Features of the Parks
The Oxford University Cricket Club Pavilion (Parks Pavilion) was designed in 1880 by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson. It was built by Albert Estcourt of Gloucester in 1880-81. It was founded as the pavilion for the Oxford University Cricket Club and continues to serve this function today. Jackson is also known for designing the University’s Examination Schools and the spire of the University Church, both on High Street. The detailed Conservation Plan for the Pavilion is available to view on the University’s Estates Services website.
Other buildings attached to the Parks include the two lodges. North Lodge was designed by T H Deane, one of the architects of the University Museum, and built in 1866. South Lodge, constructed as a house for the Parks Superintendent, was designed by Mr Drinkwater and completed in 1893 at a cost of £500.
The Tentorium was constructed by Basil Wyatt & Son in 2002 to a design by Grey, Baines and Shew. This building is the administrative and operational centre for the Parks team.
The University Observatory, built in 1874, which originally occupied an isolated position in the centre of the Parks, is now adjoined by buildings of the Science Area.
One of the challenges of laying out the Parks was the provision and siting of a bridge across the River Cherwell. James Bateman’s rejected plan for the Parks placed this bridge in the south east corner of the Parks and this was the area chosen as the siting of the first bridge. The rollerway which allows punts to circumnavigate the weir was built nearby in 1887.
Repairs and alterations to both have been recorded over the years. The most notable work carried out was the rebuilding of the bridge to a more slender structure in 1950. This was to a design by Alfred Goldstein. This bridge has been recommended for listing and is thought to be the first pre-stressed fixed arch bridge in the world.
A relief project for the unemployed enabled the construction of High Bridge in 1923-24. Its shape, which has led to it being sometimes referred to as Rainbow Bridge, was a topic of much humour when it was built.
Time has rendered High Bridge into a notable landmark which increased accessibility to the meadows on the east side of the river at a time when the southern part of the Parks was being built on. Earlier, these meadows could only be reached from the west by a foot ferry operating in the summer months. A similar ferry existed about half way along Mesopotamia Walk. This was replaced by a footbridge in 1925-26.
The name, Mesopotamia, has been used in the English language since 1854 to allude to any area between rivers. At the south eastern corner of the Parks, a gate leads onto the cycle path and then to a strip of land between an upper and lower branch of the River Cherwell, one of which was the mill stream.
This relatively unfrequented part of the Parks contains habitats for waterfowl and wetland flora and is opposite the former site of Parsons Pleasure. This quiet path, about a mile long, leads across footbridges to Kings Mill and on to Marston Road. A mill was recorded at this site in the Doomsday Book. Milling is known to have continued in this spot until as late as 1825.
Parson’s Pleasure and Dame’s Delight
Provision of a bathing place alongside the river featured in the earliest discussions on the recreational use of the Parks. Parson's Pleasure, close to the rollerway which transports punts around the weir, was reserved for nude bathing for male members of the University. In 1991 the area was incorporated into the Parks and the bathing place closed. The cycle path to Marston was opened nearby in 1991.
Dame's Delight on the river bank opposite Mesopotamia Walk, the ladies' bathing place from 1934 to 1970, was closed due to high maintenance costs and damage from flooding.
Pond and wildlife
James Bateman’s original design for the Parks (rejected because of costs and other concerns) included a two and a half acre stretch of ornamental water. However, a pond was not constructed in the Parks until 1925. Dug out entirely by manpower it was circular with a diameter of around 50 metres. The pond was later extended in 1996 to a design by Conservator Walter Sawyer and since then more waterfowl have been attracted to the area.
During the original construction of the pond a drain was laid into the Cherwell which enabled baby pike to get into the pond. Unable to later return to the river they grew to a large size. An academic, concerned for the safety of frogs, organised the making of woollen ladders which were hung over the sides of the pond to allow the frogs to escape from the pike. Eventually the pond was trawled and a large number of pike were caught.
Squirrels are frequently seen. In spring they nibble the crocus flowers, while in autumn they forage for acorns, conkers and haws, the fruits of the thorns. Bird life is also abundant, the variety of seeds providing food for winter inhabitants of the Parks.
The Genetic Garden
In 1964, an area immediately north of the Science Area which had previously been the site of hard tennis courts, was allocated for the use of Professor Cyril Darlington, Sherardian Professor of Botany (from 1953 to 1971) as an experimental Genetic Garden.
The purpose of this high maintenance garden was to show the evolutionary processes known to occur in flowering plants. The plants were arranged in formal beds according to the various processes exhibited by them.
In 1995 the garden’s surrounding fences were removed and the area was incorporated into the Parks. Taking into account the necessity for creating an attractive space and ease of maintenance, the borders have been redesigned. The original planting has been consolidated while plants used in more recent genetic studies are also grown in this area.
Planting includes hybrids with their parent species and plants with different types of foliage variegation.