By Alessandro Carosi
I went to Oxford last wednesday to catch up with an old friend,this was my second time and i had a chance to exploring it a bit more then last time,i already liked it the first time i was there but now that i had a chance to see more i like it even more.
It’s a beautiful historical city with great modern vibes,the many colleges and young people makes this city vibrant and alive,it mix perfectly the old with the new.
A bit about the city
Oxford (/ˈɒksfərd/) is a city in the South East region of England and the county town of Oxfordshire. With an estimated 2015 population of 168,270, it is the 52nd largest city in the United Kingdom, and one of the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse. The city is situated 57 miles (92 km) from London, 69 miles (111 km) from Bristol, 65 miles (105 km) from both Southampton and Birmingham and 25 miles (40 km) from Reading.
The city is known worldwide as the home of the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world.Buildings in Oxford demonstrate notable examples of every English architectural period since the late Saxon period. Oxford is known as the “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold. Oxford has a broad economic base. Its industries include motor manufacturing, education, publishing and a large number of information technology and science-based businesses, some being academic offshoots.
Oxford was first settled in Saxon times and was initially known as “Oxenaforda“, meaning “Ford of the Oxen” (according to the English Place-Name Society, who base their result on a passing reference in Florence of Worcester’s work Chronicon ex chronicis); fords were more common than bridges at that time. It began with the establishment of a river crossing for oxen around AD 900.
In the 10th century, Oxford became an important military frontier town between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex and was on several occasions raided by Danes. In 1002, many Danes were killed in Oxford during the England-wide St. Brice’s Day massacre, a killing of Danes ordered by King Æthelred the Unready. The skeletons of more than 30 suspected victims were unearthed in 2008 during the course of building work at St John’s College, Oxford. The ‘massacre’ was a contributing factor to King Sweyn I of Denmark’s invasion of England in 1003 and the sacking of Oxford by the Danes in 1004.
Oxford was heavily damaged during the Norman Invasion of 1066. Following the conquest, the town was assigned to a governor, Robert D’Oyly, who ordered the construction of Oxford Castle to confirm Norman authority over the area. The castle has never been used for military purposes[dubious ] and its remains survive to this day. D’Oyly set up a monastic community in the castle consisting of a chapel and living quarters for monks (St George in the Castle). The community never grew large but it earned its place in history as one of Britain’s oldest places of formal education. It was there that in 1139 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain, a compilation of Arthurian legends.
“Be it known to all those present and future that we, the citizens of Oxford of the Commune of the City and of the Merchant Guild have given, and by this, our present charter, confirm the donation of the island of Midney with all those things pertaining to it, to the Church of St. Mary at Oseney and to the canons serving God in that place.
“Since, every year, at Michaelmas the said canons render half a mark of silver for their tenure at the time when we have ordered it as witnesses the legal deed of our ancestors which they made concerning the gift of this same island; and besides, because we have undertaken on our own part and on behalf of our heirs to guarantee the aforesaid island to the same canons wheresoever and against all men; they themselves, by this guarantee, will pay to us and our heirs each year at Easter another half mark which we have demanded; and we and our heirs faithfully will guarantee the aforesaid tenement to them for the service of the aforesaid mark annually for all matters and all services.
“We have made this concession and confirmation in the Common council of the City and we have confirmed it with our common seal. These are those who have made this concession and confirmation.”
(There follows a list of witnesses, ending with the phrase, “… and all the Commune of the City of Oxford.”)
Oxford’s prestige was enhanced by its charter granted by King Henry II, granting its citizens the same privileges and exemptions as those enjoyed by the capital of the kingdom; and various important religious houses were founded in or near the city. A grandson of King John established Rewley Abbey for the Cistercian Order; and friars of various orders (Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Trinitarians) all had houses of varying importance at Oxford. Parliaments were often held in the city during the 13th century. The Provisions of Oxford were instigated by a group of barons led by Simon de Montfort; these documents are often regarded as England’s first written constitution.
Richard I of England (reigned 6 July 1189 – 6 April 1199) and John, King of England (reigned 6 April 1199 – 19 October 1216) the sons of Henry II of England, were both born at Beaumont Palace in Oxford, on 8 September 1157 and 24 December 1166 respectively. A plaque in Beaumont Street commemorates these events.
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is first mentioned in 12th century records. Of the hundreds of Aularian houses that sprang up across the city, only St Edmund Hall (c. 1225) remains. What put an end to the halls was the emergence of colleges. Oxford’s earliest colleges were University College (1249), Balliol (1263) and Merton (1264). These colleges were established at a time when Europeans were starting to translate the writings of Greek philosophers. These writings challenged European ideology, inspiring scientific discoveries and advancements in the arts, as society began to see itself in a new way. These colleges at Oxford were supported by the Church in the hope of reconciling Greek philosophy and Christian theology. The relationship between “town and gown” has often been uneasy – as many as 93 students and townspeople were killed in the St Scholastica Day Riot of 1355.
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford is unique in combining a college chapel and a cathedral in one foundation. Originally the Priory Church of St Frideswide, the building was extended and incorporated into the structure of the Cardinal’s College shortly before its refounding as Christ Church in 1546, since when it has functioned as the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford.
