The Oxford Shark headington

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Table of Contents

the Tale of the Headington Shark

An Iconic Oxford Landmark

shark poking out of a roof in oxford

The Birth of the Shark

The Headington Shark, fondly named after its location in the Oxford suburb, has evolved into an emblem of British eccentricity and artistic defiance. This 25-feet shark sculpture, crashing through a residential roof in Headington, Oxford, has not only transformed into a cherished local landmark but has also ignited a significant legal battle that is still a hot topic of discussion today. This is a little of the beaten track and hard to find your best thing is to get a local guide to show you around oxford city 

The brainchild of local journalist and businessman, Bill Heine, and sculptor, John Buckley, the Headington shark was conceived out of a desire to “liven up” Heine’s newly purchased terraced house in Oxford. In the early hours of 9th August 1986, the 25-feet long fibreglass and steel shark sculpture was installed on the roof of Heine’s house, creating a stunning visual of a shark perpetually crashing into the building.

A Symbol of War's Brutality

A shark in oxford statement against war art

The Headington shark was more than just a quirky piece of anti-war art. It was a powerful political statement against the barbarity of war. On the night Heine moved into the house, he witnessed American planes flying overhead to bomb Tripoli in Libya, a sight that inspired the creation of the anti-nuclear art shark. The date of the shark’s installation was intentional

The Battle with the Local Council

Oxford council v oxford shark

Oxford city council immediately opposed the installation of the shark sculpture, initially claiming it was dangerous to the public. However, after engineers and inspectors deemed it structurally safe, the matter moved to the planning committee. Heine’s application for planning permission was rejected, leading him to appeal to the then environment secretary of state, Michael Heseltine.

The council held public forums, allowing residents to voice their opinions about the Headington Shark sculpture in Oxford. The shark, which had initially polarised opinions, quickly gained a strong national and international following, with many people speaking in its defence.

Victory for the Shark

Ultimately, the Headington Shark won its legal battle in Oxford. Peter Macdonald, Heseltine’s planning inspector, ruled in favour of the shark sculpture, stating:

“In this case it is not in dispute that the Headington Shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them…The council is understandably concerned about precedent here…any system of control must make some small place for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky. I therefore recommend that the shark sculpture be allowed to remain.”

This ruling in favour of the Headington Shark sculpture has gained legendary status among town planners for its defence of public art. That the Oxford shark 1, Oxford council 0

Shark in house in oxford headington of the roof

Legacy of the Shark

The Headington Shark on roof has not only become a symbol of artistic defiance but also a beloved local landmark in Oxford. Despite the controversy and legal battles it sparked, the Oxford shark house has brought joy and intrigue to both local residents and tourists who visited the shark house in Headington.

In recent years, the Headington Shark was threatened with removal and the property risked repossession. However, Bill Heine’s son, Magnus Hanson-Heine, stepped in and bought the house in Oxford, ensuring the preservation of this well-loved shark sculpture landmark.

Today, the Headington Shark, a proud sculpture in the Oxford skyline, continues to be a testament to the power of artistic expression and a monument to the battle against petty bureaucracy. This shark, a creation of a passionate artist, remains a fixture on the roof of a Headington house, symbolizing the resilience of art.


The Headington Shark is not just a quirky piece of roof sculpture – it’s a symbol of artistic defiance, an anti-war statement, and an icon of British eccentricity. This shark sculpture, also seen as an anti nuclear art, serves as a reminder that even in the most unexpected places, like Headington, Oxford, art can thrive and become a beloved part of a community.



 2 New High St, Headington, Oxford OX3 7AQ


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