Oxford (/ˈɒksfərd/) is a city in central southern England, the home of the University of Oxford. The city is the county town of Oxfordshire, and forms a district within the county. It has a population of just under 165,000, of whom 153,900 live within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles (80 km) north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames (also sometimes known as the Isis locally) run through Oxford and meet south of the city centre.
There are 16 conservation areas in Oxford:
- Beauchamp Lane
- Headington Hill
- Headington Quarry
- North Oxford Victorian Suburb
- Old Headington
- Osney Town
- St Clement’s and Iffley Road
- Temple Cowley
- Walton Manor
- Wolvercote and Godstow
Oxford has a diverse economic base. Its industries include motor manufacturing, publishing and a large number of information technology and science-based businesses.
Buildings in Oxford demonstrate an example of every English architectural period since the arrival of the Saxons, including the iconic, mid-18th century Radcliffe Camera. Oxford is known as the “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold in reference to the harmonious architecture of Oxford’s university buildings. The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
Oxford was first settled in Saxon times, and was initially known as “Oxenaforda”, meaning “Ford of the Oxen”; fords were more common than bridges at that time. It began with the foundation of an oxen crossing in the early 900 AD period. 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.
Oxford was heavily damaged during the Norman Invasion of 1066. Following the conquest, the town was assigned 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 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 the oldest places of formal education in Oxford. It is there that in 1139 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain, a compilation of Arthurian legends.
In 1191, a city charter stated in Latin,
“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 at Oxford of varying importance. 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.
The University of Oxford is first mentioned in 12th century records. As the University took shape, friction between the hundreds of students living where and how they pleased led to a decree that all undergraduates would have to reside in approved halls. 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.
The sweating sickness epidemic in 1517 was particularly devastating to Oxford and Cambridge where it killed half of both cities’ populations, including many students and dons.
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.
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.
In the 19th century, the controversy surrounding the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church drew attention to the city as a focus of theological thought.
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 Mayoralty, the building is still called by its traditional name of “Town Hall”.
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. Also during that decade, the economy and society of Oxford underwent a huge transformation as William Morris established the Morris Motor Company 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.
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 notable cosmopolitan character, especially in the Headington and Cowley Road areas with their many bars, cafes, restaurants, clubs, ethnic shops and fast food outlets. Oxford is one of the most diverse small cities in Britain with the most recent population estimates for 2005 showing that 27% of the population were from ethnic minority groups, including 16.2% from non-white ethnic minority ethnic groups. These figures do not take into account more recent international migration into the city, with over 10,000 people from overseas registering for National Insurance Numbers in Oxford in 2005/06 and 2006/07.
On 6 May 1954, Roger Bannister, a 25 year old medical student, ran the first authenticated four-minute mile at the Iffley Road running 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 has been voted for the last ten years the best new university in the UK. It was named to honour the school’s founding principal, John Henry Brookes.
Oxford has a diverse economy, which includes manufacturing, publishing and science-based industries as well as education, research and tourism.
Oxford has been an important centre of motor manufacturing since Morris Motors was established in the city in 1910. The principal production site for Mini cars, now owned by BMW, is in the Oxford suburb of Cowley.
Oxford University Press, a department of the University of Oxford, is based in the city, although it no longer operates its own paper mill and printing house. The city is also home to the UK operations of Wiley-Blackwell, and several smaller publishing houses.
The presence of the university has given rise to many science and technology based businesses, including Oxford Instruments, Research Machines and Sophos. The university established Isis Innovation in 1987 to promote technology transfer. The Oxford Science Park was established in 1990, and the Begbroke Science Park, owned by the university, lies north of the city.
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 development of Oxford’s railway links after the 1840s and the rapid expansion of Oxford supported expansion of the brewing trade in Oxford. 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, the Oxford based regional brewery 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 King in 2002. The Lion Brewery was converted into luxury apartments in 2002.
The Taylor family of Loughborough had a bell-foundry in Oxford between 1786 and 1854.
Oxford has numerous major tourist attractions, many belonging to the university and colleges. As well as several famous institutions, the town centre is home to Carfax Tower and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, both of which offer views over the spires of the city. Many tourists shop at the historic Covered Market. In the summer punting on the Thames/Isis and the Cherwell is popular.
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 five applications to every available place, and attracting 40% of its academic staff and 15% of undergraduates from overseas. It is currently ranked as fifth-best university in the world, according to QS World Rankings, behind its main UK rival, Cambridge, in first place.
Oxford is renowned for its tutorial-based method of teaching, with students attending an average of one one-hour tutorial a week.