The Oxford Martyrs were tried for heresy in 1555 and subsequently burnt at the stake, on what is now Broad Street, for their religious beliefs and teachings. The three martyrs were the bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and the archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The Martyrs’ Memorial stands nearby, round the corner to the North on St. Giles.
English Civil War
During the English Civil War, Oxford housed the court of Charles I in 1642, after the king was expelled from London, although there was strong support in the town for the Parliamentarian cause. The town yielded to Parliamentarian forces under General Fairfax in the Siege of Oxford of 1646. It later housed the court of Charles II during the Great Plague of London in 1665–66. Although reluctant to do so, he was forced to evacuate when the plague got too close. The city suffered two serious fires in 1644 and 1671.
In 1790, the Oxford Canal connected the city with Coventry. The Duke’s Cut was completed by the Duke of Marlborough in 1789 to link the new canal with the River Thames; and, in 1796, the Oxford Canal company built its own link to the Thames, at Isis Lock. In 1844, the Great Western Railway linked Oxford with London via Didcot and Reading, and other rail routes soon followed.
Local government in Oxford was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and the boundaries of the borough were extended to include a small area east of the River Cherwell. The boundaries were further extended in 1889 to add the areas of Grandpont and New Hinksey, south of the Thames, which were transferred from Berkshire to Oxfordshire. At the same time Summertown and the western part of Cowley were also added to the borough. In 1890 Oxford became a county borough.
Oxford Town Hall was built by Henry T. Hare; the foundation stone was laid on 6 July 1893 and opened by the future King Edward VII on 12 May 1897. The site has been the seat of local government since the Guild Hall of 1292 and though Oxford is a city and a Lord Mayor alty, the building is still called by its traditional name of “Town Hall“.
20th and 21st centuries
During the First World War, the population of Oxford changed. The number of University members was significantly reduced as students, fellows and staff enlisted. Some of their places in college accommodation were taken by soldiers in training. Another reminder of the ongoing war was found in the influx of wounded and disabled soldiers, who were treated in new hospitals housed in University buildings including the Examination School, Town Hall and Somerville College.
By the early 20th century, Oxford was experiencing rapid industrial and population growth, with the printing and publishing industries becoming well established by the 1920s. In 1929 the boundaries of the city were extended to include the suburbs of Headington, Cowley and Iffley to the east, and Wolvercote to the north.
Also during the 1920s, the economy and society of Oxford underwent a huge transformation as William Morris established Morris Motors Limited to mass-produce cars in Cowley, on the south-eastern edge of the city. By the early 1970s over 20,000 people worked in Cowley at the huge Morris Motors and Pressed Steel Fisher plants. By this time, Oxford was a city of two halves: the university city to the west of Magdalen Bridge and the car town to the east. This led to the witticism that “Oxford is the left bank of Cowley”. Cowley suffered major job losses in the 1980s and 1990s during the decline of British Leyland, but is now producing the successful Mini for BMW on a smaller site. A large area of the original car manufacturing facility at Cowley was demolished in the 1990s, and is now the site of the Oxford Business Park.
During the Second World War, Oxford was largely ignored by the German air raids during the Blitz, perhaps due to the lack of heavy industry such as steelworks or shipbuilding that would have made it a target, although it was still affected by the rationing and influx of refugees fleeing London and other cities. The university’s colleges served as temporary military barracks and training areas for soldiers before deployment.
On 6 May 1954, Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student, ran the first authenticated sub-four-minute mile at the Iffley Roadrunning track in Oxford. Although he had previously studied at Oxford University, Bannister was studying at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London at the time.
Oxford’s second university, Oxford Brookes University, formerly the Oxford School of Art, then Oxford Polytechnic, based at Headington Hill, was given its charter in 1991 and for the last ten years has been voted the best new university in the UK. It was named to honour the school’s founding principal, John Henry Brookes.
The influx of migrant labour to the car plants and hospitals, recent immigration from south Asia, and a large student population, have given Oxford a notably cosmopolitan character, especially in the Headington and Cowley Road areas with their many bars, cafes, restaurants, clubs, ethnic shops and fast food outlets and the annual Cowley Road Carnival. Oxford is one of the most diverse small cities in Britain: the most recent population estimates for 2005 showed that 27% of the population were from ethnic minority groups, including 16.2% from non-white ethnic minority ethnic groups (ONS). These figures do not take into account more recent international migration into the city; more than 10,000 people from overseas have registered for National Insurance Numbers in Oxford in 2005/06 and 2006/07.
There is a long history of brewing in Oxford. Several of the colleges had private breweries, one of which, at Brasenose, survived until 1889. In the 16th century brewing and malting appear to have been the most popular trades in the city. There were breweries in Brewer Street and Paradise Street, near the Castle Mill Stream.
