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Bonn Square concerns
4:03pm Monday 7th October 2013 in Letters
Sir – Councillor Hollick has voiced legitimate concerns regarding the commercial use of Bonn Square (Report, September 26). Once again the history of an amenity provided for the citizens of Oxford seems to have passed from memory.
Bonn Square occupies the site of the medieval graveyard of the church of St Peter le Bailey. After the first Norman church was destroyed in 1726 when its tower collapsed, another church was built with difficulty in 1740 as the poor and declining parish had trouble in raising the necessary funds.
The church jutted out on to Queen Street and by 1872, in a sorry condition, it was decided that it should be demolished as it impeded the burgeoning traffic.
The city purchased the site of the church, but not the graveyard which the parish had still to maintain, although no use could be made of it. An alternative burial ground had been provided for city churches on the Botley Road. Some time later, the city decided it wanted to purchase the graveyard. There was some concern in the parish, but agreement was reached. The city exchanged a cottage on Bullocks Lane for it, the site now part of St Peter's College.
The parish inserted a proviso to the agreement, which I paraphrase, that “sensitive to its original purpose, the space should be used, in perpetuity, for the enjoyment of the people of Oxford”.
And so it has remained. Revamped, the space has become a welcome refuge and meeting place for young and old alike. The Baptist Church made a public-spirited grant of access to their land as part of the scheme. It is a pity that there is no indication on the square as to its history. It is a pity that the resting place of many medieval city dignitaries and benefactors has been forgotten, their names but historical footnotes. It is a pity so few now seem to care.
As with other proposed developments, such as the hideous and inappropriate Science Discovery Centre on New Road and the possible loss of the Register Office, which will compromise one of the city’s most ancient sites, the people of Oxford need to voice their opposition.
They need to reclaim their city, before there is nothing left to reclaim. The built environment belongs to us all. Short-term commercial interests should be resisted, on Bonn Square, or elsewhere.
Geoffrey Fouquet, St Peter’s College
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