The story of Jericho

From a 1688 visit to Jericho Gardens

Posted - December 09, 1980

Jericho as we now know it, a small residential community nestling between Walton Street and the canal, is some hundred and fifty years old. But if we wish to start the story of Jericho at the beginning, we must go back further, to the last years of the seventeenth century. For in 1688 a chronicler by the name of Wood mentions a visit to Jericho Gardens; and some years later, in 1725, another diarist recorded a meeting with a ‘Mrs. Edwards that lives at Jericho Gardens by Walton Well near Oxford.’ In these years, Jericho would have been agricultural land, sparsely populated and prone to flooding. Its character has changed since, but not its name.

This area of north Oxford began to develop in the last years of the eighteenth century. The Banbury canal was opened in 1778, and trading at the wharf near the present site of Nuffield College began in 1792. But an Iron Foundry at Walton Well - the predecessor of the present foundry - was already in operation, dating back to 176O. Buildings on Walton Street began to spring up in the very last years of the century. The Workhouse, situated on the corner of Little Clarendon Street (once known as Workhouse Lane) was built in 1776. The Radcliffe Infirmary opened in 1795 with space for 36 patients.

But if we are to give Jericho a founding date, it must be 1825. In November of that year, an advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal - the local weekly paper - announced the completion of Carter’s Jericho Iron and Brass Foundry on the site of the earlier foundry at Walton Well. Just two weeks later, the University announced plans to build its new Printing Press in the area. The development of Jericho had begun!

At the beginning of 1825, Jericho was a part of the extensive Oxford land holdings of a Devon clergyman, the Rev. P. Wellington Furse. In February of that year came the first of a series of land auctions by which the Rev. Furse disposed of his property in Jericho. The local paper solicited offers for ‘several ACRES (in small or larger lots) of very valuable GROUND particularly eligible for BUILDING’ in Jericho. By 1830, a large tract of land north from Walton Crescent to Jericho Street had been sold for building.

It was Furse’s decision to sell his land which allowed the University Press to build its new plant in Jericho, and to build houses in the neighbourhood to accommodate its printers and their families. The Press was not completed until 183O, but already a sizeable population must have lived in the adjoining streets. The first houses to be built were on Clarendon Street, and an advertisement in the Oxford Journal in October, 1826 offered for sale ‘FIVE SUBSTANTIAL NEWLY ERECTED Freehold Dwelling Houses. Situated on the North Side of the Printing Office, now erecting AT JERICHO, OXFORD’. King Street (now demolished) was built by 1827, and Union Street - now Hart Street - by 1829. And two years later, the whole of the land in Jericho sold by the Devon vicar had been built on.

Jericho was an area for working people, rather than for students and colleges. But nobody could forget the prominence of the university. The distinguished buildings of the University Press were the distinctive feature of the area, and provided employment for many Jericho men. And the Press was more than just an employer. In 1828, the Delegates of the Press provided for a school room. And the managers of the Press must have been pleased when the church of St. Paul was completed in 1836. Now Jericho had its own clergyman, and had in the University Printer its own ‘squire’ - Jericho was no longer farmland and building site, it was beginning to be a community.

We have seen how Jericho, ten years earlier just grassland, was in 1833 a ‘neighbourhood which is chiefly inhabited by individuals belonging to the working class of society,’ as residents described it when petitioning for a place of worship. In the next article, we will see how Jericho expanded as the century progressed, from a few streets round the Press to encompass all the area we now understand by that name.

Author: Andrew Whitehead