Cowley Road: A History by Annie Skinner (Brookes Alumni)

Many former Brookes students will have memories of Cowley Road. Over the years the profile of the area has changed beyond recognition. In my book, Cowley Road: A History, I have attempted to create an original perspective of this dramatic transformation over half a century. Cowley Road nowadays is well known as a vibrant street, full of character, bohemian, multi-cultural, buzzing with political activity, interesting people and a thriving nightlife. While its history can be traced back for centuries, it became an established community from the mid-1850s onwards, but it is particularly after the post-war period that the most spectacular changes occurred. Cowley Road is within half a mile of the centre of one of Britain's most famous cities and has played an important role in Oxford's history and development, yet little has been written on it and its past is mostly untold. This is what I wanted to redress. Today there is life on Cowley Road 24 hours a day. Shops, caf�s and restaurants provide international cuisine. Interesting outlets sell unique jewelry, designer outfits, skateboarding gear, games and recycled clothes, and there is an excellent choice of bicycle stores. Alternative films are screened daily at the Ultimate Picture Palace. Bars and pubs provide entertainment for night owls, and the day can end, or start, at the celebrated Zodiac nightclub where top bands regularly perform. Life on the road over half a century ago was very different. Activity was mainly concentrated around the plentiful supply of grocery and household provision shops; several schools, a hospital (previously a workhouse) and the College of Technology, Art and Commerce were all at the heart of the community. Originally the City Technical School, founded by the City Council in 1891, the Tech was the forerunner to Oxford Brookes University. John Henry Brookes was the Principal of the college while it was on Cowley Road, and courses were offered on building trades, engineering, science, commerce and women�s crafts. Now the site is a housing estate, and it is hard to imagine that this was where an active further education college once stood. Similarly, the old hospital site is also now a housing estate, but also home to the new mosque and multi-cultural centre. Cowley Road is highly typical of urban development in post-war Britain, where profound changes in demography, migration, retailing and entertainment have taken place. The decline of the corner shop and the rise of the mobile phone outlet is hardly a unique East Oxford phenomenon. This book therefore provides a snapshot of a wider process that has changed the face of almost every city and town in Britain. But Cowley Road is also different and unique in its own specific history. It has always provided a physical link between the two worlds of Cowley, with its car manufacturing, and The University of Oxford, creating a particularly volatile political climate. It has also witnessed the coming together of migrants from around the world, students and other sometimes unconventional individuals in a uniquely tolerant community. The transition from a �respectable� working-class suburb into its present-day bohemian identity is the subject of this book. Many of the recollections may well evoke fond memories. Cowley Road: A History is published by Signal Publishing at £5.99. Available from Amazon Annie Skinner studied for her PhD in History at Oxford Brookes University part-time from 1996-2003. Her dissertation focused on the Cowley Road Workhouse.

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