Man in row with council over 25-foot shark sticking out roof of dad’s home


Owner Dr Magnus Hanson-Heine said having the house get listed status ‘would be exactly the opposite of the point’ after his father’s ongoing battle over what you can and cannot display at your home

Dr Magnus Hanson-Heine has told of his anger over the council's plans to give his iconic house listed status
Dr Magnus Hanson-Heine has told of his anger over the council’s plans to give his iconic house listed status

The owner of an iconic house with a 25-foot shark sticking out of its roof has told of his anger with the council’s plans to give it listed status.

Dr Magnus Hanson-Heine, a University of Nottingham chemistry researcher, inherited the landmark property in Oxford.

He says “it would be exactly the opposite of the point” if the property was added to the city council’s list of important pieces of heritage after the trouble his dad Bill Herne endured to install it.

Bill appointed architect John Buckley to install the statue on the top of the house as a protest against “planning restrictions and censorship” in 1986, Nottingham Live reports.

Dr Magnus Hanson-Heine stands in front of his iconic house that has a 25-foot shark coming out of its roof

Workers restoring the world-famous Headington Shark
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Image:

Oxford Mail / SWNS)

The 34-year-old said: “My dad was living in a cinema he owned across the road called the Moulin Rouge.

“Him, John and their friends had put up these sculpted Can Can legs on top of the house, but then the council at the time said no so politely asked them to be removed, and ultimately forced them to be taken down.

“So there has been an ongoing battle with the council about public art and what you can and cannot put on display on a property you own.”

Dr Hanson-Heine says the shark represents a stance against war.

He says his father came up with his idea after learning of the bombing in Tripoli.

The owner of the famous ‘shark house’ is furious over plans which may see it given listed status
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Oxford Mail / SWNS)

Dr Hanson-Heine added: “On his first night in the house he was awoken by planes flying very low overhead.

“In the morning he learned about the bombing, and obviously he has just moved into this new house and had this sense of stability and safety, but he was seeing all these images in the paper of the houses that had been destroyed.

“So those two things came together – and anti-war and anti-bombing protest on the one hand, and a stance against censorship on the other hand.”

Bill sadly died in 2019, and Dr Hanson-Heine is now determined to stand up for his father’s legacy.

He added: “We have got an unending influx of people coming down to take photos in front of the house – and it has been like that for 40 years.

The shark is made out of fiberglass
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Image:

Oxford Mail / SWNS)

“It is amazing to see – I would say that it became a landmark.”

Dr Hanson-Heine does not currently live in the house and is instead renting it as an Airbnb.

He added: “When I first tried to rent it, I had great trouble because people do not want to live like that – everyone is taking pictures of the shark so it clearly puts some people off.

“But I suspect it attracts other people too – people can actually come in and rent the place and be very close to it in the near future.”

The council is now asking residents to comment on 17 potential new additions to the Oxford Heritage Asset Register and one of the proposed sites is the shark house.

The owner added: “The public consultation did not actually have the option to say no.

“It only had two real questions. One was ‘is our description of the property correct’ which it was, and the other question they asked is ‘does the property bring value to the area’, which I think very few people would disagree with .

“I think it does bring value to the area objectively. But there was no actual question or space for you to say that it should not be lifted.

“So they, their consultation was again, effectively lacking the option to really object it.

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“It’s very ironic, that’s how they went about doing that when the sculpture was a protest against censorship.”

He also said did not receive a letter before the public consultation – and has sent a formal complaint to Oxford City Council.

Asked about what he thinks now that his dad would want, the heartbroken son said: “I really wish he would have let me know. I would love to know.

“We spoke very briefly about it before he died – he had cancer. He said that there would be two narratives after his long battle with the council to keep the sculpture.

“On the one hand, the council would finally come round and they would love it when they hated it before – and this being a sort of affirmation.

“And on the other is that it’s a totally new council and they’re imposing their will again.

“It’s just that they happen to like it now – so you could never remove it whereas before they didn’t like it, so you absolutely couldn’t have it – both of which the sculpture sort of opposes.

“So we had that conversation, but it wasn’t very conclusive. I don’t know what he would make of it now that it’s actually happening.”

An Oxford City Council spokesperson told Nottingham Live: “The Headington Shark was nominated by members of the public to be designated as a heritage asset.

“The council sent letters of notice of nomination in November to all owners of property that had been nominated so they could share their views as part of the public consultation, whether this be for or against the nomination.

“The public consultation closed on 26 January and we will now consider the responses.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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