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Keeping city’s hidden history safe for future
OXFORD’S buried treasure is being given extra protection thanks to a new archaeological masterplan.
The city council-led project will bring together different sources of information about Oxford’s hidden history.
It aims to boost people’s knowledge about what lies buried under their feet and help developers make more informed decisions before building work starts.
Talks on Oxford’s archaeology and guided walks around the city are planned, as well as an annual report on recent finds.
The information will be pulled together on a website so members of the public can find out more.
Planning bosses will work with developers to ensure potential findings are identified before buildings are designed, and that they are designed appropriately.
Over the years a wide range of buried items have been found across the city, including the Norman causeway, or Grandpont which extended south from the city across marshy land by the Thames.
In 2008, skeletons thought to be those of Danish victims of the 1002 St Brice’s Day Massacre were uncovered on the site of a new building at St John’s College in St Giles.
Dan Poore, of Osney Mead-based Oxford Archaeology, said: “There is a high potential of finding things of high archaeological significance in Oxford because it has been settled for such a long time.
“Oxford is an area which has proved very suitable for human activity since the neolithic period because it is on a promontory over two rivers.”
The scheme is part of Oxford City Council’s heritage plan – the first of its kind in the country – which will list historic buildings and areas so they can be preserved.
Oxford Preservation Trust director Debbie Dance said: “This will be such a useful tool for everyone who needs or wants to understand more about the archaeology of the city, particularly when making plans to develop and change.
“Wherever you dig there are layers of history.
“There is evidence throughout Oxford of every historical period.”
Planning law dictates that local authorities have to take account of any “heritage assets” when determining planning permission – and this can include archaeological, architectural or artistic assets. For proposals which involve ground work in areas of archaeological potential, planning applications are expected to include a study of this.
If important archaeological deposits are known or suspected to exist, developers may be required to preserve them.
The city council’s heritage plan has been backed by £35,000 of English Heritage money.
Rich past beneath our feet
A NUMBER of large earthworks and burial mounds indicate people have lived in the Oxford area since the late Neolithic period – as early as 3,600BC – but not much is known about the people who built these structures, including whether they were nomadic herders or farmers who stayed in one place.
The origins of Oxford itself date to the Saxon period when it became an important military town – evidence of its street grid remains in the crossroads at Carfax.
Following the Norman Conquest, the town’s governor, Robert d’Oyly, built Oxford Castle and a stone causeway southwards over the River Thames known as the Grandpont, which was unearthed in 2004 during roadworks along Abingdon Road.
He was also responsible for establishing higher education in the city which eventually culminated in the birth of Oxford University in the 12th century.
From the 13th century onwards the city expanded outwards, with Carfax as its centre, growing in prestige.
King Charles I chose it as his capital during the Civil War.
Major expansion began in the 19th century, when suburbs such as St Clement’s and St Ebbe’s were built, and into the 20th century with the growth of Oxford University Press and Morris Motors at Cowley.