Oxford for the day

A beautiful garden in front of Christ Church cathedral Oxford

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.

The University

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.

Tourists walking past the front of Magdalen college Oxford
Magdalen college pronounced Maudlin

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.

The spire of university church Oxford
University Church of St. Mary the virgin

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.

The Radcliffe camera now a reading room at the Bodlian library
The Radcliffe camera

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.

The bridge of sighs links parts of Hertford College
The bridge of Sighs linking parts of Hertford College

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  

Please leave a comment I do read them all.

Author: Anne Fraser

Hi, I am Anne, I am a retired nurse from Bristol in South West England. I am married with five grown up children, four boys and a girl , a grandson and a cat. I like History, travel and reading. I hope to connect with other people with similar interests.

17 thoughts on “Oxford for the day”

  1. I visited Oxford years ago and it really was a lovely city. I was there in November for a melodeon event and it was a good few days. I’d happily visit again some time.. I love that kind of old university cities, and with that type of architecture. I walked around a lot when I was there. Visiting the university there felt like going into the Harry Potter films!

  2. Thanks for another great tour! Thanks for linking up with us at the #WednesdayAIMLinkParty 43 pinned

  3. Oh this takes me back to my childhood, as my grandparents lived in Oxford so we spent a lot of time there. It will always hold special memories to me 🙂

  4. Never been to Oxford Anne, but now that I read your post and saw the beautiful pictures it can go on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing at Wednesday AIM Link Party 43, where I shared Benefits of Eating Avocados with Serving Ideas. Have a beautiful day.

  5. We are going there in September and it’s been so many years since my last visit so this was a great read.

  6. I knew about the Didcot power station being demolished but I hadn’t heard about someone being injured, nor that it cut out electricity for so many people. I think I’ve been hiding under a rock where the news is concerned this week. Oxford is a great place to explore; I’ve only been twice myself into the centre, as my numerous other visits have been for the hospitals there. I’d like to go back in the near future, but I do wish it were easier to get to from where I’m at, especially as the train seems incredibly expensive. It’s the same amount of time to Oxford as it is to Bristol for me, and yet it costs over 3x the price to get to Oxford. Ridiculous. It’s interesting to get the historical perspective, especially as I always learn something new from your posts. Like with the Bodleian library being the second largest in England, going back to 1602. I didn’t have a clue!
    Caz xx

  7. Oxford is a really interesting city. When we went we did a walking tour, which I can highly recommend. I didn’t realise Lewis Carroll took his inspiration for Alice in Wonderland from the daughter of the university’s don.

  8. Excellent review Anne. As coincidence would have, tonight it I watched the first episode of Tony Robinson’s Coast to Coast series on his Thames Walk which ended in Oxford. Nice to follow up with your review and I look forward to your next one.

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