Press opens in Walton Street
Posted - December 05, 1984
Stimulating local development
When the Press was moved to Walton Street in 1827 it soon stimulated the urban development of the low-lying open ground to the west of Walton Street. This district was bounded on the south by Worcester College and on the west by the Oxford Canal. Names such as Clarendon St., Albert and Wellington testify to the early Victorian vintage of south Jericho. The latter name derived from an old building -Jericho House - which used to stand near the site of the Jericho Inn on Walton Street. North Jericho was not developed until later - in the 1860s it was still largely covered by sand-pits and allotment gardens.
But the northern limit of Jericho was already fixed by the new St. Sepulchre’s cemetery. The great majority of the houses built in Jericho were small two-storey brick terrace houses designed for working men who worked at the Clarendon Press. The managers of the latter - both syndics and superintendants - felt a direct responsibility for the .welfare of their employees.
The Press contributed £500 to the building fund of the neoclassical church of St. Paul’s at the end of Clarendon Street, opened in 1836, and gave another £1,000 to its endowment fund. In the subsequent Victorian era Jericho became a citadel of the new Oxford Movement as as such it religious development was of more than local significance. The central character in this new development was Thomas Combe who was superintendant of the Clarendon Press from 1838 - 1872; my road is now named after him since 1957 when it was called Ferry Road, as such he lived in a house next ‘to the printing office and was greatly concerned with the religious welfare of his employees. He started a Sunday School for the Press boys, as he called them, and taught them personally for twenty years. Combe had originally lived in Oriel Street with an unmarried sister who let lodgings to Newman and Pusey. His association with those men led Combe to become a devout Tractarian.
Combe was introduced to his future wife by Newman, who conducted the marriage of the couple in 1841. In the same year Combe became a partner in the Bible Press which still managed, in parts, as a commercial venture. He increased production and acquired the Wolvercote Paper Mill to secure supplies of good quality paper. His initiative proved commercially lucrative and he soon became a very wealthy man. This enabled him to become one of the finest and most important patrons of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founded in 1848. In the following year John Millais stayed with the Combes at the Press and painted their portraits. Combe later bought Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World1 and Millais’ ‘Return of the Dove to the Ark’.
By the late 1850s Combe was transferring his patronage from religious art to religious architecture. In 1857 he provided money for the rebuilding of Wolvercote church and the building of a new school there. In 1859 he commissioned Arthur Blomfield to design a chapel for the Radcliffe Infirmary, opened in 1864. Moreover he wished to provide a church where his employees at the Press would feel at home and therefore asked Blomfield to design a parish church to be located int he heart of Jericho. He wanted a church that would accommodate a thousand people as cheaply as possible. He told Blomfield that ‘not a penny was to be thrown away in external appearance or decoration. The architect solved the problem by adopting the early Christian basilican style and using cheap but durable materials such as local rubble for the walls and cement for the lintels and sills, the finished church including an elegant campanile cost £6,492. The basilican style was not only cheap but also appropriate for a patron who was nick-named ‘early Christian1 by his Pre-Raphaelite friends. It has always made me feel sad that Thomas Combe, probably the greatest name in the 600-odd years history of the Oxford University Press, should be so forgotten by those who he gave so much of his time and money for.
Author: Ted Harris