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Memories flood back of waterlogged city
BEN WILKINSON reviews the age-old problem of flooding in an area that was once decribed as an inland Venice
THE flooding this week has caused widespread disruption and damage across Oxfordshire.
But as these images from over the decades show it is nothing new for the county to deal with.
Just as cars were cautiously making their way down Abingdon Road earlier this week, pictures from the Oxford Mail library show horses and carts were battling with the same levels of floodwater nearly 100 years ago.
Botley Road closing brought the city to a standstill with motorists reporting huge delays in and out of Oxford over several days.
But residents have had to cope with the disruption many times in the past.
And those living in Osney Court aren’t new to the flooding either – we featured their stories during the 2003 floods.
The city is vulnerable to flooding because many waterways flow towards it and can build up in Oxford, the Environment Agency says.
Oxford City goalkeeper A Jefferies is photographed here paddling along in a boat on the Abingdon Road in the Oxford floods of March, 1947. The flooding lasted 10 days and affected more than 3,500 properties
Richard Dale, operations manager for the West Thames, said: “It is the geography of the land. It is a low-lying area, the Thames is quite a complex river in itself with all the tributaries.
“Unfortunately they all meet in Oxford which is a bit of a pinch-point. It all backs-up in Oxford.”
He added: “It is the complex structure of the Thames that will always cause problems.”
This horse and cart is pictured in the Abingdon Road at Cold Arbour in what was known as “the great Oxford flood” of January 1915. In the month before, 5.64in of rain had fallen – the highest then in any December since 1850 and all the low-lying districts were left under water. Cyclists can be seen on the right walking across planks placed on stacks of bricks.
This week we have seen how people have been battling through the floods with some making the most of it including one paddle boarder in Abingdon Road. And residents have been using novel ways of getting around over the years – a punt was used to ferry passengers to Oxford Railway Station during the floods of 1875 and we captured an Oxford City goalkeeper paddling along in a boat when the floods hit in 1947.
Oxford-based historian Dr Malcolm Graham, pictured, said flooding had become a big part of the city’s history.
He said: “It always has been. The place was compared to an inland Venice in the 19th century.
“It was in some ways an advantage that the city was surrounded by water when defensive considerations were important because it has this fantastic watery landscape.”
And the Botley-based author said he expected flooding to remain part of city life for years to come.
He said: “It is difficult to see how all flooding can be prevented. You will see from the old photographs that it used to be much worse. Management has certainly achieved a reduction in flooding.
“But given the size of the Thames asnd its tributaries it is difficult to see how you could ensure flooding never occurred in low-lying properties.”
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