CUTTESLOWE WALLS (1934–1959)
34 Aldrich Road, Oxford
Between 1931 and 1934 two housing estates were built at Cutteslowe, one for council tenants and the other, nearer the Banbury Road, for private residents, developed by the Urban Housing Company under the direction of Clive Saxton. When slum-clearance families were housed on the adjoining council estate, apparently contrary to assurances given to Saxton, he erected two walls across the through roads, thereby cutting off the council tenants from direct access to the Banbury Road. The walls were seven feet high, topped by rotating iron spikes, and stood where Carlton and Wolsey Roads and Wentworth and Aldrich Roads meet.
The grievances of the council tenants were espoused by Abe Lazarus, a trade union activist and member of the Communist Party. He proposed the demolition of the walls to the accompaniment of brass bands and other entertainments on 11 May 1935 but a cordon of police put an end to the event. The City Council, confronted by Saxton’s resolute stand and seeking a lawful way to remove the walls, was thwarted in all its manoeuvring by niceties of legal interpretation. Foremost in the crusade on the Council’s side was R. W. M. Gibbs who was in favour of seeking a Parliamentary Bill. Finally the City Engineer was authorised to demolish the walls without more ado. Clive Saxton promptly took the matter to the Chancery Division of the High Court in July 1939 and won his case. A subsequent appeal did not overturn the verdict and the Council was castigated for its arbitrary action.
In 1953 the City’s Development Plan, taking advantage of recent planning legislation, proposed the compulsory purchase of the nine inch strips of ground on which the walls stood. The doughty Saxton, now an Oxford D.Phil., no longer stood in the way as the Urban Housing Company had sold its remaining assets in the estate in 1949. Finally, on 9 March 1959, the walls came down, witnessed by a gathering of residents and councillors. Edmund Gibbs, son of the earlier campaigner, was handed a pick-axe to strike the first blow.
The Cutteslowe Walls became famous nationally as well as locally, partly because of the continuing saga and partly because they became a focus for class issues in a time of rapid social change, nowhere more keenly felt than in Oxford as it made the transition from an exclusively university town to a motor manufacturing city.
- Source: Peter Collison, The Cutteslowe Walls, a study in social class (1963)
- Picture: Site of Cutteslowe Walls
- Oxford Mail, 23 January 2006: ‘Site of historic divide to get blue plaque’
The plaque was unveiled at 34 Aldrich Road, Oxford on 9 March 2006 by Ann Spokes Symonds, former ward councillor and later Lord Mayor of Oxford, and Mrs Doris Hayle, former resident of the Cutteslowe Estate.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
one of the two
CUTTESLOWE / WALLS
erected 1934 and
finally demolished on
9th March 1959
Oxford Civic Society