On Saturday our walking group ventured further afield to Oxford. Oxford University is famous as one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe and scholars have been coming here to study since the 12th century. The town however is Saxon in origin and by 1066 it is estimated that it had a population of about 5,000 and was the sixth largest town in England.
I caught the train from Temple meads station and changed at Didcot. I glimpsed the familiar cooling towers of the disused Didcot power station and I regret that I did not take a photo. On Sunday I saw them being blown up on the news. Unfortunately three people were injured and 49,000 people were left without electricity for a while. Another of my childhood landmarks has disappeared.
As most of the students are on holiday until October Oxford was full of tourists. Large parties of visitors were learning about Inspector Morse, Phillip Pullman’s dark materials trilogy or Harry Potter. The great hall at Oxford University is used as the Hogwarts banqueting hall and Harry Potter souvenirs were on sale everywhere.
It was our group’s first visit to Oxford and we had been promised a general introduction to the history of Oxford. We walked along part of the river Thames. Folly bridge in my photo is close to the original Oxen Ford.
The river Thames has long been an important trade route between the east and the west of England and in Saxon times Oxford was close to the frontier between Mercia and Wessex. We saw the Saxon watch tower which now survives as part of the castle complex. According to legend Queen Matilda escaped from the tower by climbing out on a snowy night in December 1142 dressed in white fur and crossed the frozen river.
Oxford university is probably the oldest university in the English speaking world. Students had been coming to Oxford to study for many years but between 1249 and 1264 groups of scholars gradually established colleges. The three oldest colleges are Merton College, University College and Balliol. We were able to stroll round in the sunshine and admire the beautiful buildings.
Christ college top photo was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525 and is unique in enclosing a cathedral. Today Oxford university is made up of 39 colleges.
The town also prospered providing services to the wealthy scholars and making money from wool and leather.
The Oxford Martyrs
During the Tudor period it was dangerous to be an intellectual. Many of the university books were burnt. Under Queen Mary things became worse. She wanted to return the country to Catholicism and three Anglican bishops, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Crammer were tried in the church of St. Mary the virgin and convicted of heresy and burnt at the stake. In a prophetic sentence Latimer said to Ridley “play the man master Ridley we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust will never be put out.”
The site on Broad Street is now marked by a cross designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
Oxford and the civil war.
During the civil war King Charles I moved his court to Oxford. Coins were minted in Oxford and the future Charles II and James II were awarded degrees from the university.
Oxford and the enlightenment
Oxford university and town grew in prestige and wealth in the 18th century. We enjoyed coffee and cake in the café of the Bodleian library This is the second largest library in England after the British library and dates from 1602.
The beautiful Radcliffe camera is used as a science reading room. John Radcliffe was an Oxford doctor who had many wealthy patients including William III and Queen Anne. He died childless and left money to the university. The main children’s hospital in Oxford is also known as the John Radcliffe.
Oxford also has one of the oldest public museums the Ashmolean founded by Elias Ashmole. It once housed the last dodo but this has not survived.
It has been very difficult to edit this post to a suitable length not to bore my dear readers. I hope to return to Oxford soon and look at a different aspect of its history. If you would like to find out more here is a link to the Oxford tourism website. Oxford tourism
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