a students' magazine

A brief history of Oxford

The story of Oxford is a tangle of legend and real facts.

A Saxon princess and nun, called Frideswide,  is said to have established a monastery around 700 AD on the present site of Christ Church. Because a king fell in love with her she fled to the woods and hid there to escape his courting. The king was struck blind by a lightning bolt, but Frideswide was so kind that her prayers healed him, and he left her alone. A small community grew up outside the gates of her monastery, beside the oxen ford (shallow part of a river) over the Thames, after which the city is named.

Over the 12th century a university developed within the defensive walls of the market town of Oxford, filling its streets with rowdy students, testing the resources of the community and causing frequent clashes. Two scholars and a citizen were killed in a riot in 1209. Discontent between students and citizens came to a head on 10th February 1355, when a student threw a pot of wine at the innkeeper of a Carfax tavern – Carfax, from the Latin word quadrifurcus meaning four ways, has been the centre of city life since Saxon times –. A clash broke out, and while citizens were rallied by the bells of  St Martin’s, the students gathered at St Mary’s. In the next three-day battle 63 students were killed and many were injured. As a result the mayor was imprisoned and the university gained more power over the city. This brawl became known as St Scholastica’s day riot and has been commemorated over the next 500 years.

If you are planning to go to Oxford there are a number of good places I suggest you visit. First of all Carfax tower, which is the 14th-century tower of St Martin’s Church: don’t miss a climb to the top of the tower for magnificent views of Oxford’s famous skyline!

The Golden Cross, originally the courtyard of a medieval coaching inn, was the venue for a production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in 1593, and is now a little shopping square.

Radcliffe Square hosts one of the finest group of buildings in Europe, that form the heart of the university.

High Street or “The High” (as it is locally called) with its awesome buildings  has often been described as one of the most beautiful streets in the world. The open-air market held in Carfax until 1774 was moved to High Street and covered over in Victorian times. It now sells all sorts of goods, ranging from fresh fish to speciality sausages.

The college of Magdalen opens its deer park, meadows and leafy pathways by the River Cherwell to exploration by the public. The riverbank provides a grassy slope where visitors can enjoy the fantastic view of the slow-flowing river.

Christ Church occupies the site of Frideswide’s monastery. It was built in the late 12th century  in Norman and Early English styles, and its spire, built in 1230, is believed to be Britain’s first.

The University of Oxford is one of the leading teaching centers in the world. It’s made up of 44 colleges, and it was the first of English universities to hold lectures in English instead of Latin. There is no clear date of foundation (maybe around 1096), but the University developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II forbade English students from attending the University of Paris. Bare halls of residence were first established to host students, that had often come to clashes with the local citizens. These halls were succeeded by the first of Oxford’s colleges under the supervision of a Master.

University, Balliol and Merton Colleges, which were established between 1249 and 1264, are the oldest.

From 1878, women too were allowed to attend the University, and acquired full membership in 1920. Five all-male colleges first admitted women in 1974 and, since then, all colleges have changed their regulations to admit both women and men.

St Hilda’s College, originally for women only, was the last of Oxford’s single sex colleges. It has admitted both men and women since 2008.


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