If you are wondering what to do in Oxford and you are looking for something a bit more relaxed, then a stroll through Jericho may be just what you are looking for. Jericho is located a short walk from the city centre and offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city centre but still offers plenty to explore, historic sites to visit, great places to eat and drink all set within a thriving community.
The History of Jericho
It is not clear exactly how Jericho got its name, but it is widely accepted that the name Jericho often denotes a small settlement set just outside a city wall, as this is an apt description for Jericho’s location just outside the original Oxford city wall, it is fair to assume this to be the case here too.
Originally, Jericho may have been a convenient place for weary travellers to stay for a night. Perhaps, arriving after Oxford had closed its city gates for the night. During the late 1700’s Jericho grew as an industrial location, mainly due to its adjacency to the then busy Oxford Canal which arrived in 1790. As a result, the streets of Jericho are lined with attractive two-up, two-down Victorian workers cottages.
Naturally, developments next to a canal tend to be areas of low-lying land. Unfortunately, as a result, drainage was poor with open sewers and flooding an issue. Leading to outbreaks of typhoid and dysentery.
During the 1950’s Jericho became a red-light-district of Oxford and rapidly became run down. The dilapidated appearance of the area, lead to plans to demolish the houses and rebuild with industrial units, however following a campaign lead by the Jericho Residents Association – plans were halted and thankfully Jericho received a stay of execution. During the 1960’s Jericho saw a period of revitalisation, houses were repaired and the red-light district disappeared, all paving the way to Jericho today becoming one of Oxford’s most sought-after areas.
Radcliffe Observatory Quarter
If you walk out of Oxford City centre and head towards Jericho along Walton Street, one of the first areas you will come upon is the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter or ROQ. The area was until very recently predominantly occupied by the Radcliffe Infirmary Hospital, so recent in fact that my husband had a tonsillectomy there. Am I giving my age away a little? In 2007, the hospital left the site, relocating its services to the larger John Radcliffe in Headington. Allowing Oxford University to redevelop their site, which includes the Radcliffe Observatory, into 10 acres of public space and university buildings which are wonderful to walk around.
The Radcliffe Observatory
Constructed in the 18th century, with funds from John Radcliffe, this fascinating Oxford landmark was used as an observatory from 1773 until 1934. The observatory was the vision of an Oxford university Professor of Astronomy – Dr. Thomas Hornsby after he had observed Venus’ movements from the tower of the Bodleian library.
Lord Nuffield, a great philanthropist purchased the observatory in 1936, where he established the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research, they remained here until 1.979 when they relocated to the John Radcliffe. It is now in the ownership of Green College, Oxford
Interestingly, the ground floor is now a University dining room and common room.
Blavatnik School of Government Building
Not every building in Oxford is old, in fact if you join one of my free walking tours of Oxford, I will show you over a thousand years of architectural marvels all within a stones-throw of one another. One of the most attractive recent additions to Oxford was opened by HRH the Duke of Cambridge as recently as May 2016. Fittingly described as “a modern version of the Sheldonian”, this bold beautiful, modern building somehow fits well, despite it being adjacent to some of Oxford’s more classic and well-known architecture. Housing the School of Government, the building offers wide open spaces to encourage team-working and roof space to gaze upon Oxford’s dreaming spires. I love looking at this building and seeing the way it echoes the shapes of the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera enhanced by the honey colours of traditional Oxford stone.
“The interior looks like an unspooled film, recalling the spiralling ramps of New York’s Guggenheim but with a pleasing irregularity and offset circular skylights. Arranged around a circular atrium, it’s a little dizzying, airy and enjoyable” – Financial Times
Oxford University Press
Since 1478 books have been printed in Oxford. Oxford University’s right to print books was formalised in 1586 with a decree from the Star Chamber. This right was bolstered by the Great Charter from King Charles I, formally entitling the University to print “all manner of books”.
In 1669 printing was done in the basement of the Sheldonian theatre, but the space was inadequate and the presses too noisy, leading to printing being stopped when any concerts or ceremonies such as matriculation were in progress.
OUP occupied its first purpose-built building when it moved to The Clarendon Building, located adjacent to the Bodleian library. OUP remained in the Clarendon building for nearly 50 years, until again they outgrew their surroundings and moved to their current Jericho location. Amongst many notable publications, it is here that the first edition of The Oxford English Dictionary was printed in 1884.
Jude the Obscure
There has long been rumour that the Beersheba scene from Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Jude the Obscure’ was based in Jericho. This pub was once Oxford’s only theatre pub, but now is a good place to head for some food and especially good on a sunny day with a lovely garden and courtyard to enjoy.
The Old Bookbinders Arms
If you enjoy exploring a little more, or you are a die hard Inspector Morse fan, then head for the Old Bookbinders Arms in Victor Street. Named after the clientele from the nearby OUP that frequented the pub, the first ever episode of Oxford author Colin Dexter’s long running Morse entitled “The Dead of Jericho” had scenes set at this pub and one of the dastardly crimes took place just opposite in Combe Road (named Canal Street in the episode). Sergeant Lewis also returned in later series and whilst you enjoy these Morse surroundings you can partake in great beer or perhaps some crêpes.
The Phoenix Picture House
Originally opening in 1913 and then named the Oxford Kinema, this cinema has changed hands many times over the years. This cinema is a renowned for its atmosphere and screenings of less well-known titles. It should also be on the list for Morse fans as it appeared in the 1987 episode “the Silent World of Nicholas Quinn”.
There is plenty more to explore in Jericho from quaint shops to many more pubs and restaurants. As always, I would recommend that your first stop on a trip to Oxford is to join one of my free walking tours or perhaps you would enjoy a private tour and we can include Jericho too.