Oxford University Press

Oxford University Press frontage on Walton Street
Oxford University Press frontage on Walton Street
Image:Normal Pollack

Jericho's largest and most distinguished employer

Posted - May 29, 2015

The imposing facade of Oxford University Press (OUP) dominates Walton Street presenting a slightly incongruous contrast to the small shops and houses of this otherwise unremarkable street. It was also something of an enigma before its name was displayed over the gate, leaving strangers wondering whether this was another college, museum or a library, for it is difficult to believe that it was built as a printing works. Yet until 1865 the University Press was not a publishing house. Before that date it simply devoted itself to the printing side of the business.

The first surviving product of the OUP to be printed in Oxford dates from 1478 but it was not until 1686 that the University Press was licensed to print all manner of books, including Bibles. Delegates appointed by the University from among its members supervised overall policy and selected which manuscripts from the Bodleian Library were to be published by the Classical or Learned Press. The actual printing was in the hands of Master Printers. These men, known as Partners, had bought shares in the University Press and controlled the production of books, especially the very profitable Bible Press, and were allowed to take some private commissions if they did not interfere with their obligations to the University. Some of the Partners were appointed Supervisors in charge of the day-to-day work of the Press and from one of these the University Printer was appointed.

Until 1713 the printing works were in the roof and basement of the Sheldonian Theatre. In that year they were ‘moved to the purpose built Clarendon Building in Broad Street. By the beginning of the 19th century the demand for Bibles was rising and in 1825 the Delegates bought a tract of land in Jericho. The owner, the Revd. Wellington Furze, a Devonshire parson, had bought the site when Walton Manor Farm was sold. Daniel Robertson was engaged to design the new works, part college, part printing shop, and the Walton Street frontage and south wing for the Bible Press was finished in 1827. The north wing housing the Learned Press was completed in 1830 and the whole complex, including the supervisors’ homes on the west side of the quadrangle, was completed in 1830. Under Thomas Combe, steam presses were introduced in 1834, dry stereo-printing in 1860 and electrotyping in 1863. The Press also acquired the Wolvercote paper mill which made the India paper unique to Oxford. Publishing proper began in 1865 with Alexander Macmillan as Publisher to the University, ending the system of Partners. The University Press undertook this under its Clarendon Press imprint but the London warehouse continued to use the imprint of Oxford University Press.

For the next hundred years the OUP continued to expand in the educational and academic markets in the United Kingdom and abroad, and adjacent properties were bought to house new departments. In 1966 new premises were erected in Wellington Street but the market was changing and so were printing techniques. In 1972 the long considered decision to bring the London publishing offices to Oxford was implemented and the printing side was gradually phased out. By the end of the 1980s the Oxford University Press was solely a publishing house, now one that has branched out into various forms of electronic communication.

Based on information in the Jericho Sketchbook.

Did you know?

Cranham Street used to be a blot on the city

Before Grantham House was built, the site became notoriously derelict, making Cranham Street according to the local press a ‘blot on the city’ – wrecked by local children, and a refuge for rats and for ‘layabouts sleeping off the drink’ who were repeatedly evicted by the police.

What St Barnabas Church cost to build?

Thomas Combe the Superin­tendent of OUP and it was he who commissioned and paid for the construc­tion of the church in 1869 at a cost of £6,492. All the interior fittings were provided for about £900. The campanile was erected in 1872 for £800.