Aerial view of Four Rivers
Street view of Four Rivers
Street view of the Oxford "backs"

OXFORD FLOOD ALLEVIATION SCHEME - The area under consideration:

The Area under study for a flood alleviation scheme

This section in The Stripling Thames by Fred Thacker

Fred Thacker's Map, 1920
Fred Thacker's Map, 1920

Above Osney Bridge there are allotments on the LEFT bank. They do not have much respect for the river.
On the RIGHT 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 backs 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!)
Four Rivers (the Oxford Backs!)


NORTH: Straight on Upstream (to the left in the above photo) is the modern navigation cut towards Port Meadow and Godstow lock.
EAST: On the RIGHT bank under the footbridge is a cut leading to a five way junction:
north west to a very shallow (5 inches) and low headroom (24 inches) stream to Medley;
also north west through the Isis Lock onto the Oxford Canal (north);
and also through Isis Lock onto the stub of the Oxford Canal (south);
and south east, the old course of the River through Oxford (Oxford Castle)
SOUTH: Downstream (to the right in the photo) is the main stream towards Osney Bridge and Lock.
WEST: On the LEFT bank (behind the camera in the photo above) is a weir stream, unnavigable. Here was a bathing place at the tumbling weir.

1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall

Shortly before Oxford is reached, at a point called the Four Streams, the river separates into two channels, its "divided flood" meeting again just below the city, at the foot of Folly Bridge, at the commencement of Christ Church meadow. *
* The Thames, at and about Oxford, forms a complete network of streams - so much so as to be puzzling even to the surveyor. Our Oxford readers will recollect the various names of "Seekworth", "the Reach", "the Dunge", "Pot stream", "the Wyke Stream", "the Four Streams", and many others.
Our course takes us by the right-hand stream, the only navigable one, under a bridge on the highroad leading from Oxford to the west - a road which numbers seven bridges within a mile, and illustrates somewhat expensively the divided character of the Thames at this part of its course.

1893: Ravenstein, The Oarsman's and Angler's 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 King's Weir, avoiding the intervening difficulties of the river.

[ i.e. The reach above what is now Kings Lock, avoiding Medley Weir and King's Weir, both flash weirs in 1893. ]
1909: The Stripling Thames, Fred Thacker

At Four Streams, up a little side water on the LEFT 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 RIGHT bank leads to the little lock [Isis 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.