Speaker : Simon Wenham
Simon began by giving us an overview of the national and international politics at that time, It was a time of great change as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation which led eventually to reform and social change. The two main parties – Tories and Whigs – were led by MPs who needed to be wealthy as they were unpaid, and also property owners, Anglican in religion, and male. The shadow of the French Revolution still hung over politics early in the 19th century, but
protectionism gradually gave way to a more philanthropic and tolerant view of society.
The Irish Potato Famine led under Peel to reform of the Corn Laws, and Electoral reform
came in 1832. The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 caused outrage. Corruption
was rife in the voting procedure as a result of bribery and “rotten” and “pocket” boroughs.
Catholic emancipation was also an issue, as were the £10 property requirements. The Poor Law Reform Act of 1836 made provision for the setting up of workhouses, but these were regarded as a last resort for the most desperate. The workhouses in Oxford were built on the Cowley Road, and in Gladstone Road, Headington. The Chartist movement was inspired by Poor Law reform, and locally Minster Lovell became known as Charterville.
Simon Wenham then moved on to talk about Oxford in particular and the rivalry that
existed between Town and Gown. This had surfaced early on in 1355 with the St
Scholastica riots. This began with a student protest about poor ale at the Swindlestock
Tavern, and it escalated into full-scale riot in the town.
The population of the city rose significantly from around 12,000 at the beginning of the
19th century to around 49,000 by 1901. Flooding and the risk of Cholera was a constant issue and eventually improved drainage and lowering of the water level in the rivers alleviated the problem, although as we know flooding in Oxford still occurs rather too often.
The 1882 rule allowing Dons to marry resulted in increased philanthropy in the town, under the influence of wives and daughters. There were three attempts to bring the railway to Oxford. These were opposed by landowners and the University but eventually the first station was built on Western Road, although the workshop went to Swindon.
Parliamentary elections in Oxford were marred by corruption, and Oxford was at one point stripped of its franchise. But from the 1870s onwards the power of the town became more dominant, as did non-conformism. The town was led by several notable figures, including James Hughes, Walter Gray and Robert Buckle. All of them became mayors.
Oxford gained County Borough status in 1889, after adjusting the figures to reach the required number of 50,000 inhabitants. The Town Hall was built in 1897.
The Suffragette movement was also active in Oxford. A rally at the Martyrs’ Memorial ended in chaos. The most significant event in Oxford’s economic life came with the arrival of William
Morris. His car factory had a transformative effect, changing a rather sleepy city into a
major manufacturing centre.