THE scaffolding is starting to be removed from Oxford University’s controversial Castle Mill flats after a £6m external revamp designed to make them less of an eyesore.

And what is revealed, it must be admitted, is a vast improvement on the buildings as they previously looked – the white horrors of the ‘Costa del Cripley’, as one of my pals styled them

Muted greys and natural wood, with cladding and horizontal beams to break up the vertical facade, have done the trick.

Startling constructions that used to look from Port Meadow like a grisly row of enormous warehouses on an industrial estate now blend much more agreeably with the rural environment.

The blocks even look smaller, as the architects said they would, though the tower of poor old St Barnabas Church still hides feebly amid their bulk when viewed from a distance.

The church (1869) was the work of the celebrated architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, who also designed the chapel at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

The forecourt beside which the chapel stands was graced by a fountain featuring Triton, the conch-blowing son of the Greek god Poseidon, modelled on Bernini’s fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome. It was paid for by public subscription and installed in 1858.

Readers who have studied the picture above probably guess where I am going with this.

Yes, the statue now has its home in a protective glass case among the Castle Mill blocks.

Years of exposure to the elements outside the hospital – it was one of the sights of Oxford in the coldest winters, dripping with icicles – meant it was certain to break up within a few years, despite patching with concrete slurry.

As part of the redevelopment scheme for the infirmary site, the university decided to invest in a £45,000 replacement, similar to the original, which is now in place there.