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Battle to preserve a sacred corner of war remembrance in Oxford
THE economist and broadcaster Peter Jay has expressed concern about plans to build next door to the historic Oxford cemetery where his war hero great-uncle is commemorated.
Mr Jay has close family ties with Holywell Cemetery, near Magdalen Deer Park.
His great uncle Ronald Poulton Palmer – a celebrated England rugby international, killed furing the First Worl War – is remembered by a wooden cross, brought from the original grave in Flanders.
Ronald Poulton Palmer
Now Mr Jay, a former British ambassador to the US, who lives in Woodstock, has joined those demanding that the peace of the cemetery is preserved, in the face of plans to build new student accommodation blocks nearby.
Merton College and McLaren Property upset heritage groups by setting out proposals to develop accommodation for 294 students in Manor Place.
Mr Jay said: “In recent times I have taken over responsibility from senior members of my family to keep an eye on the Poulton Corner of the cemetery, as it is known.
“As one whose ancestors and other kinsfolk are buried or otherwise commemorated in Holywell cemetery, I want to add my voice to that of those expressing their concern that a developer’s plans to build student accommodation just across the cemetery back wall may violate the peace and tranquillity of that very special and much treasured corner of Oxford.
“People greatly value the peace and quiet of this spot.
“The thought of major building work just a few feet on the other side of the wall is very worrying.”
Ronald Poulton Palmer grew up at 56 Banbury Road, attended Oxford’s Dragon School and later Balliol College. He held records for most tries in an Oxford v Cambridge game (five in 1909) and for England against France (four in 1914).
A lieutenant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment, he was called up to the Western Front in 1915. He was killed, aged 25, in May 1915, near the village of Ploegsteert in Belgium.
Mr Jay added: “His parents, brother, sisters and nephew are also remembered in Holywell in the ‘Poulton corner’. The wooden cross that marked his original grave in Flanders is now attached to the wall, which may be threatened by the developers’ operations.
“I am not saying any development should be stopped. But it should be done with sensitivity and respect.”
The commemorative cross in the cemetery
Oxford Civic Society chairman Peter Thompson, expressed concern the blocks would be just three metres from the cemetery wall on the southern side. He warned: “The buildings would block views and are overbearing, completely changing the character of the cemetery.”
The cemetery includes the remains of numerous dons, and famous figures such as Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows.
Stuart Black, of McLaren Properties, which consulted on its plans last month, earlier said: “The site has been earmarked for student accommodation. It is important for us to create a scheme which meets local need while respecting the rich heritage of the local area.”