• Mon. May 27th, 2024

Oxford Preservation Trust saves view of Oxford’s dreaming spires


Sep 28, 2022

THE poet Matthew Arnold famously described Oxford as “that sweet city with her dreaming spires”.

Since the Balliol College scholar penned those immortal words in the middle of the 19th century, there have been frequent battles to protect the views of the towers and steeples of which he wrote so eloquently.

At the forefront of efforts to save the city’s iconic skyline for the past 100 years has been the Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT). And the group’s mission has taken a confident stride forward with the purchase of 10 acres of land to the west of the city at Harcourt Hill.

The deal protects the site form development and, along with its previous acquisitions nearby and at Boars Hill, will allow countryside lovers to enjoy the finest views of Oxford’s landmarks forever.

A spokesman for the trust described the site as an important part of the “jigsaw” of land overlooking the city.

They said: “We are delighted to announce the purchase of a new green space for Oxford with fabulous views looking out to the dreaming spires. This 10 acre field at Harcourt Hill went on the open market and was bought against opposition from other interested purchasers.”

View from the Harcourt Hill field which is now owned by the Oxford Preservation Trust. Picture by Chris Andrews

The trust was particularly keen to acquire it as it is close to the site of the 17th century Conduit House on Harcourt Hill which it now manages for English Heritage. It also sits beside OPT’s existing 20-acre meadow which was bought in 2016 with the help of members, supporters and local residents.

It follows the recent purchase of the two-acre Larkins Lane Field in Old Headington which was bought after a local appeal as OPT’s way to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Debbie Dance, OPT Director said: “We are so delighted by the new Harcourt Hill land. It arguably has a better view of the dreaming spires than any of our existing land, so that you feel you can almost reach out and touch the towers and spires. We can’t wait to show it off to everyone.”

The purchase of the two fields this year has cost half a million pounds, with OPT’s contribution made made possible by the sale of a small field at Barton.

The spokesman said: “The four and-a-half acres were bought by OPT in the early 1930s to secure views across from Old Headington. At the time Barton was still a rural hamlet and the ring road was only just being built. Today, with the development of the original Barton estate, and then Barton Park, now added to by changes to the Green Belt, which OPT opposed, and the proposed Bayswater Brook, the land will be surrounded on all sides.

“The land can no longer keep its rural character or share its views, so OPT, after long and careful thought, has agreed to it becoming part of the wider development where it can be better managed. Covenants will control its use, ensure it has public benefit, and that no buildings can be built upon it.”

Ms Dance added: “Over time this area has changed in a way that our forebears would no longer recognise. We are pleased that we have been able to find a different future for this field, and remain faithful to our origins by securing an important green space which can benefit many more people.”