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One of the major things that happened in my life this year is that I left London after 13 years in the Big Smoke. Yes, THIRTEEN YEARS, insane I know. I mean, how did that even happen. Anyway, I had enough and left. But not far. I now live in Oxford! Well, ever so slightly outside of Oxford – it’s practically the countryside. Almost. If you just ignore the ring road thundering by half a mile off.

Now, in doing a bit of research, as you do, about da new hood I found something that made me a teeny bit excited. My road appears to have been built by John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde. Yes, I kid you not.

Ruskin, an Oxford man, used to ride around Oxford and its surroundings, which, though most of Oxford is oooold af, didn’t look quite as it does today. There was no ring road for example. So there Ruskin was, trotting around where I now live to watch the peasant people do their thing and thought hey, there’s no road between these two villages and there should be so the poor peasant people don’t have to walk so far to get places (no cars either you see).

John Ruskin 1863.jpg

Ruskin – so photogenic!

So he rounded up a bunch of his university students, including some people who – surprise surprise! – would become important enough to have their own wikipedia entries. And Oscar Wilde was one of them! Here is his story of what went down that summer in 1874:

One summer afternoon in Oxford – ‘that sweet city with her dreaming spires,’ lovely as Venice in its splendour, noble in its learning as Rome, down the long High Street that winds from tower to tower, past silent cloisters and stately gateway, till it reaches that long, grey seven-arch bridge which Saint Mary used to guard  (used to, i say, because they are now pulling it down to build a tramway and a light cast-iron bridge in its place, desecrating the loveliest city in England) – well,  we were coming down the street—a troop of young men, some of them like myself only nineteen, going to river or tennis-court or cricket-field—when Ruskin going up to lecture in cap and gown met us. He seemed troubled and prayed us to go back with him to his lecture, which a few of us did, and there he spoke to us not on art this time but on life, saying that it seemed to him to be wrong that all the best physique and strength of the young men in England should be spent aimlessly on cricket ground or river, without any result at all except that if one rowed well one got a pewter-pot, and if one made a good score, a cane-handled bat. He thought, he said, that we should be working at something that would do good to other people, at something by which we might show that in all labour there was something noble. Well, we were a good deal moved, and said we would do anything he wished. So he went out round Oxford and found two villages, Upper and Lower Hinksey, and between them there lay a great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other without many miles of a round. And when we came back in winter he asked us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people to use. So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank—a very difficult thing to do. And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us from the bank. We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road. And what became of the road? Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly—in the middle of the swamp. Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for the next term there was no leader, and the ‘diggers’, as they called us, fell asunder.

‘Art and the Handicraftsman’ in Essays and Lectures by Oscar Wilde

And that was that. There is still no easy way to get from North Hinksey to South Hinksey and the fields and paths around here still flood but at least there is a road that stretches as far as to my house, for which I am grateful.

 

 

That is by far the most interesting thing I have been able to find on the neighbourhood but there are some other lose art anecdotes. For example Millais and Collins lived in Botley for a while, and Turner (not to be confused with Turner of Oxford apparently) painted this from the village – such rural idyll!

 

oxford from N Hinksey Turner.jpg

Oxford from North Hinksey by Turner 

 

 

 

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