thomas m wilson

Picturing the Modern Era in Britain

July 9th, 2007

Oxford is a city of 136 thousand people, about 60 miles from London. This place is an old don in a modern scene. Today I stood in the middle of the High, and looked towards Queens College. What would I have see if I had stood here in the 1920s, I wondered?


Well, let’s see…


Wow, all of a sudden I’m not swirling in a turbulent sea of 14 year old French and Spanish school kids, and there are dapper gents in well creased slacks enjoying the spaciousness of their street corner!

In the last thousand years only two new roads have been built in Oxford. The High Street of Oxford was not designed for enormous metal vehicles. I am an advocate for the environmental benefits of public transport, but if you stand in the middle of this road – Oxford’s High Street – today you’ll have such things obscure your view and brush past your coat tails. Streets in Canada, the US and Australia and the rest of the New World, were built more recently. Medieval road design does not figure in our daily experience, and there is a lot more space on our pavements as a result.

So here is what you’ll see today standing in the middle of the road:


Now let’s go up the road a bit, past that spire you can see in the picture above, to Queen St. And let’s wind back the clock to 1907. What shall we see?


What do I see today?


Hmm… Blank concrete, nylon sportsware and multinational temples of commerce. Get me out of here!

Let’s go over to Broad Street to get away from all the people. And let’s go back even further in history this time, to 1875.


Sure there would have been plenty more carts here on market day, but for now peace reigns.

Ok, back to the future.


Britain, and the world as a whole, has changed a lot in the last hundred years. One of those changes has been an increase in noise and ugliness on the High streets of the Commonwealth.

In response I suggest we all recite the Chap Manifesto. Could classic style be an act of revolution on the streets of 2007?