Although the two bridges on the Waterways estate were constructed in 2000 and 2002 the area has a rich history.
The construction of the Oxford Canal reached the site of the Waterways estate in 1789, when a coal wharf was opened at Heyfield Hutt, now the site of Hayfield Road. The final section into central Oxford was ceremonially opened on 1 January 1790. It was the main commercial route to transport coal, stone and agricultural products into the city until the railway arrived in Oxford in 1844.
The canal retained its original character even after the introduction of diesel power as many Oxford Canal boatmen continued to favour horse traction. During the 19th Century much of the area on the east of the canal, which is rich in clay, was exploited by the local brick industries to make bricks for the construction of the many large residential homes as Oxford expanded north. The only remaining evidence of this industry is the large pond in Elizabeth Jennings Way, formerly a brick pit and now part of the Waterways estate.
The Oxford Canal remained independent until it was nationalised in 1948. Since then the canal has become a favourite waterway for both the now popular leisure boat industry and a home for a well-established long-stay boating community.
In 1871, workmen in a nearby brick pit discovered the complete skeleton of a young dinosaur. It was acquired by an amateur geologist and given to the University Museum where is it now displayed and named Eustreptospondylus oxoniensis. It is the most complete example of a ‘carnosaur’ in Western Europe, and the only specimen of the species. This young dinosaur would have walked and hunted for its prey in this area 155 Million years ago, so the area has indeed a very long history!
William Morris aka Lord Nuffield
The pond on Elizabeth Jennings Way was retained when William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, bought the surrounding land in 1925 for Osberton Radiators, one of the subsidiary companies serving Morris Motors. During the Second World War the factory made radiators for the Rolls Royce Merlin engine and diversified to produce other parts of the Spitfire fighter plane. At the height of the war 3,000 people worked on this site on day, night and twilight shifts. The factory subsequently became part of Unipart and after its closure the Waterways residential estate was built on the site from 2000 to 2004.
Literature and Film
The canal has already proved an inspiration in both literature and film. In Philip Pullman’s book, Northern Lights, and the subsequent 2007 film, The Golden Compass. The canal, with its closeness to Port Meadow, where horse fairs were held for centuries, provided the background to his description of the canal basin as
‘crowded with narrow boats and butty boats, with traders and travellers, and the wharves along the waterfront in Jericho were bright with gleaming harness and loud with the clop of hooves and the clamour of bargaining’.