Posted - January 15, 2013
Richmond Road was originally called Worcester Terrace.
Richmond Road, or Worcester Terrace as it was originally called, was built as part of St. John’s College policy in the 19th century to devote its extensive north Oxford land holdings to housing.
Before the 11th century a small rural settlement known as Twentyacres stood on the site, one of several outside the walled city but still within the Liberty. It consisted of a small cluster of houses and cottages along the west side of Stockwell Street as this section of Walton Street was then called. A hundred years later only 24 names appeared on the Poll Tax return and in 1510 only one cottage and garden was recorded, occupied by a shepherd employed by Osney Abbey. In its place were meadows and it was not until Beaumont Street was opened in 1820, making the area easily accessible from the city, that the building of Walton Street began.
Worcester Place and Worcester Terrace originally allowed access only to Walton Lane, the service road behind this section of Walton Street, but in 1835 William Wilkinson, the architect of St. John’s College, built a short terrace of five cottages on the south side of Worcester Place. These two-up, two-down workmens’ cottages were very like those found in Jericho, brick built in the chequer-board Flemish bond with tile roofs. Whether they were first meant for college servants or for renting to journeymen printers from the University Press has never been clear.
The north side and west end of the modern street remained undeveloped until 1863 when the demolition of the south wall of Smith’s Close made the land available. The road was then extended as far as the junction with Worcester Place. Building plots were then sold to speculative builders on long leases on which they erected new dwellings. Those on the north side were two-storey villas, with the customary basement, designed to appeal to small middle class professional families who needed to live within walking distance of the city centre but could not afford many servants. Their polychromatic brick and tile work, bay windows and gothic porches are quintessential mid-Victorian domestic architecture. The three-storey houses on the south side are about the same date.
The western wall of Smith’s Close blocking access to the canal was not taken down until 1876 to allow the renamed Richmond Road to connect with Walton Crescent, Albert Street and Nelson Street. This area was much more prone to flooding than earlier development as can be seen from their shallow basements and the high steps leading to their entrances and living quarters.
Although the housing in this part of Oxford was in no way sub-standard, the comprehensive development plan drawn up in 1948 envisaged that the whole area would be cleared to make way for an inner loop road to relieve congestion in Cornmarket Street and the land redeveloped for offices. A multi-storey car park was scheduled for the area in front of the synagogue at the junction of Richmond Road and Walton Crescent. This remained on planning maps for years, blighting renovation of the houses there. The householders soon joined the opposition spearheaded by Jericho residents and, when a new policy of urban renewal as regarding the district as a General Development Area was declared, Worcester Place, Richmond Road and Walton Crescent were all included in the new inner city residential area of Jericho.
Information and illustraton from the Jericho Sketchbook