Headington Shark

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Untitled 1986
The Headington Shark in 2007, before refurbishment
ArtistJohn Buckley
MediumPainted fibreglass
Dimensions7.6 m (25 ft)
LocationHeadington, Oxford

The Headington Shark (proper name Untitled 1986) is a rooftop sculpture located at 2 New High Street, Headington, Oxford, England, depicting a large shark embedded head-first in the roof of a house.

Description and location[edit]

The Headington Shark in 2009, after refurbishment.

The shark first appeared on 9 August 1986, having been commissioned by the house's owner Bill Heine, a local radio presenter.[1] The sculpture was inspired by Heine hearing American warplanes flying from Upper Heyford near Oxford on their way to bomb Libya in retaliation for its terrorist attacks on American troops, and it was put up as a protest against the bombing as well as making a statement against nuclear weapons with the shark being used as a metaphor for falling bombs.[2][3][4]

The shark was designed by sculptor John Buckley and constructed by Anton Castiau, a local carpenter and friend of Buckley. Heine said "The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation... It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki".[5] The sculpture was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.[6]

The painted fibreglass sculpture weighs 4 long hundredweight (200 kg)[5] is 25 feet (7.6 m) long,[6] and is named Untitled 1986 (written on the gate of the house).[7] It took three months to build.[8] The structure is in deliberate contrast with its otherwise ordinary suburban setting.[7]

For the occasion of the shark's 21st anniversary in August 2007, it was renovated by the sculptor,[1] following earlier complaints about the condition of the sculpture and the house.[9]

On 26 August 2016, Heine's son Magnus Hanson-Heine bought the house in order to preserve the shark.[10] The property has been run as an Airbnb guesthouse since 2018.[7] Magnus also runs a website for general information and inquiries about the shark.[11]

In 2022, the Oxford City Council made the sculpture a heritage site for its "special contribution" to the community despite objection by Magnus Hanson-Heine.[4]


Created by sculptor John Buckley, the shark was controversial when it first appeared. Oxford City Council tried to have it taken down on grounds of safety, and then on the grounds that it had not given planning permission for the shark, offering to host it at the local swimming pool instead, but there was much local support for the shark.[12] Eventually the matter was taken to the central government, where Tony Baldry, a minister in the Department of the Environment, who assessed the case on planning grounds, ruled in 1992 that the shark would be allowed to remain as it did not result in harm to the visual amenity.[1][13]

Media appearances[edit]

Heine wrote a short book about the shark, which was published in 2011.[14]

In 2013, the sculpture was the subject of an April Fools' Day story in the Oxford Mail, which announced the establishment of a fictitious £200,000 fund by Oxford City Council to support the creation of similar sculptures on the roofs of other homes in the area.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Shark comes of age". Oxford Mail. 8 August 2007. Archived from the original on 9 January 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  2. ^ Stoppard, Lou (5 May 2019). "In Memory of the Englishman Who Kept a Shark on His Roof". The New Yorker.
  3. ^ Norris, Miranda (7 February 2021). "Headington Shark: The story behind Oxford's quirkiest landmark".
  4. ^ a b "Oxford house with shark sculpture on roof made heritage site despite owner's objection". The Guardian. Associated Press. 25 March 2022.
  5. ^ a b "The Headington Shark". Unofficial Headington Website. 10 October 2009. Archived from the original on 27 December 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  6. ^ a b "In praise of... the Headington shark". The Guardian. 9 August 2007. Archived from the original on 19 February 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  7. ^ a b c "The Headington Shark, Oxford". www.headington.org.uk. Archived from the original on 27 December 2009. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  8. ^ Mohdin, Aamna (7 April 2019). "'It went in beautifully as the postman was passing': the story of the Headington Shark". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 April 2019. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  9. ^ "Shabby shark house angers residents". Oxford Times. 12 December 2003. Archived from the original on 18 May 2007. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  10. ^ ""Why I snapped up the Headington shark house", The Guardian, 12 March 2017". Archived from the original on 23 March 2017. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  11. ^ ""The Shark House", Home Owners Website, 17 October 2021". Archived from the original on 18 October 2021. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
  12. ^ Purves, Libby (9 August 2007). "Let's salute fibreglass fish and wacky artists". The Times. Archived from the original on 26 May 2021. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  13. ^ MacKinnon, Ian (22 May 1992). "Officials reprieve shark for Art's sake". The Independent. p. 2.
  14. ^ Heine, Bill. (2011). The hunting of the shark. Oxford: OxfordFolio. ISBN 9780956740526. OCLC 773696300.
  15. ^ Jennings, Tom (1 April 2013). "Shark 's tale is given £200k of added bite". The Oxford Mail.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°45′32″N 1°12′48″W / 51.75882°N 1.213238°W / 51.75882; -1.213238