Fred Thacker's Map, 1920
Above Osney Bridge there are allotments on the right bank. They
do not have much respect for the river.
On the left bank a warehouse and then houses. This is what (as a Cambridge man) I call the Oxford Backs. (More backside than backs!) The houses turn their back on the river and are more concerned with their security from flood, or more man made intrusion, than to appreciate the river.
Oxford and Cambridge, A Comparison. Smithfield Waterstone -
Cambridge has espoused the river, has opened its arms to the river, has built some of its finest houses alongside the river. Oxford has turned its back on the river, for only at some points downstream from Folly Bridge does the Isis glitter so gloriously as does the Cam.
But then the river widens into a unique feature, a waterways cross road
Four Rivers (the Oxford Backs!)
A WATERWAYS CROSS ROAD -
EAST: under the footbridge is a cut leading to a three way junction:
north west to the Isis Lock onto the Oxford Canal;
also north west to a very shallow (5 inches) and low headroom (24 inches) stream to Medley;
and south east, the old course of the River through Oxford (Oxford Castle).
WEST: On the right bank (behind the camera in the photo above) is a weir stream, unnavigable. Here was a bathing place at the tumbling weir.
SOUTH: Downstream (to the right in the photo) is the main stream towards Osney Bridge and Lock.
NORTH: Upstream (to the left in the above photo) is the modern navigation cut towards Port Meadow and Godstow lock.
1893: Ravenstein, The Oarsmans and Anglers map -
A branch stream leads to the Oxford canal, by which, for a small sum, steam launches and other craft up to 7ft beam may reach the Thames again above Kings Weir, avoiding the intervening difficulties of the river.
[ i.e. The reach above what is now Kings Lock, avoiding
Medley Weir and Kings Weir, both flash weirs in 1893. ]
1909: The Stripling Thames, Fred Thacker
At Four Streams, up a little side water on the right bank, is the local bathing place,
where the ferryman is often busy with his regulation load of a dozen small boys;
and here, too, a bystream on the left bank leads to the little lock by which the Oxford and Coventry Canal enters the River.
And now the banks finally clear themselves from the dwellings, and become breezy and open. It is sweet here in June with buttercups and the flower of the grass, with yellow iris and great clumps of upstanding dock.
Beyond the raised towpath Fiddler's Island Stream saunters leisurely down, forming the boundary of allotment gardens and of the northwestern skirts of the city.
Straight on upstream the next section is much more tree lined than it obviously was in 1906. It enables you to recover from the temporary urban setting and remind you that the Thames is essentially a rural river. But it still feels like an artificial cut - which it probably is.