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Visiting the Former County Jail, Woodstock, Ontario: Octagonally Towered Italianate Building by Clark and Murray, 1854

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Oxford County Board of Health in Woodstock, Ontario. The building it's based out of is actually an old jail.

Oxford County Board of Health in Woodstock, Ontario. The building it's based out of is actually an old jail.

Romanesque solidity and permanence

This very solid building in Woodstock, Ontario, dating from 1854, is the rather striking headquarters of the Oxford County Board of Health.

However, the original purpose of the building — to which its solidity, and, indeed, appearance of impregnability, seem to attest — was as Woodstock's jail.

Memories of the past linger, not only in relation to generations of the incarcerated, but also regarding the various individuals convicted of capital crimes who were executed here.

Thus, the transition to the Board of Health is certainly a drastic metamorphosis from the building's former purpose.

Among the salient features of this Italianate building executed in yellow brick is its octagonal tower. The sides of the octagon are not identical, but instead four matching larger sides to the octagon alternate with four smaller sides. This hexagonal structure formerly served as the Jail's watchtower (1).

Syrian (or Romanesque) arching and crenelated brickwork are further distinguishing features to the structure, complemented by a conical tower in the outside wall of the building.

The Clark and Murray architectural partnership of Hamilton was responsible for the design of the building.

It is indeed one of Woodstock's most distinctive, historic buildings, and, while local planners toyed with the option of demolition after the prison function had been outlived, it was instead decided to convert the structure into offices.

Thus it is that the Ontario's Oxford County Board of Health has its home in such an impressive, heritage building.

Interestingly, the Old Registry of Oxford County, situated close to the former County Jail, which was built about two decades after the County Jail, shares similar yellow brickwork and Italianate features.

The former County Jail is thus one of a number of heritage properties in Woodstock which are situated within walking distance of each other; and visitors may be suitably recommended to view these various properties on foot.

The former County Jail and current Oxford County Board of Health building is situated at 410 Buller Street, Woodstock.

April 16, 2019

Note

(1) See also: https://www.tourismoxford.ca/listing/detail/ArticleId/12829/Crime-and-Punishment-Exploring-Historic-Courthouse-Square-in-Woodstock.aspx For details of the restoration of the former County Jail building, see also: https://www.historypin.org/en/the-county-of-oxford-gaol-jail/geo/43.133085,-80.760261,5/bounds/30.372903,-90.55384,53.696726,-70.966682/paging/1 For further details, see also: http://archives.oxfordcounty.ca/about_boh.html

Also worth seeing

Woodstock itself has various examples of fine ecclesiastical architecture, including Old St. Paul's Church, dating from 1834; other buildings, including the City Hall, the Oxford County Court House, the Old Town Hall, and the Old Armoury are also worth seeing.

In London , Ontario (distance: 43.4 kilometres) prominent buildings and visitor attractions include: Eldon House; St. Paul's Cathedral; the Middlesex County Court building; the former Armouries; the Fanshawe Pioneer Village.

Kitchener (distance: 57.7 kilometres); Woodside, former home of long-serving Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King is a National Historic Site of Canada.

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How to get there: Air Canada flies to London International Airport, from Toronto Pearson Airport, from where there are wide North American and other connections. Car rental is available at London International Airport. VIA Rail serves Woodstock, connecting with Windsor and Toronto, and other cities. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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