The front cover of the Trinity Term edition of Oxford Today shows an arrow pointing downwards. Taissa Csaky and Richard Lofthouse use this arrow to illustrate their article on ‘Oxford in 2065’. They suggest that, since there is a height restriction on new buildings in the centre of the City, ‘digging and tunnelling’ is one answer to creating more space for the University and its colleges. The authors recall that the work on the New Bodleian in the 1930s first set this trend of expanding downwards.
When the underground book stack of what is now called the Weston Library was dug out Rupert Bruce-Mitford, a graduate of Hertford, then working at the Ashmolean Museum, made a record of the archaeology of the site. This research virtually established the study of medieval archaeology in England. After the war Martyn Jope, a graduate of Oriel, took forward Bruce-Mitford’s work. His work on sites such as the present Clarendon Centre, which was first developed by Christ Church in 1954-5, demonstrated the importance of Oxford’s Late Saxon archaeology.
Since the 1950s the work of these two pioneers has been continued and expanded by later archaeologists. For instance, evidence for Roman occupation was found during the construction of the underground Radcliffe Science Library extension. Oxford Archaeology’s 2004 publication, entitled Oxford before the University, conveniently summarises another aspect of this research. Today archaeologists continue to make important discoveries in the City. This year significant excavations are in progress in advance of underground library developments by Magdalen and Queen’s.
Oxford’s heritage is to be found not only in its buildings and skyline, but under its streets and quadrangles too. ‘Digging and tunnelling’ is not as straightforward a solution to finding more space as it may first appear. It comes at a significant cost in terms of the destruction of the unique record of the City’s and the University’s buried history. Furthermore developers who wish to destroy archaeological remains are now required to fund any necessary recording, publication and archive creation, as a condition of planning permission.