A suburb of Victorian Oxford

College property as in Richmond Road was set behind palisades and flower gardens for superior artisan houses.
College property as in Richmond Road was set behind palisades and flower gardens for superior artisan houses.

How three main landowners developed Jericho

Posted - January 17, 2013

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[In the late 1700s the] meadowland sloping westward from Walton Street to the Oxford Canal and a branch of the river Thames offered few incentives to fashionable development. Like South and West Oxford, the area was subject to regular flooding, and this natural disadvantage was compounded by the apparent isolation of Jericho. The very place-name Jericho was often used of remote settlements and in a city where Worcester College could still be referred to as “out of Oxford” the land west of Walton Street must have seemed almost inaccessible. From 1790, the proximity of the Oxford Canal acted rather as a lure to industrial development, attracting a boat builder’s yard and some associated housing to Walton Well by 1821. In 1825, William Carter removed his iron foundry from Summertown to an adjacent site beside the Oxford & Birmingham Canal. Ready access to canal-borne coal may have been a factor in the University’s crucial decision, also taken in 1825, to purchase more than 31 acres of land in Walton Street for the new University Press.

Housing boom

The potential demand for housing near the University Press greatly enhanced the development potential of Jericho, but it is arguable that local landowners would, in any case, have been tempted to sell or develop their property because of the contemporary house-building boom in Oxford. In the early 1820s, urban cottage building on a large scale had already been generated in St. Ebbe’s and St. Clement’s, in the Gloucester Green area and in Summertown. The demand for these houses arose from two familiar demographic features, the natural increase of population and the migration of people from the countryside to the town, but it also owed much to “internal migration within the city itself as the colleges and other owners in the crowded central parishes cleared housing to extend and improve. Those of law economic and social status were thus forced out into….a ring of suburbs around an upper class centre.” With diminishing amounts of building land available nearer to the heart of the city, it must have been becoming clear by the mid-1820s that Jericho was now ripe for development.

Three main landowners

Ownership of land in Jericho was uncomplicated with just three landlords owning the whole district. The land of Henry Ward, an Oxford coal merchant, lay nearest the Oxford Canal and was the least suitable for immediate development because of its remoteness and liability to flooding. Much more promising were the pieces of land owned by St. John’s College and the Reverend Peter Wellington Furse, Rector of Great Torrington in Devon, for both had extensive frontages to Walton Street. In 1825, both chose to initiate development, the absentee landowner characteristically preferring to sell his land freehold while the College took a longer view and offered lots on 40-year building leases.

St. John’s laid out a part of Walton Close in 61 lots with frontages to Walton Street and the beginnings of Worcester Place, Richmond Road and Walton Crescent. These lots were put up for auction in April and June 1825 and the Walton Street frontage was rapidly built up; thus the completed three-storey brick terrace, nos. 4-15 Walton Street, was leased by June 1826. A more leisurely pace of development on the lots behind Walton Street marked a reduction in demand, partly because of overbuilding in a city which entered a period of slower population growth in the 1830s. Builders may also have been attracted on to the adjacent freehold estate where they faced fewer restrictions and did not risk financial injury from possible delays in obtaining 1eases.

Development on the Reverend Furse’s estates, as on that of St. John’s College, began in 1825, but, whereas the College held land in reserve, Furse envisaged the immediate sale of the whole estate. The land was divided into a basic grid pattern with new streets extending from Walton Street to the western limit of Furse’s property which were connected by two further roads, the eventual Hart Street and King Street. The sale of the University Press site for £3,700 was completed in July 1825 and the rest of the land was disposed of at a series of auctions between July 1825 and May 1829. Houses gradually filled the new streets and most were typically two-storeyed brick and slate properties built on the pavement edge.

A stunning slum

In one case, however, a builder purchased a larger plot between Jericho Street and Cardigan Street, using the site to build Jericho Gardens, 24 two-room cottages, which, with inadequate drainage and water supply, accounted , for 22 cases of cholera during the 1832 epidemic. These houses were stunning proof of the dictum that it was “sometimes possible to run through the whole gamut from meadow to slum in a single generation, or even less.” Jericho Gardens was, however, only a small part of a district which comprised some 273 houses by 1814 , and further building in Jericho took its cue not so much from the few outrageously shoddy buildings as from the majority which mere plain and perhaps skimped but habitable.

