Approximately 106 years ago, on a May day like today, Henry Taunt, Oxford’s most well known photographer, set up his camera equipment amid the beauty and tranquillity of the Lye Valley and took his famous photograph examined in this article.
It is a time to reflect on Oxford’s natural crown jewel, with sadness for the much lost, gratitude for the little remaining we have, and fear and anger about its probable impending destruction at the hands of Oxford City Council who is supposed to be its protector.
There is nothing more beautiful or quintessentially English than Hawthorn in bloom or the Lye Valley.
Here, for the first time, we can see a colourised rendering of Taunt’s famous photograph of May 1914 of the Lye looking up to The Slade.
More on Taunt can be found at the Oxford History Centre site: Henry Taunt (OHC) (new window)
The Lye SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) is currently endangered by two Oxford City Council developments which may threaten its very existence:
Ten House Development on Warren Meadow
This will very probably destroy the last of the West Fen and rob poor local children of the only real green space left in the area – let Ellie The Elk On The Lye explain, or for a more detailed view please read the The Hymn Of The Lye
Two House Development at 2 Dynham Place
Which will block the Lye valley at source see:
All under the Lye Valley menu on this site.
Please Join Friends Of Lye Valley (FOLV) to help save this precious place:
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, and Councillor Susan Brown (email@example.com) who both as local Councillor and Leader of the Council should intervene to stop these appallingly insensitive, reckless and cruel developments.
The below images are low resolution, for higher resolution click the links below where they will open in a separate screen – be patient, as they are large, but well worth it!
To reference this article and compare, start a new browser and cut and past the URL (https://..) from one to the other.
To see above image in larger resolution click: Taunt In Colour (new window)
To see above image in larger resolution click : Taunt original (new window)
Where Was It Taken?
The location is identifiable today and approximates to the photo location shown below:
The orange roof in the distance of the FOLV photograph is one of the new houses to the left above the Lye Valley Slade entrance, which approximates well to the two houses in the background to the right of the Taunt photograph.
Looking at the map below and the Taunt photograph, we can see the track that used to cross The Lye at this point, turning sharply right and crossing The Lye with a stone (just visible between two bushes), past the large Hawthorn bush in full bloom, before, out of shot, going up the embankment to the right and along to the houses in the right top background.
The fenceline, Lye Brook crossing and two houses just prior to the end of the blue line are shown below on the 1921 map and with overlays using satellite imagery.
How Much Fen Has Been Lost?
West Side (Left)
The Lye Fen on the Warren Crescent side (left on Taunt photo) was a hanging or perched fen for the length of the valley, supplied by a springline that can be seen from the vegetation leading to the angled hut, almost all of which has been destroyed due to the made ground used to form the Warren Crescent meadow area as part of the Town Furze estate development. (approx 1960)
Only the tiny remaining West Fen in the SSSI shown in the immediate foreground survives which is now under direct threat from the Warren Meadow development.
The Head Of Lye Valley – Girdlestone Gully
The Lye Valley bears left in the distance past the angled hut, where a probable patch of reeds can be seen as a white patch just to the right of the angled hut in the distance, probably marking the junction of two gullies at the current pond at the base of The Slade entrance.
In addition to other evidence, the track on the map above (green) running along the top of west (left) side of the Lye swerves sharply north to join Old Road staying on the west side of the Lye valley, rather than following the more logical route to The Slade indicating the gully was very probably too boggy (ie it was fen) to cross. (marked in red)
Girdlestone Road now crosses this where the valley goes down on the line of the allotments below to the Lye.
The fen in the head of the Lye Valley (Girdlestone Gully) has now completely disappeared since the Town Furze Estate development (1960), however, peat remnants recorded in recent sampling (2 Dynham Place site investigation) prove its former existence.
The 2 Dynham Place development will be built directly across the head of the valley as shown in brown. (See articles in appeal)
The Lye Brook (Right of Path)
The Lye Brook is now more incised and larger due to manmade drainage and runoff caused by building, consequently, the valley, once flat at the base, has a slight, but noticeable V shape (see FOLV image), this in turn restricts the flat part of the fen.
An incised, fast flowing steam represents a major loss of water to the fen as it flows under and past the fen, rather than through it.
East Side (Right)
On the Peat Moors side the fen is now of much smaller extent and the valley side is closer.
The unnaturally steep slope visible in the Taunt photograph on the extreme right bottom indicates much damage may have already been done to the fen prior to 1914 when the track which ran midway up the valley on the Peat Moors side (right) was formed, very possibly to serve the quarry shown.
Today, the valley side appears to be settled spoil with almost no perched fen in the area of the photograph, probably due to the Peat Moors Estate development.
The Taunt image shows healthy fen of wider extent then at the base of the valley, and perched fen on the slopes – the patch of reeds and bushes (white patch) just under and below the houses (top right) indicates a spring emergence. All of this is now lost.
The only possible conclusion the evidence presented by these photographs leads us to is that Lye Fen has suffered at least a 80% loss since 1914.
The is now almost nothing left of the original fen except the tiny area in the SSSI, and developments described in the appeal section will deal the deathblow if not stopped.
Thanks to the members of the FOLV for their help producing this article and Historic England for granting permission to use their high resolution image.
The Taunt image is copyright of Historic England – please refer for reproduction rights.
The photograph was colourised using image software. No changes or corrections where made other than colour, all imperfections remain unchanged.
Colour choices were made on the best interpretation possible, this can, in effect, be a change although avoided as much as possible to not impair the authenticity of the image.
It is not possible to know the original colour in black and white images. The sky was made blue due to absence of any clouds, the strong shadow of the large hawthorn bush, and the lack of any blur that wind etc would cause the long exposures required at the time and the apparent dryness of the path surface. Rooves were coloured based on relative colouring, eg: Victorian Slate tiling, or red tiles.
The fen, for technical reasons, is darker than it is in reality.
The image is dated 1914, but there are more houses in the photograph than shown even on later maps, so the 1914 date needs verification, Henry Taunt died in 1922 representing an upper date.
Copyright restrictions on the original Taunt image restricts sizing to maximum of 700 pixels on one side on this site.
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CC73/00051 – View along Lye Valley (Henry Taunt), Historic England (Permission Number: 7837)
The Oxford History Centre and Historic England both have holdings of Taunt images.