Uncomfortable Scavenger Hunt
Grandpont: Location 1
Gasworks Bridge, OX1 1TU
You are standing on the Old Gasworks Bridge - an industrial relic in a serene space.
Welcome to the Gasworks Bridge - a bridge that links the parish of St. Ebbes to the Grandpont Nature Reserve area. Although you are surrounded by green space and clean water now, you may be surprised to learn that this location was considered a filthy 'disgrace' and 'disorder' of the city landscape for much of its past.
St. Ebbe's Parish
From where you started at the church, to the bridge here is the historic boundary of St. Ebbe’s Parish. Occupied since at least 1005 CE, this area has consistently fluctuated in population size and has been considerably poorer than its surrounding neighbourhoods.
In 1663, the population of this parish was devastated by the effects of plague followed by a major fire the next year. It slowly recovered in population and for the next century was an area for market gardens. However, the area was completely transformed in 1818 by the establishment of the Oxford Gas Light and Coke Company, also referred to as the gasworks.
Print of St Ebbe’s Church, 1835. Source: oxfordhistory.org
The main building of the works was built just north of where you stand on the bridge and a later southern building was erected on the south bank in 1882. The gasworks filled the area with the ‘acrid smell’ for over a century, and the constant flooding of the land meant the neighbourhood was unpleasant to live in. Despite the beautiful neighbouring stone buildings, historians have noted that behind the 'facade there was dirt, disorder and disease.' One survey in 1948 declared it to be in a state of “neglect and filth rarely witnessed” before. Not surprisingly, cholera hit the area hard 1849.
View of Oxford, from the meadows near the gas works, 1835. Source: oxfordhistory.org
The bridge you where a stand on was erected in 1886 as a railway branch, meant to help transport coal into the gas works.
Today much of this history is hidden beneath the surface of what you see. The gasworks was demolished in the 1960s. Green spaces have reclaimed the former industrial site on the south bank and the street names formerly referring to the gasworks have been changed. Even the railway track which ran where you stand has been removed without a trace, making way for a cycle track and pedestrian traffic.
Workmen constructing an iron bridge over the river Thames to the new gasworks, built on the south bank of the river in 1882. Source: Picture Oxon, POX0112618
The history of the gasworks and this area has been extensively researched by local historian Liz Wooley. More information can be found here!
With friends or family? Discuss the following:
This area provides a case study of reclamation - redeveloping delapitated neighbourhoods and converting areas of industrial pollution into green spaces.
How effective has this process been?
What are the drawbacks of reclamation processes, if any?
What do you think are the greatest challenges to reclamation projects?