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Remembrance 2018: The Memorial Garden

Written by John James, posted on Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Detail of original design from 1926 by John and Paul Coleridge, ArchitectsChrist Church's Memorial Garden which now forms the principal visitor entrance into Christ Church Meadow and into Christ Church itself, is a permanent memorial to the men and women who died in the First World War, and subsequent conflicts.

In the mid 1920’s a War Memorial Fund was set up to commemorate those members of the college that died in the Great War, however funds did not pour in and there was insufficient money to do any significant building work. By the end of 1926 the fund stood at only £4,000 and the then head of Christ Church, Dean White, proposed a war memorial garden which had been previously mooted when Oxford City Council were planning to widen St Aldates in 1924.

The proposal was met with a mixed reception with some donors requesting their money be returned, however others were very much in favour including His Majesty the King of Siam who donated £500.

It was decided to create a garden and open up the previously hidden south front of Christ Church on what was formerly the site of a school playground and classrooms, stables and other small buildings outside the city walls. These were demolished and relocated leaving an open area in which the planned garden, which still exists in a largely unaltered state was created.

The garden took the form of a yorkstone central path leading from the ornamental gates and screen on St Aldates, to the now sadly non-existent Broad Walk elm avenue.

Inscription in the path by the gates to the Memorial GardenInset at the gates, is an inscription in the paving, which reads “My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage”, a quote from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress.

The raised planting areas and lawn to the north, the lime trees (which were originally intended to be pleached) to the south, and the two separate gardens at the eastern end are all part of the original plan, the only relatively minor alterations being the Lavender border to the lawns and the chain link fence to deter visitors from walking on the grass.

Over the decades since the garden was created the planting styles have varied, with at times much more use of brightly coloured seasonal bedding. The small garden to the south, which is still known as the “Rose Garden” despite only containing one rose was originally planned as a Dutch Garden but was actually built as an iris garden. Today it is one of the few locations within Christ Church where seasonal bedding plants are still grown.

The Memorial Gardens are now a very busy area with a million plus people passing through every year taking in the iconic views towards the Great Hall. The long herbaceous border is now planted to maximise interest throughout the year, with emphasis being placed on more restful colours and using plants with interesting seed heads to give winter interest.