St Barnabas Church

St Barnabas Church
St Barnabas Church

Jericho's most distinctive landmark

Posted - January 16, 2013

The campanile of St. Barnabas church, rising high above Jericho, is one of the most conspicuous of Oxford’s landmarks, especially for those coming in by train. The church itself has played an unrivalled part in the growth and development of Jericho.

Built in the late 1860s at a time when individuals could make fortunes and had few legal responsibilities for the health and welfare of their workforces, it stands as a memorial to the Oxford Movement. This led to a religious revival which started at the University church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford. It laid great emphasis on personal responsibility for the living conditions, health and education of the poor and on the provision of charitable relief. In Jericho two wealthy men responded to the needs of Jericho. They were William Ward, brother of Henry Ward, who provided a site for the church next to the canal, and Thomas Combe, Printer to the University, who with his wife Martha, gave £6,000 for its building and furnishing. In his commission to the architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield, Combe specified that the church should be able to hold a thousand people for the smallest sum possible. It was to be of sound construction with a dignified interior but no money was to be spent on external decoration. Nor was it. Rubble was used for the walls and cement for the window sills.

The design, based on the cathedral of Torcello near Venice, was for a basilica with a separate campanile. By the time the church was consecrated in 1869 the cost, including furnishing, was £6,492. The campanile was completed in 1872. Doubts as to its stability led to its height being reduced to 132 ft and its roof line flattened in 1893. During this reconstruction the materials were raised and lowered by a pulley system operated by a donkey plodding up and down Cardigan Street.

In the years that followed, the church, with its school and Institute, played an important part in the life of the neighbourhood but never more so than in 1962 when the area was scheduled for demolition under the 1948 Development Plan. Under this scheme the inner city parishes were to be redeveloped, the inhabitants re-housed and a relief road was to be built through Jericho with car parks, offices and light industry. Local opposition, led by Fr. Ovington, Vicar of St. Barnabas, supported by some Councillors and local officials, was so successful that a policy of gradual renewal was substituted for the original proposals and Jericho declared a residential area. This policy generated international interest in the district. Once a run-down working class area, Jericho is now a desirable inner-city suburb still served by its church.

Information and image from the Jericho Sketchbook

Did you know?

The origins of Nelson Street?

Nelson Street takes its name from a local pub, the Lord Nelson, subsequently renamed Carpenters’ Arms—which has since been converted to housing.

Why Jericho still has such a mix of houses?

Jericho’s intriguing mix of housing today owes a lot, to the Residents’ Association in the 1960s and 1970s which together with the then Vicar and some local councillors resisted plans to bulldoze the whole area and turn it over to offices and light industrial use.