In what is rapidly becoming a row between town and gown, angry locals have joined forces with conservation enthusiasts to campaign against the ‘dreaming spires’ that they say are ‘hideous’ additions to Oxford’s skyline. Such edifices, commissioned over hundreds of years at an enormous cost to the University, are invariably in the centre of the city – where, according to critics, they do the most damage to its famous silhouette. Moreover, it is contended that many spires were built without an adequate consultation period from the relevant planning authorities.
The offending buildings include the imposing Radcliffe Camera, built in the Eighteenth Century when planning permission was significantly more relaxed, and Christ Church’s Tom Tower, which has been criticised as “ruining the view over the beautiful, unspoilt Christ Church Meadows”. The iconic Sheldonian Theatre, campaigners have argued, is “literally a crime against everything beautiful in the universe”.
Benjamin Mapplethorpe, a Summertown resident, told The Oxstew, “How dare the University just go ahead and, over the course of a millennium, arrogantly transform a few mud huts at a crossroad into one of the splendours of western aesthetic and intellectual achievement! How dare they! Without Oxford City, where on earth would Oxford University be? Probably in Reading or something. They should count themselves lucky.”
“I think it’s outrageous,” added Meredith Folkenshaw, an environmental activist from Luton. “Back in 1087, Oxford was such a gorgeous place to come for a picnic – all wooden bridges and open drainage systems.
“Now, the University’s throwing its weight around and is refusing to pull down or even apologise for the late-gothic stone masterpieces ruining the view.”
Opinion has so far been divided as to the right way forward on the matter. Townsfolk, who at the time of writing were chaining themselves to the bicycle racks outside the University’s Wellington Square offices and singing ‘We shall overcome’, favour the immediate detonation of any building taller than a loft-converted semidetached house in Jericho.
The City Council, nervous of accusations that they may have dropped their guard for a few centuries or so, propose that the offending buildings be repainted in camouflage, so as to blend in better with the surrounding countryside. The University continues to reject these suggestions, arguing that its spires are peerless examples of medieval wealth distribution inequalities.
Word of the dispute has even reached parliament, where one MP told the media, “I have no idea what I am talking about, so please do not listen to any of my opinions on the matter, or indeed on any other matter.”
If the University’s hand is forced into removing many of the buildings, the resulting displaced students and fellows are expected to have to camp in Port Meadow until a more permanent solution is reached.
One undergraduate remarked, “Well, I’d miss the May Morning singing from the top of Magdalen Tower, but I am also very attracted by the idea of all 23,000 of us living in the splendid unspoilt Arcadia that is Port Meadow, which of course has remained untouched by human hand since the beginning of time.”