The rapid expansion of Oxford and the development of its railway links after the 1840s facilitated expansion of the brewing trade. As well as expanding the market for Oxford’s brewers, railways enabled brewers further from the city to compete for a share of its market. By 1874 there were nine breweries in Oxford and 13 brewers’ agents in Oxford shipping beer in from elsewhere. The nine breweries were: Flowers & Co in Cowley Road, Hall’s St Giles Brewery, Hall’s Swan Brewery (see below), Hanley’s City Brewery in Queen Street, Le Mills’s Brewery in St. Ebbes, Morrell’s Lion Brewery in St Thomas Street (see below), Simonds’s Brewery in Queen Street, Weaving’s Eagle Brewery (by 1869 the Eagle Steam Brewery) in Park End Street and Wootten and Cole’s St. Clement’s Brewery.
The Swan’s Nest Brewery, later the Swan Brewery, was established by the early 18th century in Paradise Street, and in 1795 was acquired by William Hall. The brewery became known as Hall’s Oxford Brewery, which acquired other local breweries. Hall’s Brewery was acquired by Samuel Allsopp & Sons in 1926, after which it ceased brewing in Oxford.
Morrell’s was founded in 1743 by Richard Tawney. He formed a partnership in 1782 with Mark and James Morrell, who eventually became the owners. After an acrimonious family dispute this much-loved brewery was closed in 1998, the beer brand names being taken over by the Thomas Hardy Burtonwood brewery, while the 132 tied pubs were bought by Michael Cannon, owner of the American hamburger chain Fuddruckers, through a new company, Morrells of Oxford. The new owners sold most of the pubs on to Greene Kingin 2002. The Lion Brewery was converted into luxury apartments in 2002.
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of the most famous and prestigious higher education institutions of the world, averaging nine applications to every available place, and attracting 40% of its academic staff and 17% of undergraduates from overseas. It is currently ranked as the world’s number one university, according to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
The city centre
As well as being a major draw for tourists (9.1 million in 2008, similar in 2009), Oxford city centre has many shops, several theatres and an ice rink. The historic buildings make this location a popular target for film and TV crews.
The city centre is relatively small, and is centred on Carfax, a cross-roads which forms the junction of Cornmarket Street (pedestrianised), Queen Street (semi-pedestrianised), St Aldate’s and the High. Cornmarket Street and Queen Street are home to Oxford’s various chain stores, as well as a small number of independent retailers, one of the longest established of which is Boswell’s, which was founded in 1738. St Aldate’s has few shops but has several local government buildings, including the town hall, the city police station and local council offices. The High (the word street is traditionally omitted) is the longest of the four streets and has a number of independent and high-end chain stores, but mostly university and college buildings.
There are two small shopping centres in the city centre: The Clarendon Centre and the Westgate Centre. The Westgate Centre is named for the original West Gate in the city wall, and is located at the west end of Queen Street. The Westgate Shopping Centre is currently closed and undergoing a major redevelopment and expansion to 750,000 sq ft (70,000 m2), with a new 230,000 sq ft (21,000 m2) John Lewisdepartment store and a number of new homes. Completion is expected in October 2017.
The Bodleian Library
The University of Oxford maintains the largest university library system in the UK, and, with over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles (190 km) of shelving, the Bodleian group is the second-largest library in the UK, after the British Library. The Bodleian is a legal depositlibrary, which means that it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK. As such, its collection is growing at a rate of over three miles (five kilometres) of shelving every year.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the Old Bodleian Library to see inside its historic rooms, including the 15th-century Divinity School, medieval Duke Humfrey’s Library, and the Radcliffe Camera. The Weston Library was redeveloped and reopened in 2015, with a new shop, cafe and exhibition galleries for visitors.
Museums and galleries
The first of these to be established was the Ashmolean Museum, the world’s first university museum, and the oldest museum in the UK. Its first building was erected in 1678–1683 to house a cabinet of curiosities given to the University of Oxford in 1677. The museum reopened in 2009 after a major redevelopment. It holds significant collections of art and archaeology, including works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Turner, and Picasso, as well as treasures such as the Scorpion Macehead, the Parian Marble and the Alfred Jewel. It also contains “The Messiah“, a pristine Stradivarius violin, regarded by some as one of the finest examples in existence.
The University Museum of Natural History holds the University’s zoological, entomological and geological specimens. It is housed in a large neo-Gothic building on Parks Road, in the University’s Science Area. Among its collection are the skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus rexand Triceratops, and the most complete remains of a dodo found anywhere in the world. It also hosts the Simonyi Professorship of the Public Understanding of Science, currently held by Marcus du Sautoy.
Adjoining the Museum of Natural History is the Pitt Rivers Museum, founded in 1884, which displays the University’s archaeological and anthropological collections, currently holding over 500,000 items. It recently built a new research annexe; its staff have been involved with the teaching of anthropology at Oxford since its foundation, when as part of his donation General Augustus Pitt Rivers stipulated that the University establish a lectureship in anthropology.
The Museum of the History of Science is housed on Broad St in the world’s oldest-surviving purpose-built museum building. It contains 15,000 artefacts, from antiquity to the 20th century, representing almost all aspects of the history of science.
In the University’s Faculty of Music on St Aldate’s is the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, a collection mostly of instruments from Western classical music, from the medieval period onwards. Christ Church Picture Gallery holds a collection of over 200 old masterpaintings. The University also has an archive at the Oxford University Press Museum.
By Alessandro Carosi