The Randolph Hotel in central Oxford caught fire on Friday 17th April in one of the highest-profile emergencies to have taken place in the city for several years.
Fire crews remained at the site of the five-star hotel for several days following a blaze which began around 4:30 on Friday afternoon. The fire is thought to have originated from chefs flambéing beef in a ground floor kitchen.
Half of Beaumont Street, where the hotel is located, remains closed.
Simon Furlong, assistant chief fire officer at Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We were working overnight to damp down the embers. There was a wedding party we were liaising with them and we went back in and got the rings and the floor plans. Those are small things but it’s someone’s special day today.”
Furlong continued by describing how the fire had, “spread up through some voids” through the building to the roof which would have protected much of the interior. The extent of the damage is not yet fully assessed, but the top peak of the middle tower has been visibly damaged, and blackened beams poke through the damaged parts of the roof.
One student bystander at the event commented: “The smoke was really heavy and black – it spread as far as Gloucester Green and you could smell it everywhere. People had been evacuated from the Ashmolean Museum opposite the Randolph as well as from the hotel itself, and it was just chaos really. The fact that nobody was hurt is obviously really lucky, and it’s fantastic that the emergency services were able to do their job so well.”
Regent’s Park student Kate Bickerton was also present. She added: “It was obviously sad to see such a prominent Oxford landmark being destroyed. I’m glad no-one was hurt during the incident. The road being closed was a major issue in my life, and it took me ages to get home”.
Three people were assessed by South Central Ambulance Service due to concerns of smoke-inhalation, but did not require hospitalisation or further medical treatment.
Buildings in the local area, including the OUSU headquarters, were exacuated when the smoke level was at its highest level.
A Thames Valley Police Spokesperson stated: “The hotel and other buildings adjoining it have been evacuated as a precaution and there have been no reported casualties, nor has anybody needed to be rescued.”
Rodney Rose, the Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, praised the firefighters at the scene, saying: “The county council is very proud of its fire and rescue service and yet again our firefighters have responded magnificently – this time to a very high profile incident at one of Oxford City Centre’s most well known hotels.”
The Randolph Hotel was a regular feature in the TV series Inspector Morse, and has, according to the MacDonald Hotels & Resort Website, “played host to world leaders, Prime Ministers and Presidents” for almost 150 years. Passports and luggage were delivered to tourists needing to catch flights and the Randolph Hotel has provided alternative accommodation while recovery work continues.
Scaffolding was being erected around the building on Saturday morning for repairs, and will remain for the foreseeable future.
The Randolph hotel has estimated that the fire may have caused millions of pounds of damage, particularly in the kitchen.
In an interview with The Oxford Mail, Michael Grange, the hotel’s owner, said that the damage had been “devestating”.
However, the hotel may be able to reopen as early as Saturday.
The Rhodes Trust announced this week that it will accept a cohort of Chinese Rhodes scholars in the biggest expansion of the scholarship since it was opened to women in the 1970s.
Widely regarded as among the world’s most prestigious graduate scholarships, the Trust currently grants 83 awards each year.
Several Chinese applicants will be accepted in 2015, and the Trust aims to increase Chinese enrolment in coming years. Up to 32 Chinese Scholars may be included in the programming, matching the number allocated to the United States.
Charles Conn, Warden of Rhodes House, said: ““China has an important international role to play in the 21st century, and we wish to reflect that in the global footprint of the Rhodes Scholarships.”
The Trust’s announcement comes after 18 months of work to establish the Rhodes program in China and is part of a broader strategy to expand the geographical reach of the programme.
Babbete Telgdal, communications manager for Rhodes House, told the OxStu: “The Rhodes Trust is looking to expand its international footprint to reflect the 21st century world and China forms the first part of this expansion. It is important to us to bring more countries on board, and this will continue over the coming years.”
Chinese participants in the two-year program will be recipients of over £50,000 per annum in funding. All course fees, health care, travel, and a personal stipend are provided by the Rhodes Trust.
Chinese students currently represent the third-largest group of international students at Oxford University, behind the United States and Germany. Chinese students currently make up over 20% of non-European undergraduates at Oxford, although at the graduate level only 8% of non-European students come from China.
Yanting Shen, a Chinese graduate student at Trinity, commented: “I believe the reputation of the scholarship in China will benefit immensely from this decision, and it will also resolve the difficulty for many Chinese students that only limited funding is available.”
