ABOUT JERICHO - STREETS ITEM
Item posted: December 27 2012
Canal Street runs roughly parallel with the Oxford canal.
Canal Street runs roughly parallel with the Oxford canal from Nelson Street to Mount Street, ending at the old wharves of Lucy’s Eagle Ironworks and connects all the streets running down to the canal from Walton Street. Alleys leading off it give access to the canal and its wharves and warehouses. Yet it was not finally built up until the 1870s because of waterlogged ground and persistent flooding.
For when the canal was built little thought was given to the effect it would have on the natural drainage. Here the Thames divides into a number of shallow branching channels separated by low ridges. Oxford itself stands about 2-3 metres above the river level and the runoff drains down into such channels. The course of the canal destroyed the Winterbourne stream which drained north Oxford and disrupted the discharge into the Castle Mill Stream, while the puddled clay lining of the canal restricted the flow of ground water. So the water ponded up along the east side of the canal creating a belt of waterlogged ground in western Jericho. This was the area known as Ward’s fields. Into these fields spilled all the sewage, road runoff and refuse from North Oxford, making it impossible to build there before the land was drained. The situation was made worse by the construction of a pound lock on the Thames at Osney. In this type of lock the water is held back before release so sending a surge of water downstream and raising the water level to allow barges to reach or leave Oxford for a brief period. It also aggravated flooding upstream until it was replaced by a flash lock in 1829.
The London North West Railway was faced with the flooding problem when laying its track and had to put down hundreds of tons of gravel to drain the ground and provide for a high embankment. This improved matters. By the 1860s Ward’s fields were dry enough to start building and the roads leading down from Walton Street were extended to Canal Street.
The threat of floods remained nevertheless. One resident recalled sitting on a table top and being pushed from school through the flood water. The housing was, in general, very poor and a high proportion of condemned properties had to be demolished in Canal Street during the urban renewal of the 1970s. It was also the scene of one of the worst clashes between squatters and residents which marked that time. Under the new definition of Jericho as a residential area most of the small waterside industries which remained were relocated. Hinkins and Frewin’s yards are now Whitworth Court and a new mains draining system has reduced the risk of flooding. New housing on the old wharves is now transforming this 19th century industrial site into a smart residential area.
Based on information in the Jericho Sketchbook.
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