Jericho embraces the canal

The old ferry that ran from the bottom of what is now Combe Road.

Mark Davies delves into our canalside history.

Posted - March 03, 2001

Jericho was Oxford's first planned suburb - formed over six decades of the 19th century as the open fields to the north of Worcester College were transformed into today's narrow streets of compact houses. The canal area resisted development longest due to the waterlogged terrain. When the canal reached Oxford in 1790, Castle Mill Stream was still an important branch of the Thames and highly prone to floods.

In 1829 Thomas Mallam auctioned some adjacent building plots near the Oxford University Press. A year later a coal merchant and boatbuilder called Henry Ward established Jericho's first cargo wharf. Jericho proper, however, remained clustered around the Press for 20 more years. Apart from access via the iron works (now Lucy's) at Walton Well, the canal could be reached only by a track through allotments close to Worcester College wall. Ward's Wharf was still very isolated, cut off not just by marshiness but also by the neighbourhood cesspool. It was not until 1860 with the building of Canal Street that residential Jericho moved closer to the canal. Even then the houses were a safe distance from the canal itself.

The reputation of the canal workers also served to keep Jericho at bay. In her 1956 Scrapbook of Jericho Mrs C.M. Hawtrey observed that this part of Jericho was "first a marsh and refuge of footpads and then to all intents and purposes a slum, through which policemen preferred to walk in company." Local boaters were also "much addicted to a beer which went by the name of 'Fourpenny' and was extremely intoxicating."

The influence of the Ward family extended over several generations. Henry Ward financed a floating chapel for boatmen. And his son, William (1808-86) donated the land on which St Barnabas' Church was built in 1869. The canal and the community were also linked by the church. John Foster, sacristan for the first 40 years, sold coal from Ward's Wharf in the evenings, for instance. And the sons of another coalmerchant, William Herbert, were 'bearers of the incense boat'. Herbert was also the local ferryman, living in the now-vanished Ferry House at the end of what has been renamed Combe Road.

If the majority of Jericho's residents feared the boatmen it seems the Canal Company may in turn have been fearful of the reputation of Jericho itself. The Scrapbook recorded that two boys who visited Jericho frequently at this time were told to stay away at night, "for they would probably have rats' tails and oyster shells thrown at them." The Company had long resisted building a bridge to allow Jericho's many railwaymen ready access to the station, and to allow its children access to the sports fields and bathing place at Tumbling Bay. As a result the ferry duly remained the only crossing, and was still operating in the 1960s. A second ferry, for school use, was provided by the Oxford Corporation at Nelson Street Wharf.

Author: Mark Davies

Did you know?

Where we work?

According to the 2001 Census, in Jericho 28% of those working were self-employed, while 18% worked part time. Around 20% were in higher professional occupations compared with 14% for Oxford. We also tend to work nearby: 72% of people worked within five kilometres of their home; 18% went to work on foot, 13% by car and 6% by bike

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.