THIS crumbling piece of brick is almost as important a part of Oxford’s history as the woman holding it.

It was a part of the infamous Cutteslowe Walls, which for a quarter of a century divided a North Oxford estate into a poor half and a better-off half.

The woman holding it is former Lord Mayor of Oxford Anne Spokes Symonds, who campaigned to have the walls bulldozed in the 1950s.

Mrs Spokes Symonds, 89, will lend her treasured relic to the Museum of Oxford for its next exhibition, which is going to be entirely “crowd-sourced”.

Titled ‘40 years in 40 objects’ to celebrate the museum’s 40th birthday, every exhibit on display will be donated by someone who lives in the city and will tell a part of its history.

More than two metres high and topped with spikes, the two walls were built by Clive Saxton’s Urban Housing Company to keep council estate residents out of his new development.

Council tenants raised a petition against the walls, and in 1936 supporters marched with pickaxes to knock them down, but police barred their way.

When Mrs Spokes Symonds was elected to represent North Oxford on the city council in 1957, she used the opportunity to campaign against the hated “snob” walls. She remembered: “I had a friend, Ellen Jaycock, who lived on the estate side because she’d married a binman.

“Her sister had married a postman so she lived in a private house on the other side, and when Ellen went to church on Banbury Road with her sister she had to walk all the way around.

“When I became a councillor I started pestering the chairman of the estates committee, Edmund Gibbs, to get the walls down.”

In the end, the city council was forced to buy the land on which the walls stood to demolish them. And on March 9, 1959, at 7.30am, Mr Gibbs took a ceremonial swipe at the top of the first wall with a pickaxe.

Later that day, when the wall had been reduced to a foot in height, Mrs Spokes Symonds became the first person to officially step through the gap, and grabbed a little piece of history as she did so.

She said: “I think it is important for people to remember, because they should never have been allowed in the first place.”

The Davenant Road resident had an extra reason to help with the exhibition as it was her father, Peter Stokes, who founded the Museum of Oxford in 1974.

Oxford City Council is holding a special event at the museum on Saturday, June 20, between 11am and 4pm, for residents to bring along items for the exhibition, which opens on September 28.

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