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From wine into water


Nina Morgan* on a wine merchant geologist who went down the drain in Oxford.

Geoscientist 19.2 February 2009

Although son of a wine merchant, and himself employed full-time in the wine trade, the real passion of Joseph Prestwich (1812-1896) was geology. His spare-time systematic studies of the Tertiary formed the basis of many later studies of the British Tertiary, and helped to earn him the Wollaston medal in 1849. Prestwich also became a recognised authority on water supply, and after taking up the chair of geology at Oxford University (after the death of John Phillips in 1874) worked to improve the water supply in Oxford.

Prestwich Place - dry despite the rain He also played an important role in improving the drainage in the area of the Botley Road, west of Oxford city centre. In spite of the fact that it is situated on the flood plain of the Thames and traversed by an extensive network of side streams and ditches, this road has been a prime target for developers since the 1850s. Prestwich's work to improve drainage in the area was 'commemorated' within the past 10 years by the building of Prestwich Place, a small cul de sac of houses located on the floodplain off the north side of the Botley road.

Ironic, perhaps. But in the end, Prestwich may have had the last laugh. When parts of Oxford, including the Botley Road, were inundated during the floods that affected Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire in July 2007, Prestwich Place drained quickly, leaving that street dry. Meanwhile, an older cul de sac only a few hundred metres to the west remained well under water.

Plaque, Prestwich Place, Oxford. All exterior photos - Nina Morgan


Sources for this vignette include: John C. Thackray, ‘Prestwich, Sir Joseph (1812–1896)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 []; the solid and drift version of the Witney sheet 236; and my own soggy field research, carried out in the Botley area in July 2007.

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