Oxford Canal Heritage

Oxford Canal Heritage is a project to raise the profile of the Oxford Canal in central England. Among its offerings is an audio guided tour of the canal and four 10-minute audio dramas chronicling the history of the waterway.

In January 2014, a call for 10 minute plays inspired by the Oxford Canal brought in 36 entries. Four plays were then shortlisted for the Oxford Canal Radio Play competition and the play's writers: Heather Dunmore, Lara Fairy Love, Kelvin Fawdry and David McShane, were then mentored to improve their original play by Mark Haddon, famous Oxford based author, John Retallack, Programme Co-ordinator and Tutor for Writing for Performance at Ruskin College, Paul Rutman, film scriptwriter and Katie Baxendale, BBC producer and writer. All four plays were heard for the first time by an audience of over 100 people who enjoyed hearing the Canal Plays on a warm evening in St Barnabas Church on June 5 2014.

by Heather Dunmore

The story of Kenneth Grahame who wrote Wind in the Willows emerges in this well researched play that features a conversation between an old Kenneth and his cousin Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins who wrote the Prisoner of Zenda. Although Graham's book is much loved, the play shows the author's upbringing was far from happy when from time to time a younger Kenneth offers views about his childhood and schooling, including St Edward's school in north Oxford. During his time there he was able to observe wild life around the Oxford Canal as the school playing field run down to its banks and it becomes clear that he drew on these memories in his writing. There is also mention of his son, Alistair, who committed suicide near the Trap Grounds in Oxford and is buried with his mother and father in Holywell Cemetery.

by Kelvin Fawdry

The play features a dialogue between Joe and Rose Skinner, members of the Skinner family who were strongly connected with canal trade. The other important character that is clearly heard from time to time is Dolly the mule who towed the Skinner's boat Friendship. The Skinners reflect on their working lives on board Friendship carrying coal and other cargoes from the Midlands to Oxford along the Oxford Canal and also relate Dolly's history and how she came to be a canal boat mule. They contrast the slow pace of Friendship with the fast pace of the new leisure boat with food for thought about canal heritage.

by David McShane

A bittersweet tale is at the heart of this play about a first date between two men – one older and one younger who are meeting, for the first time, by the Oxford Canal. As they stand and look out across the canal they begin to talk. Charles, the younger of the two men, anxiously reveals a lot about himself whilst questioning Lewis who tends to be more guarded. The tension between the two is broken by Lewis sharing a memory of being on board a boat on the canal with a former lover; a boat that becomes trapped in the ice so that they spend the night there until making their escape in the morning. Charles realises that nothing will come of the date and the play ends with Lewis taking his advice.

by Lara Fairy Love

This play draws on the playwright's experience of life on board a boat with her children and her love of growing and using herbs providing a device to describe herbs and their uses. Set in the days of a thriving canal trade, the central character is a young boy who talks about his life on the canal and running about on Port Meadow, conjuring up the freedom he feels. It's bath time and he describes how his mother puts herbs into a tin bath (that was carried on board narrow boats) and fills it up with hot water. The play ends with them talking together about their lives.