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 Boswells, 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. It is quite small and contains a number of chain stores and a supermarket. The Westgate Shopping Centre is to undergo a large and controversial refurbishment; the plans involve tripling the size of the centre to 750,000 sq ft (70,000 m2), a new 1,335 space underground car park and 90 new shops and bars, including a 230,000 sq ft (21,000 m2) John Lewis department store. There is to be a new and improved transport system, a complete refurbishment of the existing centre and the surrounding Bonn Square area. The development plans include a number of new homes, and completion is expected in 2011, although this is being delayed due to the current financial climate.
Blackwell’s Bookshop is a large bookshop which claims the largest single room devoted to book sales in the whole of Europe, the cavernous Norrington Room (10,000 sq ft).
Other attractions include:
- Ashmolean Museum
- Bodleian Library
- Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
- The Headington Shark
- Modern Art Oxford
- Museum of the History of Science
- Oxford Botanic Garden
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History
- Pitt Rivers Museum
- Sheldonian Theatre
- St. Mary The Virgin Church
Oxford is a very green city, with several parks and nature walks within the ring road, as well as several sites just outside the ring road. In total, 28 Nature Reserves exist within or just outside of Oxford ring road, including:
- University Parks
- Rock Edge Nature Reserve
- Lye Valley
- South Parks
- C. S. Lewis Nature Reserve
- Shotover Nature Reserve
- Port Meadow
- Cutteslowe Park
The Westgate redevelopment is just part of a wider scheme proposed by the city council. This scheme includes a total redesign of the centre of Oxford to “pedestrianise” the city. The scheme, entitled Transform Oxford, is only a blueprint for public consultation at this stage, but county council officials are confident it will go ahead.
One of the key elements is the pedestrianisation of Queen Street, with bus stops removed next summer to make way for the eventual complete removal of buses from the street.
Pedestrianisation schemes in George Street and Magdalen Street should follow in the summer of 2010, with the removal of traffic from Broad Street the same year a possibility.
In 2011, highways engineers plan to remodel the Frideswide Square junctions near the railway station, removing traffic lights and introducing roundabouts to improve the traffic flow.
In addition to the larger airports in the region, Oxford is served by nearby London Oxford Airport, in Kidlington. The airport is also home to Oxford Aviation Academy, an airline pilot flight training centre, and several private jet companies.
In 1844, the Great Western Railway linked Oxford with London (Paddington) via Didcot and Reading; in 1851, the London and North Western Railway opened their own route from Oxford to London (Euston), via Bicester, Bletchley and Watford; and in 1864 a third route, also to Paddington, running via Thame, High Wycombe and Maidenhead, was provided; this was shortened in 1906 by the opening of a direct route between High Wycombe and London (Paddington) via Denham. The distance from Oxford to London was 78 miles (125.5 km) via Bletchley; 63.5 miles (102.2 km) via Didcot and Reading; 63.25 miles (101.8 km) via Thame and Maidenhead; and 55.75 miles (89.7 km) via Denham. Of these, only the original route via Didcot is still in use for its full length, although portions of each of the others remain.
There were also routes to the north and west. The line to Banbury was opened in 1850, and was extended to Birmingham in 1852; a route to Worcester opened in 1853. A branch to Witney was opened in 1862, which was extended to Fairford in 1873. The line to Witney and Fairford closed in 1962, but the others remain open.
Oxford has had three main railway stations. The first was opened at Grandpont in 1844, but this was a terminus, inconvenient for routes to the north; it was replaced by the present station on Park End Street in 1852 with the opening of the Birmingham route. Another terminus, at Rewley Road, was opened in 1851 to serve the Bletchley route; this station closed in 1951. There have also been a number of local railway stations, all of which are now closed.
Oxford railway station is half a mile (about 1 km) west of the city centre. The station is served by numerous routes, including CrossCountry services to as far away as Manchester and Edinburgh, First Great Western (who operate the station) services to London Paddington and other destinations such as Worcester and occasional Chiltern Railways services to Birmingham. The present station opened in 1852. Oxford is the junction for a short branch line to Bicester, which is being extended to form the East-West Rail Link to Milton Keynes, providing a passenger route avoiding London. The Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge is planned to link Bedford with a short gap to be reconstructed to Sandy then a rail link between the two cities will be restored via Hitchin.
Oxford was historically an important port on the River Thames, with this section of the river being called The Isis; the Oxford-Burcot Commission in the 17th century attempted to improve navigation to Oxford. Iffley Lock and Osney Lock lie within the bounds of the city. In the 18th century the Oxford Canal was built to connect Oxford with the Midlands.
Commercial traffic has given way to recreational use of the river and canal. Oxford was the original base of Salters Steamers and there is a regular service from Folly Bridge downstream to Abingdon and beyond.
The Oxford Ring Road surrounds the city centre and close suburbs Marston, Iffley, Cowley and Headington; it consists of the A34 to the west, a 300m section of the A44, the A40 north and north-east, A4142/A423 to the east. It is a dual carriageway save for a 300m section of the A40 leading to the A44 (where two residential service roads adjoin) and was completed in 1966. Oxford’s central location on several transport routes, of both historic and current importance has meant it has long been a crossroads city with many coaching inns.