By the 1840s, little scope existed for infilling on the former estate of the Reverend Furse, and with no further land being made available by St. John’s College, the Henry Ward estate became the only outlet for additional building. Under contemporary conditions much of this land was quite unsuitable for development, being flooded for six or eight months of the year and cut off from direct access to the city centre by the undeveloped part of Walton Close. In later years, at least, this meadowland was defended from the population beyond it by a high stone wall, rendering trespass well-nigh impossible. These difficulties certainly delayed the development of the estate, but Henry Ward laid out part of Nelson Street in 1840 and, by 1850, a few houses were also evident in an extension of Wellington Street and in an embryonic Albert Street.

New drainage scheme

The proximity of Jericho to the railway stations increased the potential demand for housing in the 1850s and swifter development of the Ward estate was facilitated by a drainage scheme which lowered the water table and considerably reduced the incidence of flooding. The Paving Commissioners undertook this work in 1849-50 following revelations about disease in Jericho but the fact that the drainage committee was chaired by the Provost of Worcester College suggests that the sanitary fears of the College were perhaps the most influential justification.

Henry Ward died in 1852, but his trustees and executors, William and Henry Ward, were subsequently able to lay out part of the estate as the need arose, providing lots with wider frontages which served, as in Wolverhampton, to encourage the building of slightly superior housing. Builders who might depend upon the rent and income of their properties generally followed this lead and built larger, more substantial houses which could be let readily to respectable tenants. In 1855, for instance, four new houses in Great Clarendon Street each had a front parlour, a kitchen, a washhouse and three bedrooms, and were equipped with grates, cupboards and a copper. They were clearly for the regularly-paid artisan and the advertisement, stressing their proximity to the “anticipated new bridge over the Canal,” clearly looked to railway employees as potential purchasers or tenants.

While the low-lying freehold meadows of Jericho gradually filled with houses, St. John’s College set its corporate face against further development and was only persuaded to lay out the rest of its estate for building in the 1860s and 1870s. College reluctance probably owed something to the fear that housing which would inevitably be of artisan character might not retain its reversionary value over a long period. Any such doubts were, however, diminished by rising land values as building land in Jericho became scarce, and market gardens in such locations usually became less valuable because of trespass. It became very evident that this prime site which was leased to an Oxford nurseryman at a rental of £26 per annum could be made to yield more than three times as much if developed.

The Oxford surveyor, John Fisher prepared a scheme for the Jericho Gardens estate by April 1863 and this provided lots in Walton Street, Jericho Street and two new roads, Cranham Street and Cranham Terrace. An attempt was made to auction these lots on long leases, but the College’s tenant refused to vacate the land until Michaelmas and the first sale of lots was delayed until October. In May and August 1864, a further 44 lots were auctioned at the Jericho House by John Fisher, ’ and the Oxford Chronicle noted in October that the estates laid out by the college architect, William Wilkinson, already contained “several houses of superior character.”

The lure of a carriage factory

Further development of the St. John’s College estate in Jericho was hastened in 1865 by the proposal of the Great Western Railway Company to establish a carriage factory in nearby Cripley Meadow. On April 27th 1865, the College Estates Committee ordered Wilkinson to lay out Smith’s Close and land to the north-west of Jericho Gardens according to a pre-existing plan for these areas; at the same time, he was “to furnish the College with plans for different classes of houses with details and specifications.” Wilkinson’s plan was approved at the end of July, when the Estates Committee ordered that Smith’s Close should be advertised without delay as available for building purposes. The scheme provided for an extension of Worcester Terrace, now Richmond Road, and Walton Crescent towards an eventual junction with Nelson Street but, initially, the College showed great caution in laying out only part of the close in 53 building lots, most of which had frontages of 16 or 20 feet. These lots were grouped together in twelve blocks of three, four or five of which corresponded with Wilkinson ‘s accompanying plans and elevations for “dwelling houses of a superior character, with ample space for gardens.” Ninety-nine year building leases on each block of land were offered at auction on August 28th when both the attendance and the bidding were probably encouraged by the speculative furore which the Great Western Railway proposal aroused in Oxford. All twelve blocks were let at ground rents ranging from £5.10s to £12 per annum, with the majority being taken by local builders such as James Walter, James Hall, George Dines and Thomas Harris. Increasing doubts as to the intention of the Great Western Railway delayed house building on the estate, but leases had been granted on 42 completed properties by the end of 1870.

