Wine, oil, corn and salt

Oxford City Council, OX Place and Wilmott Dixon celebrating a traditional topping out ceremony at the Bridges Cross development Published: Friday, 28th October 2022

OX Place has celebrated a milestone in the construction of a flagship city centre housing development by holding a traditional ‘topping out’ ceremony.

Oxford City Council’s housing company and developers Wilmott Dixon are building 36 new homes in Speedwell Street. The development is a single block of four to six storeys and topping out marked the building reaching its highest point.

In a ceremony with origins dating back to Saxon times, wine, oil, corn and salt were poured onto the building to bless it with good luck.

Wine stands for fertility and wisdom. Oil represents liberty and prosperity. Corn ripens prosperity into abundance. Salt symbolises purity and hospitality.

This ceremony traditionally took place to ensure no evil spirits would be trapped in the building and to bring prosperity and good luck for the future. More recently, it was used to bless the wood when this was the primary construction material.

The ceremony was attended by council leader Cllr Susan Brown, chief executive Caroline Green and lord mayor Cllr James Fry, together with council, Wilmott Dixon and OX Place staff – including managing director Helen Horne.

36 new homes

The new development is called Bridges Cross and is probably best known to current Oxford residents as the site of former homeless hostel Lucy Faithfull House.

Bridges Cross has been supported with £1,377,000 in funding from the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal and nearly three quarters (72%) of the development is affordable.

The 36 flats provide 15 council homes let at social rent, three council homes at affordable rent and eight homes sold on a shared ownership basis. The remaining 10 flats are for market sale.

OX Place’s ‘fabric first’ approach mean all its developments feature enhanced insulation and air tightness standards. In line with council planning requirements, Bridges Cross will achieve at least 40% beyond the carbon reduction targets in 2013 building regulations.

Rooftop solar PV panels will help generate up to 40% of the development’s energy use.

The development is car free, with the exception of two parking spaces for flats that can be adapted for people with a disability. Each flat has two bicycle parking spaces and a private terrace or balcony, with access to two feature communal courtyards.

An archaeological excavation last year unearthed new evidence of a Dominican Order (Blackfriars) friary which sat on the site from 1246 until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1538. Bridges Cross references the Blackfriars’ black and white coat of arms by using light and dark building materials throughout.

Bridges Cross is due to complete in early 2023.


“Our housing company is building for Oxford’s future and Bridges Cross is an important part of the council’s aim to deliver more affordable low-carbon homes in our city. I was delighted to see the progress on these new homes. And on this site of historical significance going back to the 13th century, it was lovely to participate in a traditional topping out ceremony nodding back to our city’s medieval past.”

Councillor Susan Brown, leader of Oxford City Council

“Topping out is an important milestone in any development and we’ve now blessed Bridges Cross by pouring wine, oil, corn and salt onto the building. OX Place looks forward to completing the development and seeing people move into their new homes next year, which I hope will bring them prosperity and good iuck.”

Helen Horne, managing director, OX Place

“We are delighted to mark this important milestone at the Bridges Cross development. The project will play an important role in OX Place delivering the council’s ambitious housing development programme. We are working closely with Oxford City Council on its decarbonisation programme, and we are proud to be embedding a wealth of sustainable building techniques at Bridges Cross, which once complete will allow it to operate at 40% below current government carbon reduction targets."

Richard Poulter, managing director at Willmott Dixon’s Central South region

Wilmott Dixon director Neville Gale, lord mayor councillor James Fry, OX Place managing director Helen Horne, and council leader Councillor Susan Brown, conducting at topping out ceremony at the Bridges Cross development


(L-R: Wilmott Dixon director Neville Dale, lord mayor Cllr James Fry, OX Place managing director Helen Horne, council leader Cllr Susan Brown, conducting the topping out ceremony. Picture supplied by Wilmott Dixon)