Magdalen Bridge

By William Morris

The Committee of the S.P.A.B. having noticed that the Pall Mall Gazette has on several occasions done good service towards the cause of the preservation of the remains of the art of past times, has desired me to write to you, & beg the favour of space in your columns for the following remarks on the threatened destruction of Magdalen Bridge at Oxford, which it is much to be feared is imminent.

It may well be thought that the mere words, `the destruction of Magdalen Bridge' would go at once to the heart of any one who knows Oxford well; that any one who has lived there either as gownsman or townsman, & who does not want to be set down as dull to any impression of art or history, would be eager to protest against such a strange piece of barbarism: but it may not be altogether superfluous to remind those who know little of Oxford, or who have not seen it that Magdalen Bridge has a value quite apart from its own considerable architectural excellence, a value which it is hard to exaggerate: for it forms an essential part of a group of buildings quite unrivalled of its kind in the United Kingdom: the splendour of the great Tower, the Hall & the Chapel, and the beauty of the low block of buildings which run along the street west from the tower, all this stately mass of correct and well developed medieval architecture is not injured but helped by the pleasing primness of the Botanical Gardens, and the naif classicality (not perhaps as un-Gothic as it would be) of the beautiful Bridge: in short it must not be forgotten that these buildings of Magdalen are essentially part of the street, and look almost as if they had grown up out of the roadway: any injury done to the street will injure them fatally, and the result will strike even those who have not much noticed the separate parts which go to make up the lovely group.

Moreover Magdalen College and its surroundings formthe main entrance to Oxford, to that famous High Street, which is the heart of the most important town of England for mingled artistic & historical interest; is this with all its romance & beauty, which no one can fail to be impressed by, worth keeping in a city which exists for the furtherance of cultivation?

The Comm: of the S.P.A.B. do not hesitate to say both that they themselves believe it well worth keeping even at the expense of some considerable inconvenience to the neighbourhood, and that they feel sure that most cultivated men will be of the same opinion; but also in their opinion no serious inconvenience to the public is caused by the present structure, the traffic across Magdalen Bridge being usually but small: nor can the tramway now being laid be pleaded as a cause for the rebuilding of the Bridge, since the Engineer to the Tramways Company has in a letter to the Committee expressly denied its necessity on that score, and has disclaimed it as any part of his scheme.

The Committee, therefore, begs through your columns to protest against the rashness of a scheme of destruction, which is not called for by the convenience of any large part of the public, and which has only to be mentioned to be condemned by all cultivated men unless obvious necessity can be pleaded in its favour.

Letter to the Pall Mall Gazette, dated 16 July 1881 (unpublished).

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology