seems to have been a student prank than any protest as a motion to support the plan was carried 173 votes to 50.

The new proposed layout overprinted onto an Ordnance Survey 6″ map of the city. (R) C17:70 Oxford (246).  As can be seen in this map Sharp proposed major changes to the layout of the city to the north of the High Street as well as the south.

Sharp’s plans updated those of Lawrence Dale, who published a book in 1944 called ‘Towards a plan for Oxford City’. Like Sharp Dale wanted to move traffic away from the High Street, though Dale doesn’t seem to have any connection with the Council or planning in general. His book is a mixture of strange motives, his plans seem to have been born out of frustration at an attempt to fly a kite on Christ Church meadow in 1942 thwarted by a notice at the entrance banning beggars, those poorly dressed and those flying kites from entry, while amongst his more outlandish ideas is the moving of the University out of Oxford to the estate at Wytham, leaving the college buildings to tourists and soldiers on leave or wounded from fighting in the war. As can be seen from a plan made by Dale his road goes nearer the river than Sharp’s proposals.

Lawrence Dale’s map from 1942 showing his proposed layout of a road over the meadows. (R) C17:70 Oxford (246)

The pictures shown throughout this blog are a mixture of maps and plans that were made for the production of a book written by Sharp in 1948 that sets out his proposals, ‘Oxford Replanned’. This book is a treasure trove of old photographs, plans and pictures and writings both of the city as it was immediately post-war and of how it could be if Sharp’s proposals were accepted. The maps and plans are in a number of different formats and media, and have recently undergone valuable conservation work, as some of the material, particularly the dyeline paper mapping and heavily painted plans, were not that stable.

The proposed square linking the new road from the Plain with the Railway Station, from ‘Oxford Replanned’.

Ultimately Sharp’s plans were rejected. Who’s to say we’re better off now without them? People can walk in the beautiful grounds of Christ Church and Merton unimpeded by road traffic, fumes and noise but at the same time the High Street is often clogged with traffic and the infrastructure of the road suffers from the traffic on it.

Page from ‘Oxford Replanned’ showing an idealistic view of the proposed road going through Christ Church Meadow.

[Maps from] Oxford Replanned,  1942-1956. A set of 19 maps, plans and prints, (R) C17:0 Oxford (246)

Oxford Bus & Cycle Map

Bus & Cycle map cover

Many Bodleian Library staff commute by bicycle and a number are keen cyclists, so the arrival of a new edition of the Oxford Bus & Cycle Map was greeted with enthusiasm in the Map Room, especially the side of it showing cycle routes. The map was produced by Richard Mann of Transport Paradise, whose site offers advice on improving urban transport with examples from Oxford and elsewhere. The cycle map is an innovative product in that it attempts to show two complete cycle networks. A quieter one (suitable for family and leisure cycling) is shown in blue, with routes through quiet streets or away from the roads altogether, through parks and beside the river. Meanwhile the main cycle commuter routes are shown in red; a complete, joined up network, with dotted lines to identify those parts of it where cycle provision is poorer, rather than a patchy network of good cycle routes – a pragmatic approach, since the cyclist will have to find a way even when it is less than ideal. An extract showing the city centre is shown below.

cycle map city centre inset

The clever design of the bus map on the reverse does a good job of unscrambling Oxford’s sometimes confusing bus route network. Four colours – red, blue, green and yellow – are used to group the main routes, to make it easier to follow them visually through the concentration of routes in the city centre. The frequency of services is indicated by solid, dashed or dotted lines.

Oxford’s centre is constantly busy, thronged with crowds of students, tourists and locals. Travelling into it by car is slow and parking is expensive. Use this map instead!

Oxford bus & cycle map. Oxford: Transport Paradise, 2015. C17:70 Oxford (249)

History of the Map Room

While maps and atlases have come into the library from its earliest days the map collection began in earnest in 1800, following a decision made to start the purchase of English and Foreign maps. In 1813 the Curators of the library ordered a large table to be made to hold the increasing collection of maps and atlases, which had grown in size with the bequest in 1809 of the collection of Richard Gough, which included the world famous map of Britain, the ‘Gough Map’, dating from the 1370s and the earliest map in existence showing a road network.

449x222_GoughMap

The main part of the collection though has been, from the start, the printed maps of the Ordnance Survey, published from 1801 onwards and which comes into the library under the legal deposit arrangement of 1610. This was followed in the second half of the nineteenth century by the hydrographic charts published by the Admiralty, and by 1882 it was reckoned that the library was receiving between three and four thousand sheets a year from these two organizations alone.

For many years the collection was held in the Douce Room (now part of the Lower Reading Room) where it was felt that ‘In default of means of dealing with them and of space for their storage, maps, it is to be feared, were regard as an encumbrance’. (1)

The collection moved from the Douce Room in 1887, into the Moral Philosophy School room in the Old Schools quadrangle. Fitted out at a cost of £480 this space was soon cramped and it wasn’t until the completion of the New Library in 1939, and with it a large purpose-built room on the east side of the building with storage areas set aside in the stacks on the same floor that the Map Department had finally a proper home.

Increased storage in the New Bodleian bookstack was soon put to good use. Throughout the Second World War and after the library has been fortunate in receiving from the Geographical Section of the War Office, and more recently the Ministry of Defence, a large number of maps from both the Allies and Axis forces, giving the Bodleian not only maps of historical interest but also detailed mapping of parts of the world that the library had poor cover of up until the arrival of these donations.

Bodley’s map collection was held in the New Library until 2010 when, along with all the other material held by the library, the maps, atlases and globes moved to purpose-built accommodation in Swindon. With over a million maps to call on the collection is stored in a controlled environment in drawers with space to let the collection grow, through material published in Great Britain that comes to the library via the legal deposit agreement of 1610 and the large number of donations the Bodleian receives each year. While the Ordnance Survey continues to be the make up a great part of the collection donations from the Ministry of Defence means the library has a large amount of material dealing with Britain’s military and colonial past, from trench maps from the western front to tribal maps of Africa.

  1. Craster, E. History of the Bodleian Library 1845-1945, 1952. Pg 81, X1.11.