Published: Tuesday, 12 December 2023

Oxford City Council has installed eight new photographs in Oxford Town Hall to improve the representation of Oxford’s population within the building.

Oxford Town Hall is a Grade II* listed building and the artwork that is displayed is part of the historical record. But until now, of the 45 paintings in the Town Hall, only five featured women. 

The City Council has installed eight black-and-white photographs of women of significance in Oxford’s political history in the Council Chamber, which hosts Full Council meetings. 

The new pictures are of: 

  • Lubna Arshad, The Lord Mayor of Oxford – the first woman of colour to hold the post 
  • Anneliese Dodds, Member of Parliament for Oxford East 
  • Olive Gibbs (1918-1995), the second woman Lord Mayor of Oxford, the first woman to chair Oxfordshire County Council and a tireless champion of social causes and the peace movement 
  • Mary Sophia Merivale (c.1853-1928), the first woman councillor in Oxford (elected in 1907) 
  • Layla Moran, Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon 
  • Baroness Frances O'Grady, who grew up in Wood Farm, the first woman General Secretary of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) 
  • Icolyn “Ma” Smith MBE (1930-2022), founder of the Oxford Community Soup Kitchen 
  • Lily Tawney OBE (1867-1947), the first woman Lord Mayor of Oxford in 1933 

Of the 22 pictures in the Council Chamber, nine are now of women. 

The printing and installation of the photographs cost £200. 

A new photograph of all councillors will also be displayed in the Town Hall to show the City Council of today is much more reflective of the local population in terms of gender and ethnicity. 

In addition, there are plans to regularly update the gallery space in the Town Hall with local art and photography to reflect local communities. 

There are no plans to remove any existing paintings on display in the Town Hall. New information leaflets will be provided around the Town Hall to better explain the history of the existing artwork – who it portrays, who donated it and why it is in Oxford Town Hall. 

“We think it’s important that when residents and school groups visit the Town Hall, they see themselves represented back. Oxford is strongest when all parts of our community feel they can stand for election and have a voice.

“The City Council’s focus is absolutely on tackling the cost-of-living, housing and climate crises - and that is what our new budget focuses on. We have, however, been working on a cross-party basis on this small project to explain and add to the art and portraiture in Oxford’s main civic building at minimal cost.

“I would like, in particular, to thank Councillor Katherine Miles for her expertise, enthusiasm and hard work on tracking down the history of various existing art and tracking down portraits for us to use, as well as Town Hall, planning conservation and events staff for helping us make this happen.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council

Councillor Katherine Miles has been instrumental in providing information on the existing artwork and in researching appropriate subjects to include in our new photograph displays. 

“Women have always played an important role in the social fabric of Oxford, but they have not always received public recognition. We now have more women on the walls of the council chamber – the heart of local democracy – to celebrate and inspire women’s participation and leadership in political and public life.”

Councillor Katherine Miles

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