The failure of the carriage factory scheme was an undoubted setback to the plans of St. John’s College, and effectively postponed further development on the College estates in Jericho until the 1870s. Kingston Road, which had been laid out in 1865 as part of the preparation for an army of railway employees, provided ample lots for a much smaller demand until October 1872 when the Estates Committee empowered the Bursar to set out the upper portion of what was to become Juxon Street.

The villas of Juxon Street

In February 1873, the College accepted a proposal from the Oxford surveyor and developer, John Galpin, to build 32 houses on 66-year building leases at an annual ground rent of £1. 10s. per house. These houses, set back behind dwarf walls and flower gardens, had evidently been completed by October 1873, when they were described as “small villas.” Plans for a further 16 houses in Juxon Street were approved during 1873 but, possibly for drainage reasons, the College did not extend the street down to the Oxford Canal for four years. The extension provided lots for 35 houses, a wharf and, to the north of Juxon Street, a site upon which the University Press erected an ink factory.

The development of the Smith’s Close estate, which had begun under such auspicious circumstances in 1865, was not resumed until the mid-1870s. In December 1875, the Bursar reported to the College Estates Committee that new sewers had now been laid in the lower part of Smith’s Close, and the first proposals for land there were made to the College in February 1876. The continuations of Walton Crescent, Richmond Road and Worcester Place provided an additional 25 lots, most of which were intended for residential development. One substantial lot in Worcester Place was, however, leased as a timber yard and the College was prepared to allow shops at the junction of Walton Crescent and Richmond Road.

By the early 1880s, few lots were available for building in Jericho, and further artisan development in Oxford had to take place in areas less convenient for the city centre. The populous suburb that had been created in less than 60 years was very much a working-class area, as was inevitable because of its low-lying situation and proximity to local industry and transport facilities. In these respects, Jericho differed little from the later suburbs of South and West Oxford, but its location, wedged between the Oxford Canal and Walton Street gave the area a greater sense of community than was possible in those road-side suburbs or in the wider expanses of East Oxford.

Visitors beware

To some outsiders, Jericho seemed almost to pose a threat and when Montague Brown and. his brother planned a visit to the building site of St. Barnabas’ church, they were warned to “Keep to the middle of the road and pay no attention to anything they heard or saw on the way. Furthermore, on no account were they to go at night for they would probably have rats’ tails and oyster shells thrown at them….” This embattled unity should not be exaggerated, however, since there were subtle but clear differences between one area and another. The principal one was between freehold and leasehold Jericho, for, although the wall between Smith’s Close and Nelson Street was demolished in 1876, most of the College property was still distinguished from the freehold houses by being set behind palisades and flower gardens, potent symbols of the landowner’s preference for superior artisan houses. Even within the freehold heartland of Jericho, less easily perceptible social differences would have existed between one street or group of houses and another.

This article is extracted from The Suburbs of Victorian Oxford: Growth in a Pre-Industrial City by Malcom Graham. This was a 1985 Ph D thesis at the University of Leicester. The full publication is available via the Documents link. Reproduced by kind permission of Malcom Graham.

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.

The history of the Phoenix?

There has been a cinema here since 1913. Orginally it the ‘North Oxford Kinema’, since when it has passed through many hands and names, including the Scala, the New Scala, the Studios 1 and 2, Studio X (a club showing soft porn) and finally in 1977 the Phoenix.