Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Mighty Fallen

Woolworth's gone! It feels as though a great hole has suddenly opened up in the ground. I have memories of shopping in Woollies going back six decades.

The mighty W took the decisive step to destroy the tranquility of Oxford. In 1955(?) they applied for planning permission to put a huge superstore in Cornmarket. The City Council said no, but the Minister of Housing, Harold Macmillan overruled them. And then came Marks and Sparks, then Selfridges, and soon the city centre was crowded with shoppers. Having done the damage, Woollies sold up in the 1980s and made room for the Clarendon Shopping Centre, followed by the Westgate Centre, now to be expanded. It's hard to move for the crowds.

All that happened just before the bypasses were built, after which the old centre could have been left as an academic and tourist precinct, a pedestrian and cyclist paradise with minimal vehicle access. A new commercial centre could have been sited near the eastern by-pass. So much for market forces as a method of town planning! Macmillan was rewarded by being elected Chancellor of the University. How we love those who torment us! Still, I forgive him, because he got us out of Suez and he told off Maggie Thatcher for 'selling off the family silver'.

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