Revealing the history of Richmond Road

Image:Normal Pollock

Helen Hatcher explains why she has been snooping around Richmond Road.

Posted - October 04, 1997

Residents of Richmond Road must have noticed me last year (aided and abetted by my embarrassed and weary nephew) anxiously measuring their house frontages, or noting the number of chimney pots, or taking pictures of their houses. Feeling very aware of the new ‘Neighbourhood Watch’; stickers in most of our front windows, I did try to explain to anyone who challenged me that it was all part of my Open University Course. Honest! I am grateful to the Jericho Echo for the chance to explain this to a few more people.

My interest really started when I noticed that, although the houses in Richmond Road are all recognizably ‘Victorian’, they are all very different. At the top of the street is a terrace of two-up-and-two-down chequered brick ‘working-class’ houses, built around 1830 when the suburb of Jericho was first being developed. Further down, and on the opposite side of the street, there are three terraces of architect-designed ‘artisans’ cottages’, built around the mid-1860s.

In the mid-1870s another 20 large houses were added - ‘semi-detached ‘Victorian Gothic’- linking working-class Jericho with middle-class Walton Street. The four last houses in the street (numbers 41-44), with their two indoor WCs and front gardens, were built in 1880 directly opposite the earliest terraces that had only lean-to sculleries, outside WCs, and entrances directly onto the pavement.

I had many questions. Did Worcester Terrace belong to Jericho, or to Walton Street - or was it a ‘buffer zone’ between the two? Who lived in these houses? Could anyone have expected middle-class buyers (with horses) to move into a working-class area?

The answers to some of these questions were fairly easily arrived at. Worcester Terrace, Worcester Place and Walton Crescent were not part of the original development of Jericho. They were all built on a piece of land (‘Smith’s Close’) that was separated from Nelson Street and enclosed by a wall.

As for the style of houses, in the 1860s it seems that St John’s College was hoping for artisan/middle-class residents. And in the 1870s the speculators just simply continued to build the type of house they were building all over North Oxford. In fact, however, the censuses show that the people who moved in were predominantly college servants and/or university lodging house keepers, so perhaps the area was affected by the proximity of a working-class suburb.

People were quite loyal to Smith’s Close and moved around the triangle of streets as families grew or declined, or people decided to expand their lodging house business. Several families can be followed through the 1871, 1881, and 1891 censuses. Some of them have literally left their mark such as a family name scratched on a window at number 35, and the anvil in the shed of number 37 (Thomas Sutters, a blacksmith, lived there in 1891).

And other questions were answered. Why is the side wall of number 5 only one brick thick? The Ordnance Survey map of 1878 shows that the terrace originally had another two houses. These were demolished to make room for what is now number 6. So the outside wall at number 5 was originally inside. Number 6 is the only detached house in the street and was known as ‘Grosvenor Lodge’, a rather grander title than most of the other houses. The first tenant that I have information about was the widow of a music professor and I have often wondered if she picked the house so that she could continue to play her piano without annoying her neighbours.

Other residents of ‘Smith’s Close’ probably have similar clues to the past in their houses. Please let me know if you have noticed anything - I’d like my study to be as complete as

Author: Helen Hatcher

Did you know?

Why Hart Street?

Hart Street was named after the Printer to the University 1883-1915.

How many people live in Jericho?

In 2011 Jericho had a population of 1,400 residents living in households. There are no communal establishment residents. There has been little change in the total number of residents since 2001.