My Hidden Oxford
Oxford is famous for its cyclists. But not far from the Old Bank Hotel is a sight more familiar to gondoliers than bikers.
Built in 1913-14 to connect two parts of Hertford College, the ornate flying arch bridge near the junction of Catte Street and New College Lane is known locally as ‘the Bridge of Sighs’ after a more famous namesake in Venice.
Fortunately that’s where the similarities end. The seventeenth-century Ponte dei Sospiri by Antonio Contino linked the Doge’s palace to prisons on the other side of the Rio di Palazzo canal. According to the English romantic poet Lord Byron (1788 -1824) hapless convicts sighed as were led across it, stealing a last look at the beauties of Venice before being taken to their cells – hence the ‘bridge of sighs’.
Most students in Oxford prefer a different legend: That to “kiss under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset means that love will last forever”.
Hertford College itself dates from 1874 although parts of the site incorporate much older buildings. Former students include the author Evelyn Waugh (1903 –1966). Hertford bridge was built by Sir Thomas Jackson (1835-1924), one of the most distinguished architects of his generation. He was also responsible for the Examination schools, and major projects at Brasenose and Trinity Colleges.
Footnote. The Old Bank Hotel and Old Parsonage Hotel have just taken delivery of 24 bicycles and hope to get the gondlas next year!