THEY became two of the leading lights in the world of art and literature.

But back when they were at Oxford University, Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin were being ridiculed for taking part in a spot of roadbuilding.

And on Saturday, September 24, a group will revisit the scene – a lane off North Hinksey Lane – to celebrate their work.

Ruskin Society secretary Allan Webb said: “When he was a professor at Oxford, Ruskin persuaded a number of undergraduates to work on the road.

“It was in an awful condition and so they set to work digging ditches and improving the road to improve the health of local residents.”

Twelve students from Balliol College, along with Ruskin, repaired the road from 1874, improving sanitation for local residents.

Ruskin, famous for his social thinking ideas, had become concerned about the constant flooding of the road and the likelihood of cholera outbreaks.

Mr Webb said: “But this kind of work was not something that young men of their stature were supposed to be doing. They were thought to be quite disgraceful. To see young men digging a road, now that was really something.”

The men were even mocked in Punch magazine, which said: “Scholars of Ruskin, to him be true.

“The truth he has writ in the Stones of Venice. May be taught by the Stones of Hinksey too.”

In addition to the poem, caricatures appeared in other newspapers and magazines across the country.

But despite the mockery, the students completed their work and most went on to great things.

Oscar Wilde, who was said to have been “entrusted with Mr Ruskin’s especial wheelbarrow”, became one of the world’s most famous wits.

Other road-builders included economic historian Arnold Toynbee, editor Alexander Wedderburn, Ruskin’s biographer WG Collingwood and Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder of the National Trust.

Ruskin himself became a leading English art critic, draughtsman, watercolourist and prominent social thinker and philanthropist.

Mr Webb said: “So on September 24, we will be walking the length of the controversial route.

“It was really something for them to be doing that. And we’ll be celebrating their achievements.”

Members from the Ruskin Society and the Oscar Wilde Society will meet at the Fishes pub of North Hunksey Lane at 12.30pm, before walking the route and learning more about the road.Everyone is welcome, but pre-booking is essential.

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