The Bodleian Libraries’ display ‘Revealing Hidden Oxford’ shows how Oxford might have changed after World War 2

Published: Wednesday, 4th October 2017

A new display at the Bodleian Libraries is providing visitors an opportunity to see the post-war proposals put forward by Thomas Sharp, a town planning consultant appointed by the City Council.

His scheme, prepared in 1946, was intended as a guide for future development and envisaged a radical reshaping of the city centre and cross-city traffic routes, including a highly controversial road across Christ Church Meadow to rid the High Street of traffic.

The free display, ‘Revealing Hidden Oxford’, can be seen in the Bodleian Libraries’ Proscholium (main entrance hall) until Sunday 5 November. The display title reflects the fact that Sharp’s stunning plan is just one item from a collection of around 15,000 plans in the City Engineer’s Strongroom at Oxford Town Hall. These plans cover many aspects of Oxford’s development from c.1820 to 1974. Welcome recent investment by Oxford City Council has meant that this hidden resource, providing valuable information about the history of the city, is now listed and suitably housed.

Thomas Sharp’s proposals will be of special interest in the context of the new Westgate Centre, the current review of the Oxford Local Plan and the wider Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy (OxIS) proposals. Many of the issues which he was seeking to address - transport, employment, housing and heritage – are as relevant today as they were in 1946.

Revealing Hidden Oxford Exhibition

Malcolm Graham, curator of the display, said: The City Engineer’s Strongroom is a veritable Aladdin’s cave, containing plans which feature everything from 1920s housing estates and wartime air raid shelters to street signs and even designs for a horse-drawn snow plough. The collection documents changing Oxford over 150 years and choosing a single item for this display was something of a challenge. Thomas Sharp’s plan provided an eye-catching solution, and is a reminder that there are many fascinating what if scenarios in the history of Oxford.

Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “Oxford is a city that combines heritage and innovation. Thomas Sharp’s 1946 Redevelopment Plan provides us with a fascinating insight into the history of Oxford. It stimulates reflection on how best we can meet the many challenges that face us in maintaining an attractive and sustainable environment. The City Council has invested substantial amounts of money in rescuing and preserving the archives, and it is important that they are accessible to the public. This display was created for the Oxford Preservation Trust’s Open Doors Weekend and we look forward to working again with the OPT and the Bodleian to bring the archives to life for the people of Oxford.”

If you are interested in visiting the display contact the Weston Library Information Desk on 01865 277094.