Funding for the Scholarships is being provided in large part by the Li Ka Shing Foundation. Li Ka Shing is Asia’s richest man, controlling a diverse portfolio of real estate and businesses in Hong Kong and mainland China. Though the Rhodes Trust is “deeply grateful” to the foundation, they say that Li and his interests will not exert undue influence on the Trust’s operations. “The Rhodes selection process is entirely independent,” Telgdal explained. “The gift has been approved by the University of Oxford’s Committee to Review Donations”. The Rhodes Trust also responded to concerns that the Chinese government or Communist Party could seek to intervene in the selection process against applicants who might hold anti-government views. The selection process will mirror that which is used in other Rhodes countries, in which Rhodes alumni and other prominent citizens review and interview applicants.
The Rhodes Scholarships were founded in 1902, and seek students who combine academic achievement, extracurricular talent, and moral character.
Oxford City Council is considering banning rough sleeping under a new Public Spaces Protection Order, a move which has been challenged by local activists and university groups.
Plans currently in consultation by Oxford City Council propose banning actions including rough sleeping, public drinking, pigeon feeding, non-compliant busking and persistent begging in Oxford City centre. The area affected encompasses central Oxford, including Christ Church Meadows, University Parks and Jericho.
During a debate aired by BBC Radio Oxford on Sunday, Oxford City Councillor Dee Sinclair said that the measures were being considered in order to make Oxford a “world class city”, by removing behaviours which made some feel “uncomfortable”.
An online petition has been launched to protest the proposed changes, hosted by OUSU’s homelessness campaign On Your Doorstep. This petition has been signed by over 330 individuals, including numerous students, at the time of publication.
Freya Turner, chair of On Your Doorstep, told The Oxford Student: “This seems to us to be an unacceptable cover up of the huge housing and homelessness crisis that Oxford faces. By shifting some of Oxford’s most vulnerable citizens out of the centre and out of the public gaze, the PSPO would gloss over the longer term issues, and discriminates against Oxford’s rough sleepers by not treating them as legitimate members of society…”
“We feel that the situation surrounding rough sleeping in Oxford is far more complex than this sweeping, criminalising measure acknowledges, and that such a ban will only have detrimental effects on the position of the homeless in society.”
Oli Dinwoodie, one of the petition’s signatories, also criticised the proposed measures: “Sleeping rough is one of the hardest tasks that any person would have to undergo. Oxford’s rough sleepers are not there by choice and our local council should be providing support rather than making life harder.”
The last official count of rough sleepers in Oxford (carried out November 2014) identified 26 individuals sleeping rough. On Your Doorstep further claims that Oxford “consistently has the second or third highest rate of homelessness per capita in the country”, with “around 50 to 100 individuals sleeping in shelters each night”.
Opposition to these changes also comes from wider sources. Josie Appleton, director the Manifesto Club, described the proposed new powers as “so broad that they allow councils to ban pretty much anything. The result is a patchwork of criminal law, where something is illegal in one town but not in the next, or in one street but not the next. This makes it hard for the public to know what is criminal and what is not.”
Appleton continued: “These orders will turn town and city centres into no-go zones for homeless people, buskers, old ladies feeding pigeons, or anyone else whom the council views as “messy”. It is astonishing that in the 21st century you could be punished for the crime of selling a lucky charm, ‘loitering’, or failing to leave a retail park within 20 minutes. This looks like a return to the meddling and moralism of nineteenth-century bylaws.”
The PSPO changes are still in the consultation stage, which runs until the 31st March. An online form for residents to give their opinions on the issues under consideration is accessible from the Council’s website.
However, this consultation form has been labelled “inadequate” by OYD.
In its current form, the consultation allows answers in a yes/no/don’t know format with regards to issues including “persistent begging” and “sleeping in public places”. The online form gives a space for individuals to make a comment of up to 200 words on certain concerns (such as “non-compliant busking”), but this is not available for those parts of the form concerned with rough sleeping and other actions associated with homelessness.
It is not known exactly when these new regulations will come into action, if at all. Oxford City Council has already issued the first PSPO in the county of Oxfordshire, preventing young people under the age of 21, who are not legal residents, from entering Forester tower block unless visiting a resident. This Order was signed in February, following new powers granted to local councils in 2014.
At the time of publication, Oxford City Council had not responded to our request for comment.
Oxford’s always been a multicultural city – people here often have odd roots, and Miriam Jones’s are some of the oddest. Her American parents moved to Canada when she was a child, and ended up in Oxford via Vancouver, Nashville and Papua New Guinea. From all this, she’s developed a unique voice, finding her niche in Americana. She’s about to release her fourth album, Between Green and Gone, a collection of soulful, expansive stories in song form.
