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The Cutteslowe Walls

Written by Brian Robert Marshall

Oxford is, like most towns in the UK, a distinctly irregular shape but is very roughly in two parts, one either side of the River Cherwell, a tributary of the Thames. The larger part is east of the Cherwell but the area of interest here is the relatively narrow strip between the Cherwell to the east and the Thames to the west. This area contains the section of North Oxford best known as Summertown part of which is shown on the maps as lying between Cutteslowe and Sunnymead, east of the A4165 Banbury Road and just south of the A40. Zooming in even more we find a rectangular area roughly 620 metres east to west and 270 metres north to south. This area is thus about 17 hectares (42 acres) in size.

In the 1920’s Oxford Corporation (‘the Corporation’) purchased Summertown, then agricultural land. Part of it was developed by the Corporation as municipal housing in two projects, Cutteslowe Numbers One and Two Estates. Number Two is west of number one. The part of Number Two of interest here is bounded roughly by Jackson Road in the west, Aldrich Road to the south and Wolsey Road to the north. Construction of Number One started in May 1931 and was completed by December 1932. A short period elapsed and work on Number Two started in August 1933 and was finished in October 1934. While all this was going on, the Corporation sold an area of land west of Jackson Road and east of the Banbury Road to a company called The Urban Housing Company (‘the Company’). They started to develop a private housing estate between June and September 1933. The estate was known then as the Urban Housing Estate.

Because of communication failures the layout of the Urban Housing Estate did not take shape the way the Managing Director of the Company had intended resulting in Aldrich and Wolsey Roads from Cutteslowe Number Two joining up with their counterparts in the Urban Housing Estate, Wentworth Road and Carlton Road respectively. The Company claimed that, as a result, vandalism was occurring in its estate and erected a fence across the two roads where the municipal estate abutted the private estate. On September 22nd 1934, the Company wrote to the Corporation stating that they had decided to keep the roads on the private estate as private roads and also to enclose the whole estate by building walls across the Carlton and Wentworth roads at the points where they met the Cutteslowe Estate. The letter claimed that this decision was in response to pressure from the occupiers of the Urban Housing Estate and was because of the presence of slum-clearance tenants on the Cutteslowe Estate, a breach of an undertaking not to use the municipal estate for such tenants allegedly given by the Corporation to the Company. Despite protests from the Corporation the walls were built in December 1934 where they stayed. That said, there were occasions when the walls came down for brief periods. In August 1936 a car collided with the Carlton Road wall. It was quickly repaired. The Corporation knocked both walls down on 7th June 1938; The Company started to rebuild them the following day only for the Corporation to demolish them again. Later that month under threat of an injunction the Corporation replaced the walls with gates pending a High Court hearing, which the Corporation lost in July 1939. The walls were rebuilt a few days later and, following an unsuccessful appeal by the Corporation, the walls were destined to remain for the time being apart from an incident on 31st January 1943 when an army tank drove through the Aldrich Road wall during a military exercise. It was rebuilt soon after at the expense of the War Office.

In the immediate post-war period things began to look up for the Corporation. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act gave them new powers. Two years later the Company sold all its interests in their Estate.

By 1953 the Corporation were in a position to declare compulsory purchase orders in their Development Plan for the strips of land upon which the walls stood. These were confirmed by the relevant Government minister in 1955 and in early 1957 the then owner of the land, a company called Wendholm Ltd, finally agreed to sell the land to the Corporation. Plainly there were loose ends to tie up as it wasn’t until 9th March 1959 that the walls came down and this time, stayed down.

The saga throws up all sorts of sociological and political issues which the writer isn’t qualified to comment upon. Suffice to say that the Communist Party became involved at one time as did three Oxford dons, R H S Crossman, F A Pakenham and Patrick Gordon Walker, who later came to fame in the public arena. They all became Labour politicians. Frank Pakenham is better known as Lord Longford, champion of the Moors murderer Myra Hindley.

Today there is little physical evidence that the walls ever existed. One house has a Blue Plaque attached to it in memory of the walls and the distinct differences in architectural detail between private and public housing can be discerned where the two sit next door to each other.

The source of this information with more detail is here LinkExternal link
by Brian Robert Marshall

Created: Wed, 28 Jul 2010, Updated: Sat, 28 Dec 2013

11 images use this description:

SP5010 : Looking west along Carlton Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5010 : Carlton and Wolsey Roads, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5010 : Wolsey and Carlton Roads, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5009 : Blue plaque, Aldrich Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5009 : Houses in Aldrich Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5110 : Cutteslowe Walls artwork by Pierre Marshall
SP5009 : Houses in Wentworth Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5009 : Looking east from Wentworth Road into Aldrich Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5009 : Looking west along Wentworth Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5010 : Looking east along Wolsey Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall
SP5009 : Junction of Wentworth Road and Aldrich Road, Oxford by Brian Robert Marshall

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