Interview 4 - Mark Davies

Mark Davies, local historian, author and Oxford Canal narrow boat resident

Interviewer: Jane Wilson
Editor: Emma Coombs
Total recording time: 1 hr : 9 min : 6 sec


  • Mark was interviewed on his boat on the Oxford Canal Arm near Hythe Bridge Street
Access available in Oxfordshire History Centre and Libraries only

Click on track number below to play

Track Content summary Length
4.1 Mark relates his first connections with boating and the Oxford Canal, and explains the physical side to living on a boat. He describes the beginning of what has become one of the longest running sagas in Oxford City canal’s history. In 1992, British Waterways decided to sell its part of a canal site at Jericho where 2 boatyards were in operation – College Cruisers and Orchard Cruisers. Part of a national sale of its assets. All seemed a foregone conclusion but in fact in Jericho these plans were thwarted and 20 years on it’s now a derelict site. 5 min : 31 sec
4.2 Mark, as a member of Oxford Friends of the Earth, highlights the 11 canalside sites from the City to Frenchay Road where housing developments were planned; by 2014 all but two have been developed. Exceptions are the Trap Grounds nature reserve, saved by local people, and the other, the Jericho Boatyard site (Castle Mill boatyard). 1 min : 14 sec
4.3 Mark describes how he developed an interest in local history as his boat is moored next to the Isis Bridge and near the historic Isis Lock and he wanted to find out more about the structures. After further research he submitted an essay to an Oxford Times Science writing competition and has never looked back - as rather surprisingly Mark found that very little seemed to have been written about the Oxford Canal in Oxford. He was keen to set the record straight and drew on archives from Jackson’s Oxford Journal (forerunner of Oxford Times) from 1753 onwards, and other sources at the Bodleian Library. 8 min : 9 sec
4.4 Living in a house that happens to be a boat. Working on local history projects during summertime. Fascinated by the literary connections with the canal – Philip Pullman John Betjeman, Colin Dexter, Kenneth Graham and Alice’s Adventures (Thames and the Canal). In 2006 he began to write for a living and got involved in community action. He describes the wildlife to be seen around the canal. 7 min : 8 sec
4.5 Mark thinks that the boat and bank collaboration between boaters and land dwelling communities has been instrumental in successfully opposing developments that did not take into accounts the needs of either group. 1 min : 34 sec
4.6 British Waterways threat to the boatyard was realised when it sold the land to Bellway Homes. The company made an application to build housing but there was a storm of protest, and occupation of the boatyard by boaters (evicted in 2006) when the fence and security lights went up. A Public Enquiry was held.

Philip Pullman’s support made a difference – secured national publicity and also paid for barrister to represent the protestors groups. By this point there were 100 residential boats on the canal and 150 non-residential boats; making a compelling case for provision of comprehensive local boatyard facilities. The Planning Inspector ruled that the boatyard was non-negotiable and that any plan had to include this facility.

2008 British Waterways found another buyer – Spring Residential bought the site – without planning permission but City Council turned it down as again there was no boatyard in the plan. Besides some housing the Council backed replacement of the old Jericho Community Centre and a new public space for the site. Spring appealed at a Public Enquiry which they lost and went bankrupt, owing £4 million.
10 min : 45 sec
4.7 HSBC were appointed as receivers and community opposition and plans for the site began to be formalised. In 2012 representatives of the Jericho Community Boatyard, a limited company set up by boaters, the Jericho Community Association, St Barnabas Church and the Jericho Living Heritage Trust formed the Jericho Wharf Trust to take action on behalf of diverse but shared interests in ensuring that the Castle Mill boatyard site is developed to meet community need. 4 min : 20 sec
4.8 Jericho Community Boatyard and its views about what boatyards facilities are required including permanent lifting gear to lift boats which College Cruisers – despite having service facilities – do not have, and the company will also have to take account of redevelopment plans as office will be demolished. Mark describes the challenges of maintaining a campaign given different opinions on issues and sheer stamina. 6 min : 29 sec
4.9 Mark’s own experience of getting repairs done on his boat and at one point getting stranded near Donnington Bridge helps him make the case for boaters. He paid tribute to people who gave their considerable time and skills to the campaign including Rob Valentine, Adrian Abib (photographer) John Keyes (boater) and Emma Chapman (a former boater on the Oxford Canal). 4 min : 58 sec
4.10 Mark makes the case for new Community Centre as the current one lacks disabled access and other modern facilities besides and belongs to St Barnabas Church rather than the community. The boatyard site addresses lack of public space in Jericho and is a site for a bridge to replace an existing footbridge that cannot be crossed by anyone using a wheelchair. 4 min : 55 sec
4.11 The Jericho Wharf Trust mounted a fundraising campaign to buy site with donations coming not only from charitable institutions and private donors but also the Jericho Singers whose conductor, Steph Pirrie has also worked tirelessly on the Jericho Boatyard campaign.

Jericho Wharf Trust worked with Riach Architects to draw up plans for the site but were unsuccessful. The company that bought site are also using Riach; Mark hoped the plans being drawn up will deliver favourable outcomes.

Oxford City Council’s publication of Supplementary Planning Guidance has helped to tighten even further what must be provide by site purchasers and developers including setting a limit on the height of any housing given that terraces are the norm in Jericho.
14 min : 4 sec