Heritage Open Days 9-18 September 2022 - What will you discover?

90 years of protecting Oxford’s dreaming spires

It’s an extra special year for one of our brightest hubs, Oxford Preservation Trust is celebrating its 90th birthday! Many happy returns, break out that cake and everyone sing along! Here's Stephen Dawson from Oxford Preservation Trust to give us an insight into their work in the city of  'dreaming' spires.

Oxford's dreaming spires from the terrace of the Weston Library © Will Pryce

Oxford Preservation Trust recently marked 90 years since the public meeting in the Sheldonian on 22 October 1927 when the Lord Mayor, Oxford University’s Vice Chancellor and other great Oxford names, H A L Fisher and Sir Michael Sadler stood together in a crowded room to form the Trust. 

In the beginning

Great words were spoken that day, when Oxford was described as ‘a jewel in a sea of green’ as people agreed that change was coming and the important thing was to guide that change, to keep the best of the old, and encourage the best of the new, and to preserve and, indeed, improve on Oxford’s beauty and her surroundings.

And so the factory went up and the house builders moved in, as the familiar villages of Headington, Iffley, Marston, Kennington and Cowley joined up with Oxford, becoming part of the City’s suburbs, as it pushed out and through its green edges.And Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT) began. 

Our first office was in the Painted Room at 3 Cornmarket, ‘where Shakespeare stayed’ and which, by happy coincidence, had just been discovered.  OPT started by buying land, our first piece, the Old Berkeley Golf Course, 64 acres at Boar’s Hill with amazing ‘Views of the Towers of Oxford from Boars Hill’ as photographed by a Times staff reporter at the time, bought with a generous loan, and preventing the land from being developed.

The team at Oxford Preservation Trust

90 years on

We pride ourselves on our forward-thinking approach, keeping the best of the old and encouraging the best of the new, through our planning work, the OPT Awards and our own conservation work such as in the restoration of Oxford Castle.  We own and care for 1,000 acres of land in and around Oxford to protect and enhance its green setting, are expert in Oxford’s views and have a number of programmes in place to encourage greater access to the land so that everyone can enjoy the space and know more of Oxford.

Inviting you to explore

Oxford Open Doors (OOD - part of the national Heritage Open Days festival) is one of our biggest and most successful annual events, opening up buildings and institutions that are not normally accessible to the public. Last year, we saw over 91,000 visits over the weekend involving 30,000 people, many of whom were Oxford residents.

On 8th and 9th of September, we have over 150 places and events planned.  Head to Broad Street and you’ll find the Bodleian and University Libraries, who have arranged lots of activities around their current Tolkien exhibition and are also opening the Divinity School, and the Taylor Institution and Law Library.  The Museum of Science has an exhibition of remarkable women scientists picking up on this year’s theme of extraordinary people. 

Christ Church and New College, who open for the first time this year, bring with them the Harry Potter factor. Look out for the family trail in the brochure with its prize draw.  Boat rides at the Oxford Canal Festival and historic characters coming to life at Oxford Castle & Prison (who are open free throughout the weekend) will all be great fun.  Look out for the exhibition of old cars, the vintage bus rides, soldiers and silver bands and the fire engines at Rewley Road, of course.  Come and see us at the Swingbridge to learn about the latest OPT project and to hear stories of Oxford’s past railway heritage. 

The OPT team will be out and about over the weekend at our hub in Cornmarket outside the Painted Room and if you can’t make it up the stairs, we are trying some live streaming this year, linked to our website, which will include the Sheldonian concert which ends the weekend.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Find out more

About Stephen Dawson - Oxford Preservation Trust

I joined the Oxford Preservation Trust team in 2016 to organise our annual Heritage Open Days event in Oxford, known as Oxford Open Doors.  I also look after our 2,000 members, organise events throughout the year and fundraise to support our various projects.  With a love of history, architecture and the countryside, working for OPT is brilliant as I get to be involved and enjoy all of these things every day.