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Uncomfortable Scavenger Hunt

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Osney: Location 1

Old Osney Power Station, OX2 0AS

This power station sits on part of the site of the original Osney Abbey

Osney: From Abbey to Power Plant

The moment you cross under the modern railway tracks of Oxford you have entered Osney - today a small neighbourhood in the center of Oxford. It was originally a small town to the west of Oxford, with ninety residents recorded in 1381 and a large Abbey complex that stretched over most of the land now situated west of the train tracks. 

Osney Abbey was the largest monastic house in the Lincoln diocese, and was powerful enough to host various ecclesiastical councils and even Parliament, which met there in 1330. Chaucer's Miller's Tale was set in this part of Oxford, with the character of the cuckolded husband, John, employed at the Abbey.

In 1546, the bishop's see was moved to St Frideswide's Priory (today's Christ Church Cathedral) and the dismantling of the Abbey began. A later explosion of a powder-house in 1643 resulted in further damage to the site and today only one small building remains, housed inside an apartment complex. This building is no longer open to the public.

The remains of Osney Abbey - Today enclosed within an apartment complex and no longer open to the public.

Proceedings at Opening of the Works, 18th June 1892. The Oxford Electric Company Limited. Image POX0122358. Oxfordshire County Libraries.

As the Abbey was dismantled, new structures were built in its place. Flour mills have existed on the site for much of its history, and the Osney Lock was opened in 1790. In 1892 the power station was opened, the first power plant to serve the city. Its opening ceremony was a grand affair, with attendance from many important city and university officials. Hilaire Belloc, a young student at Balliol College at the time, wrote a poem about the wonders of electric light as it was implemented in town. 

The following is an exerpt from the poem:

"As for the lights they hang about the town,
Some praise them highly, others run them down.
This system (technically called the Arc),
Makes some passages too light, others too dark.
But in the house the soft and constant rays
Have always met with universal praise."

The power station was shut down in 1969 after a remarkable 77 years of operation. It lasted so long because of the increased power demand during the wars, which led to its conversion from coal to oil burning. The building is now owned by the University of Oxford and recent plans have been made to re-develop the site into an extension of the Saïd Business School.

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With friends or family? Discuss the following:

The old power station is of particular importance to the local history of this area, as is the site of the former Osney Abbey. 

  • What responsibility do you feel the city has for ensuring these historic sites are open to the public?

  • What would be a good way of highlighting these histories to those walking around in Osney?

Interested in learning more about the redevelopment of the power station by the University?

See more information about the project here.

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Interested in seeing more?

Continue walking and check out the historic Osney Lock!

The Osney Lock was opened in 1790. The bid for its construction was won by a man named Daniel Harris, who agreed to build the lock for the price of £750.00. Harris used prisoners from the nearby Oxford Prison as labourers for the job, to ensure the cheapest cost of production. When it opened, it was run by a Mrs. Hill, who was paid 3s and 6d a week.

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