Posts Tagged ‘The City of Dreaming Spires’

I had the good fortune of paying a fleeting visit to this amazing city today.   As I wandered through the streets, along the lanes and stepped through ancient college doors into courtyards filled with history, I marvelled at the exuberance of the ivy-clad architecture, the fine detail of gargoyles and kings, and the marvellous atmosphere of a scholarly city.   I even contemplated the possibility of applying to study English or History :).   I could not imagine anything more sublime than living in a University town and studying two of my favourite subjects.   I wonder what the lovely lithe young things would make of a ‘granny’ in their midst.   Oxford is a bicycle town and the students look quite relaxed as they dash about town, visiting friends, the library or the local pub.   As I meandered through the streets passing first the world famous  ‘Radcliffe Camera’, then under the Bridge of Sighs, into the Bodleian Library Quad and stepped inside beautiful churches ablaze with magnificent stained-glass windows, I enjoyed the sun on my face and the cosmopolitan mix of residents, tourists, a South American Pipe band, students and an eclectic mix of the strange and wonderful.

I stopped by the Carfax Tower to watch and listen to the Bell Chimes.

As always I am fascinated by the ancient graveyards and today they were dressed in their autumn finery, the leaves in colours of red, gold, yellow and orange littered the ancient paths and covered the final resting places of famous and forgotten.

The city is a fascinating mix of architecture, the college’s glow gold in the afternoon sun, the spires and domes lit up as the suns rays bathe them in a soft yellow light.   Most of the older buildings and colleges appear to have been built from the same lovely soft yellow stone that lends the city a golden colour.   Secret corners blackened with age and ravaged by the passing seasons withstand the tests of time.

I found a great site which offers a Virtual Tour of Oxford…fabulous!  Be sure to click on the various sites for a close up almost ‘right there’ feel of the city behind closed doors.

To tickle your fancy and give you a little bit of history I sourced a fantastic site on the internet (hooray for google).

a bit of a taster follows, for more info if you want to know more…visit the site

Oxford, The City of Dreaming Spires, is famous the world over for its University and place in history. For over 800 years, it has been a home to royalty and scholars, and since the 9th century an established town, although people are known to have lived in the area for thousands of years.

Nowadays, the city is a bustling cosmopolitan town. Still with its ancient University, but home also to a growing hi-tech community.

Oxford is home to a world famous university, and most of the colleges and university buildings are located in the centre of Oxford, within easy walking distance of each other.

Don’t miss the Bodleian Library,  and the nearby Radcliffe Camera, which is not open to the public, but is well worth a view from the outside.

Nearby, in Broad Street, is the Sheldonian Theatre, a venue for official university functions as well as a variety of concerts.

The University also owns the Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street (opposite The Playhouse), Britain’s oldest public museum.

The centre of Oxford is dominated by the University colleges, the most famous being Christ Church, Trinity, and Balliol (from a total of thirty six).

The origins of Oxford are not actually known with any certainty, being as they are, shrouded in the mists of time, but various ideas have been submitted (and disputed) regarding its genealogy.

Medieval historian, John Rous wrote in his 1490 work, ‘Historium Regum Angliae’, that Oxford was originally King Mempricius’ city, Caer-Memre, built on the River Thames somewhere between 1400 and 1500 BC.    However, other historians from Rous’ time were more inclined to support the popular legend that Oxford was in fact founded by the Trojans, after they landed on British soil in around 1100 BC.

Archaeological Evidence
Whilst there may be no definite historical basis for John Rous’ claims or for the Trojan story, there is some evidence of a settlement in Oxford possibly as early as 4000 BC.

Archaeological finds of Neolithic arrowheads and other remains from that period have been discovered in the city, and although no specific or more detailed evidence exists of an actual settlement at this time, it is known that a large Neolithic population once resided in Oxford.

In addition, a more permanent settlement between 2000 and 700 BC is suggested by evidence of Bronze Age barrows in the area.

Roman Times

Oxford in the time of the British Roman invasion appears to have been largely ignored by its conquerers. In fact, records show (or rather they don’t) that there was no town of  ‘Oxford’ in Roman times, although evidence of villas in the surrounding countryside does exist, together with a temple at nearby Woodeaton.

Instead, Brittania’s new leaders favoured Colchester, London (Londinium) and Chester, making Colchester their first capital of the new province, swiftly followed by London (once they realised the strategic importance of the River Thames).

Whilst Oxford has certainly not been recorded as being the centre of any importance during Roman times, evidence does exist of pottery kilns in the city and surrounding areas which may have supplied earthenware vessels to the new rulers of the realm. This is further supported by number of probable kiln sites unearthed in the region – at Woodperry, south of Stow Wood, Marston, Iffley, Littlemore, Kennington, and Headington (Churchill Hospital) – no doubt taking full advantage of the city’s rich clay beds.

