Oxford is a historic university city on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, and is one of the places most asked about by visitors to England from abroad. It is widely known, in Matthew Arnold’s words, as “the city of dreaming spires”.
It is of course Oxford University which is the most famous aspect of the city. The university began in the 12th century, the first students having fled from Paris. Today there are thirty seven different colleges, all offering education at the highest possible level.
Three colleges dispute the right to be termed the oldest – Balliol, Merton and University Colleges. New College has the oldest buildings, dating back to the 14th century. Between them, the colleges own some lovely parks and gardens, including Magdalen’s deer park, the Botanic Garden (the oldest in Britain) and Christ Church Meadow.
Christ Church, founded by Cardinal Wolsey, who intended to call it Cardinal College, is probably the best known of the colleges. Its chapel also functions as Oxford’s cathedral, the smallest in England, although paradoxically the diocese is one of the largest. Tom Tower at the gatehouse in St. Aldates, designed by Wren, has a bell which tolls 101 times each night at 9.05 pm.
Available to the public are the Bodleian Library and Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre, as well as magnificent museums such as the Ashmolean and the Pitt-Rivers.
The Oxford Story in Broad Street gives an excellent audio visual introduction to the city. Visitors travel in cars along a trackway inside a house.
Oxford has an impressive castle mound. The whole castle area has been refurbished and opened as a hotel and tourist attraction in 2006. The city centre also features an excellent covered market, one of the oldest in Britain, having been opened in 1773, and also the famous Blackwell’s bookshops.
Two kings of England - Richard I and John - were born at the long demolished Beaumont Palace. The impressive list of others born in Oxford includes the novelist Martin Amis; theologian William Chillingworth; cellist Jacqueline du Pre; composer Orlando Gibbons; motorcyclist Mike Hailwood; philosopher J.B.S.Haldane; physicist Stephen Hawking; tennis player Tim Henman; novelist P.D.James; footballer Martin Keown; novelist Dorothy L. Sayers; and composer Humphrey Searle.
The Martyrs’ Memorial commemorates Hugh Latimer (born at Thurcaston near Leicester), Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, all burned at the stake nearby.
Oxford figured largely in the St. Brice’s Day massacre, when Ethelred the Unready ordered that all Danes living in England, except those settled in the Danelaw, should be killed. Those in Oxford were burned to death in St. Frideswide’s monastery. Matilda escaped from Oxford during her war against King Stephen, and later on Charles I had his court at Oxford.
Famous writers C.S.Lewis (creator of the “Narnia” stories) and J.R.R.Tolkien (creator of “The Lord of the Rings”) were friends who lived in Oxford, and much earlier the city had provided much inspiration for Lewis Carroll (who wrote “Alice in Wonderland”). Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse stories were set in Oxford, and became a very popular TV series with John Thaw in the title role.
In the twentieth century, Oxford became famous for the production of cars, under the auspices of William Morris, Lord Nuffield.
The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was founded in the city in 1942, and is now universally known and respected as Oxfam.
Blue Badge Guide Colin Crosby is available to lead Guided Walks around Oxford for groups.
Events in Oxford
Places in Oxford
Alices Shop, Ashmolean Museum, Balliol College, Bodleian Library, Botanic Garden, Brasenose College, Broad Street, Carfax Tower, Christ Church, Covered Market, Cutteslowe Park, Hinksey Park, Magdalen Bridge, Magdalen College, Martyrs Memorial, Merton College Chapel, Oxford Castle, Oxford Station, Pitt Rivers Museum, Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, St. Edmund Hall, St. Marys Church, St. Michaels Tower, St. Peter in the East Church, The High, The Oxford Story, Tom Tower