The melancholy pining of her music is somewhat at odds to her cheerful optimism that pervades her outlook on life, musical and otherwise. Within this too there’s a strong sense of self-confidence too, as seen when she reflects on her unusual upbringing:
“I think probably one of the things the moving around did was not plant me in one sphere of influence musically. I spent a lot of time on my own and just exploring my own voice and so it’s now later in life that I’m becoming aware of some of the people who people suggest that I sound like; a lot of them I’ve barely heard of – I didn’t listen to a lot of different kinds of music so it’s nice having the pleasure of discovering things in retrospect. I suppose that that can come from not being completely rooted in one spot and surrounded by a certain culture of music.”
I ask her again about influences and she doesn’t give too much away:
“I don’t listen to very much – I’ll really fall in love with something and just listen to it for like forever… I suppose when I was learning to sing and playing around in Canada, Sarah McLachlan was really famous over there. A lot of people know who she is over here but she definitely stood out as someone with an incredible voice and a really gifted songwriter as well. So she probably influenced me, although I don’t think I sound anything like her, and I definitely don’t have her vocal skills – she was trained as an opera singer.”
It’s clear that Canada is Jones’ spiritual home, and is where she developed as a songwriter, but talks with contentedness about her move to the UK:
“I love Canada but it’s a difficult place sometimes to do something like music because it’s so massive. In terms of big city centres there aren’t that many and what there are, they’re so far apart. So to do a road trip in the summer of festivals is doable if you can get the attention and actually get the gigs but it’s not actually that easy to do so.” Contrary to the cynicism seen in a lot of places about the state of the British music scene, Jones is very positive about it:
“I love a lot of the music coming out of the UK and having been here for a while now I definitely feel, with everything being so close together, there’s a lot of cross-pollinating; word gets around faster and there’s a social energy that I hadn’t felt in Western Canada. I think there’s an intensity here about everything that makes it hard sometimes to adjust, y’know, because I’m not from a very intense place but it’s been really good for creativity, it’s a little bit of a pressure cooker… I suppose it’s a big thing to move to a different culture and there’s lots of adjustment and that’s always a good fodder for songwriting – and being away from my family so all those tensions. They kind of lend themselves to creative stuff.”
Her previous album, Fire Lives, was recorded entirely in her home in Marston, which led to a fuzzy warmth that has its benefits and drawbacks:
“I think a lot of stuff can be done these days and it does allow people to experiment and really try different things without having to find much money to do it. I found it does have its limitations so for this album I tried to raise the money so I could actually go into the studio.” While hers is one of the successes in the great surge in alternate methods of making music nowadays, she isn’t entirely convinced of it.
“I think it’s difficult these days because it’s hard to know when you should make that leap and push to do something beyond the home studio. I think it can be worth doing but it takes a lot of work to track down the funds. I think a lot of people have been successful with getting help and finding interesting ways of engaging with fans; I know I’ve been very blessed in that way as well – people all wanting to help me get this album made and to do it at a high quality. But I’m really really glad I went a bit beyond this time and it took longer. I had to be more patient, a bit more thoughtful about it but I think it’s definitely paid off.”
I’d very much agree it did. Between Green and Gone is an excellent album – Jones is playing an album release show on 25th February at The Wheat Sheaf that comes highly recommended from us at OxStu towers. Testament to her whirlwind upbringing, she breathes life into a genre rooted in tradition and as such is one of the strongest players in Oxford’s local music scene, and as she’s starting to get national press attention, her prospects are deservedly rising rapidly.
Last year, during my much-awaited Christmas vac break, I saw a Facebook status which really hit home. A fellow fresher had posted, twinned with a “feeling frustrated” emoji, the following words- “I don’t quite understand what vacation stands for, in Oxford terms – it surely must stand for the action of vacating our rooms, rather than the ‘holiday’ synonym we think it carries”. A Twitter newsfeed littered with swearing at ‘my Michaelmas, non note-taking self’ and expressions of sourness and despair at the approaching term confirmed that this thinking was anything but confined to a singular individual – it was a shared pain, which lessened the excitement of coming back to seeing college friends and the prospect of another two months of ‘so bad it’s good’ clubbing. I can’t think of anything other than the awful start-of-term exams, collections, that loom ahead of us, term after term, that may have motivated such a bitter general consensus.
This term brings a wealth of art and theatre to our doors in the form of three arts festival, TSAF (Turl Street Arts Festival), Somerville Arts Festival, and Keble Arts Festival. Coming up first is TSAF with its programme just officially released, which takes place in 5th week. The festival is a combined effort between the three colleges based on Turl Street, Lincoln, Exeter and Jesus, who put aside college rivalries for the week for the sake of the arts. Offering a huge variety of events spanning across the week, you would be hard pressed not to find something of interest to you.