Add to this the fact that Oxford was (and is) of course very close to the important trading highway of the River Thames, plus the fuel readily available from the Headington and Cowley woodlands, and you can see how the city would have made an ideal location for Roman industry.

Although there was no large-scale settlement in ‘Oxford’ at this time pottery making appears to have been widespread and prolific in the area. In fact, this industry is one of the earliest recorded in Oxford.

The Saxons

Although Oxford (or Ohsnafordia, as it was known in Saxon times) wasn’t really recognised by the Romans, in the Saxon age it began to assume a much greater importance within Britain. In the late Saxon period particularly, when it was positioned on a major trade route between the two powerful kingdoms of Mercia and King Alfred’s Wessex, growth was high.

St. Frideswide
According to legend, St. Frideswide was born in around 650, daughter of Mercian King Didan, and was brought up to holiness by Algiva. When proffered (and refusing) the hand of King Algar (also a Mercian) she fled her homeland to settle in Oxford and there she built an abbey (where Christ Church stands today) – reportedly to preserve her virginity.

And preserve her it did, for when King Algar followed her there and attempted to take both her and the abbey by force he was struck blind. Only St. Frideswide’s later forgiveness restoring his lost vision.

Long after her death in 735 and during the reign of Ethelred the Unready, the abbey was razed to the ground (in 1002) with Oxford’s Danish population being blamed for the burning, and a large number of them were massacred (as part of the then King’s desire to remove all Danes from England). It was later rebuilt as an Augustinian Priory, the cemetary of which has been excavated in Christ Church Meadow.

St. Frideswide is now the patron Saint of Oxford City.

Alfred the Great
King of Wessex (871 – 899) and leader of the Saxon resistance to the onslaught of Danish Viking invaders, but probably better remembered by many for the legend of his lack of culinary skills. Legend also records King Alfred as responsible for founding Oxford University, not as unlikely as it may first appear.

The Danes Revenge
During the uncertain reign of Ethelred the Unready, in 1009, the Danes sacked Oxford in retribution for the massacre of 1002 and just four years later the city, having increased in importance, was again forced to submit to Danish invasion by Swein Forkbeard and his armies. In fact, Oxford was viewed as so important during this period that Cannute (later to become king) chose the city for his coronation in 1018.

Medieval Age

After recovering from the Danish invasions it suffered in the latter part of the Saxon period, Oxford continued it’s growth and importance right into what is now known as the Medieval age. Not all ran smoothly however, as in 1138 the city suffered a huge fire which effectively burnt it to the ground.

Oxford Castle
From the Medieval age, and still very visible is Oxford Castle, originally built by Norman lord, Robert D’Oily in 1071.

In the winter of 1142, Oxford Castle became the scene of a seige when it was home to Queen Maud (Matilda), during her struggle with King Stephen. The queen only escaped the castle after her guards lowered her over the walls and, in a white dress which effectively camoflauged her against the backdrop of winter snow, she crept through enemy lines and across the Castle Mill stream to freedom.

The Black Death
Oxford was hit hard by the plague (1348 – 1350) and during this time the local colleges kept country houses outside of the city where scholars could flee, no such opportunities for the ordinary resident, however.  As a result, Oxford’s population dropped dramatically during this period, and the colleges took full and grisly advantage of the fact by buying up vacant property and greatly expanding their holdings within Oxford.

Tudor Oxford

Famous Tudor king, Henry VIII, founder of the Anglican Church left his mark on Oxford, taking control of Christ Church from Cardinal Wolsey and abolishing the study of canon law.   He instituted University chairs for medicine, civil law, Greek, theology, and Hebrew instead, marking a fundamental shift in emphasis for the University, away from its monastic beginnings.

The University

The exact origins of Oxford University are not known. Certainly many theories on how it came into being have been expounded, but none have been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.

King Alfred
It has been said for example, that the Saxon King of Wessex, Alfred the Great could have founded the University during his reign (871 and 899), due to his very un-Saxon penchant for scholarly pursuits, and although this is not as unlikely as it might sound, no cast-iron evidence supports it.

Long after Alfred however, during the late 11th or early 12th century, it is known that Oxford became a centre of learning for clerics, from which a school or university could have sprung or evolved.

Academic Centre
Firmly established as an academic centre by the 13th century, Oxford was drawing students from across Europe for studies focused on houses established by the Dominicans (1221), Fransiscans (1224), Carmelites (1256), and Augustinians (1267). end of excerpts.

and so today in 2009, as I walked the streets of this magnificent city, I met, listened to and observed the students of today.  I wonder of they appreciate the history that surrounds them on a daily basis.

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