Beyond The Dreaming Spires

THE OTHER OXFORD, FAR FROM THE TOURIST TRAIL

Mention Oxford to most people and an image of beautiful golden stone buildings with spires and domes comes to mind. The High Street or ‘The High’ is surely one of the most splendid streets in the world from Magdalen Bridge and the magnificent Magdalen Tower up to Carfax Tower, passing medieval college walls mixed with old shopfronts and the University Church of St Mary’s at its centre. Unfortunately this is only a small fragment of the city and apart from leafy North Oxford and a few other pleasant residential areas the rest of it is blighted by suburban sprawl. Oxford has long been an industrial city as well as an academic one and to the south east are endless streets of pre-war and 1950s council houses, 1930s semis, and Morris car factory workers’ housing.

Since first visiting the place I have been struck by the difference between ‘Town’ and ‘Gown’ exemplified by the beautiful architecture from the 13th century up to 1914, centred around the University, and the dross that followed WW1 and the city’s expansion. No other English city has such a contrast between the historic centre and everywhere else. Mediocre development continues to this day with a few honourable exceptions (see my post on the appalling University buildings that have recently blighted the 1000 year old Port Meadow).

The beauty of the University has been photographed by countless tourists but I thought I would take my old Leica down to the suburban streets of the ‘real’ Oxford to capture a more accurate view of the city ‘beyond the Dreaming Spires’…….

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