‘Book of the month’

There are now 16 titles in the Iffley History Society series, covering many aspects of the history, social customs and buildings of our village. Some of these have been out of print for a number of years, but are now available again. The full series is described on the ‘Our Publications’ page, but here we will be looking back over the years to feature individual titles in more depth. Copies of all titles are normally available in the Iffley village community shop, or via the Society’s contact email: iffleyhistorysociety@gmail.com.

This month’s title is one of the very early ones:  “Iffley, Brunel and the Great Western Railway” by John Leigh (1997).

The railway linking Oxford to the original Great Western Railway at Didcot runs on the west side of the river to the station at Frideswide Square (although initially the line terminated just off the Abingdon Road at Grandpont). But before the line was built there was considerable debate and argument about its route, and Brunel originally (1837) had intended it to run this side of the river, to a terminus at St. Clements. And the planned route(s) ran directly through Iffley village.

John Leigh researched Brunel’s original proposals in documents in the House of Lords Record Office, and in particular trawled through the Parliamentary debates recorded in original Hansard records. The first proposed Iffley route ran between Church Way and the river, emerging onto the lower part of Meadow Lane.


Assumed approximate line of Brunel’s first proposed route through Iffley

But it is the second route which would have completely changed the village. The route ran in a cutting through what is now the site of the allotments in Eastchurch, then on the uphill side of Church Way before crossing it under a bridge just near the bottom of Tree Lane, opposite the Tree Hotel (and thereby  obliterating what is now Fitzherbert Close).


Brunel’s second proposed route, superimposed on today’s Iffley

The debates in Parliament make interesting reading. The proposals were voted down, largely, it is said, because of combined opposition from the church, the city corporation and not least colleges such as Christ Church that owned land along the proposed routes.

But as John Leigh put it (himself a long-standing resident of Fitzherbert Close some 150 years later)  “…if politics and vested interest had not prevented it … the village would have become a very different place…”.