50 Years of Jericho
Posted - April 04, 1984
This fascinating exhibition at the Westgate Library from from Feb 27 to March 10 was researched and compiled by a local history class organised by the Oxford University Department of External Studies, and directed by Dr. T.G.Ashplant. Those taking part were Derek Sergei, Pat Heinemann, Patrick Lingwood, Wendy Paine and Margaret Torrance, and I am grateful to them for allowing some of the material to appear in the Echo.
Although the exhibition covered the period from 1871 to 1921, it dealt briefly with Jericho’s pre-history. The earliest mention of a building in the area(“a lowlying marshy area to the West of Walton Lane, an old lane that ran to Walton Well and out to Binsey”) was the Jericho House, a tavern on the site of the present Jericho Tavern, in 1588. In 1760 the Eagle Iron Works (now Lucy’s) was founded. In 1829, after the completion of the Oxford Canal which brought with it cheap coal, wharves and coal-yards were established in Jericho. The University Press opened in Walton Street in 1826 and soon became the largest employer in Oxford. Over the next twenty years the builders moved in to put up houses for the workers so by 1850 Jericho was Jericho.
Social conditions in Jericho in the nineteenth century were appalling. It was an unsavoury place built on marsh with little or no drainage or sewers. The houses were poorly built and very overcrowded. The streets were unpaved and when it rained became open sewers. In 1844, 1849 and 1854 there were outbreaks of cholera. Generally the area was considered rough with lots of pubs and a brothel The 1870’s saw an improvement in conditions with the introduction of proper drainage and piped-in water. 3y 1900 there were 1041 houses, 4 pubs, 21 beer retailers and 7 religious institutions! The exhibition covered the history of various institutions in Jericho including St. Barnabas Church (Mrs B.Gordon-Cumming remembers in the thirties that the men sat on one side of side of the aisle and the women on the other), the Jewish Synagogue (first established in Worcester Place in 1878), the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel (demolished in 1966, Walton Street) the Strict Baptist Chapel, Albert Street (built by members of the congregation in 1881 at a cost of £320 + £100 for the land), St. Barnabas School and Ruskin College.
Ruskin, by the way, was founded in 1899 by two American students, Walter Vrooman and Charles Beard, as a full-time residential college for the education of working people to study constitutional history, sociology and political science. Originally at 14 St. Giles, it moved to Walton Street in 1901 , displacing Johnson’s Timber Yard.
Best of all, however, were the accounts of growing up in Jericho by Mary Jayccck nee Wheeler b.1909, Gladys Couling b.1907, Albert Upstone b.1915,Earnest Harvey b.1908 and ‘Miss A’ b.1906. The general feeling seems to be that although life in Jericho in the early part of the century was hard, it was also much more fun, with a great community spirit — not the “millionaires’ paradise” that it is today!
Here are some extracts:
I was born in Jericho Gardens, which you can see through my windows, where it used to be. In Jericho Gardens there were five houses on each side and one toilet.
- Did you have water in the house?
We used to share taps in the garden. You were well off if you had a little scullery with a tap in. That’s why we moved to King Street. Mum paid 5/- a week and it was half a crown crown in Jericho Gardens. That was one up and one down…
A.E. We had no bathrooms in those days we used to have a bath once a week on the kitchen table. Heating was coal fires. We used to have a copper in the kitchen.
E.H. When I first started there (Brasenose College) there was no baths there and the Bursar said ‘What do you want baths for? They’re only up for eight weeks.’
It was a wonderful communal spirit, you know, everybody knew everybody and there was a pub or little shop on every corner. And you never had to lock your door, you could go off up to town, or you could leave your rent or insurance just inside the door with no fear. It was marvellous. And in the evenings, a nice summer evening, everybody was out on their doorsteps, sitting on their doorsteps or even with a chair out and you’d have your bread and cheese or even a glass of beer, that sort of thing.