Visiting Nuneham Courtenay, near Oxford, England: picturesque cottages for workers, now quaint and desirable residences
Workers' cottages spoiled the view of the poor Earl!
In many ways, the village of Nuneham Courtenay, near Oxford, England, is a typical, old English village. Aligning its main road, known as the A4074, are many low, brick cottages, with dormer windows, which make a drive through the village very picturesque. Part of the village is on a significant incline and the cottage-lined main road has partly the aspect of cottages constituting a descending series of 'steps'.
These cottages were originally built as dwellings for workers. Today, they have become desirable residences, situated as they are just a short distance by road from the University City of Oxford. (It seems that the opposite has occurred with many 20th century dwellings designed to be 'functional': many such buildings first heralded for their practicality have deteriorated markedly, and are unlikely ever to be seen as desirable dwellings. Maybe our forefathers already knew a lot about what is today called 'sustainable engineering'?)
Settlement in the village is believed to go back to Saxon times. The original village was situated several hundred metres away from the elongated series of cottages which makes up the backbone of Nuneham Courtenay today. From the 1760s onwards and gradually throughout the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Oxford - Reading road, which passes through the village, acquired a lenghening series of what in England are called semi-detached cottages with attic upper rooms. As time progressed, efforts were made to conform newly built cottages along either side of this road to the appearance of existing ones.
This step of rebuilding the workers' cottages alongside the main road had come about orginally because Simon Harcourt, the very grand, first Earl Harcourt (1714-1777)(1), had thought that having older workers' houses in the vicinity of his home, Nuneham House, would spoil his view. ('Poor man!' we are supposed to echo, sympathetically.) These existing houses he thus demolished.
Mature vegetation, both immediately alongside the A4074 and set back from the road, adds a sense of grace and permanence to this striking, elongated village street.
April 27, 2013
(1) Another, well-known member of the Harcourt family was Sir William Harcourt (1827-1904), who successively served as Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Liberal Leader of the Opposition; an immensely able individual and relatively progressive for his time, but, like his aloof forbear, he was noted for his pronounced air of detachment, and failed as Liberal leader to command much empathy on the part of his putative Parliamentary colleagues.
Also worth seeing
In Nuneham Courtenay itself, Nuneham House in Palladian style dates from 1756. All Saints' church in Early English style, dates from 1872-74; the ornate Carfax Conduit, was moved here from Oxford in the 18th century.
Oxford (distance: 8 kilometres); the Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, the Bridge of Sighs and the university's many, ancient colleges are major visitor attractions, as are also Christ Church Cathedral and Oxford Castle.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Nuneham Courtenay: 67 kilometres. Be advised that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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