The main roads to/from Oxford are:
- A34 – a trunk route connecting to J9 of the M40 to the north and bypassing Didcot, Newbury and Winchester to the south where it joins the M3 12.7 miles (20.4 km) north of Southampton. Since the completion of the Newbury by-pass in 1998, this main section of the A34 has been an entirely grade separated dual carriageway. Historically the A34 led to Bicester, Banbury, Stratford-upon-Avon, Birmingham and Manchester however since the M40’s completion it disappears at J9 and re-emerges 50 miles (80 km) northward at Solihull).
- A40 – eastward dualled connecting to J8 of the M40 motorway then as an alternative route east to High Wycombe and London, westward part-dualled to Witney then bisecting Cheltenham, Gloucester, Monmouth, Abergavenny, passing Brecon, Llandovery, Carmarthen and Haverfordwest to reach Fishguard.
- A44 – which begins in Oxford, leading past Evesham becoming as an alternative non-motorway route to Worcester, Hereford, leading on to Aberystwyth.
- A420 – which also begins in Oxford and leads to Bristol passing Swindon and Chippenham.
The city is served by the M40 motorway, which connects London to Birmingham. The M40 approached Oxford in 1974 (the first section through Buckinghamshire opened in 1967) and went from London to Waterstock where the A40 continued to Oxford. When the M40 extension to Birmingham was completed in January 1991, a mile of the old motorway became a spur as the extension curved sharply north. The M40 comes no closer than 10 miles (16 km) away from the city centre, curving to the east of Otmoor. The M40 meets the A34 to the north of Oxford, the latter now being in two parts, the A34 restarting near Solihull, while the A41 (which previous passed through Banbury and Warwick) restarts in the same area.
There are two universities in Oxford, the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University, as well as the further education institution Ruskin College.
As well as the BBC national radio stations, Oxford and the surrounding area has several local stations, including BBC Oxford, Heart Thames Valley, Glide FM and Jack FM on 106.8 along with Oxide: Oxford Student Radio (which went on terrestrial radio at 87.7 MHz FM in late May 2005).
Popular local papers include The Oxford Times (compact; weekly), its sister papers The Oxford Mail (tabloid; daily) and The Oxford Star (tabloid; free and delivered), and Oxford Journal (tabloid; weekly free pick-up). Oxford is also home to several advertising agencies. Daily Information (known locally as Daily Info) is an events and advertising news sheet which has been published since 1964 and now provides a connected website. Nightshift is a monthly local free magazine that has covered the Oxford music scene since 1991. In 2003 DIY grassroots non-corporate media has begun to spread. Independent and community newspapers include the Jericho Echo and Oxford Prospect.
Theatres and cinemas include:
- Burton Taylor Theatre, Gloucester Street
- New Theatre, George Street
- Odeon Cinema, George Street
- Odeon Cinema, Magdalen Street
- Old Fire Station Theatre, George Street
- O’Reilly Theatre, Blackhall Road
- Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont Street
- Pegasus Theatre, Magdalen Road
- Phoenix Picturehouse, Walton Street
- Ultimate Picture Palace, Cowley Road
- Vue Cinema, Grenoble Road
Oxford appears in the following works:
- “The Scarlet Pimpernel”
- “Harry Potter” (all the films to date)
- The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica by James A. Owen
- Jude the Obscure (1895) by Thomas Hardy (in which Oxford is thinly disguised as “Christminster”).
- Zuleika Dobson (1911) by Max Beerbohm.
- Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy L. Sayers.
- Brideshead Revisited (1945) by Evelyn Waugh.
- A Question of Upbringing (1951 ) by Anthony Powell
- Second Generation (1964 novel) by Raymond Williams
- Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) by Steven Spielberg
- Inspector Morse (1987)
- Where The Rivers Meet (1988) trilogy set in Oxford by John Wain
- All Souls (1989) by Javier Marías
- The Children of Men (1992) by P. D. James.
- Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis
- His Dark Materials (1995 onwards) by Philip Pullman
- “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)
- “The Saint” (1997)
- “102 Dalmatians” (2000)
- Endymion Spring (2006) by Matthew Skelton
- Lewis (2007)
- The Oxford Murders (2008)
- The Oxford Virus (2010) by Adam Kolczynski
- Mr. Nice (2010) The story of Howard Marks
- X-Men: First Class (2011)
The town’s leading football club, Oxford United, are currently in League Two, the fourth tier of league football, though they enjoyed some success in the past in the upper reaches of the league. They were elected to the Football League in 1962, reached the Third Division after three years and the Second Division after six, and most notably reached the First Division in 1985 – a mere 23 years after joining the Football League. They spent three seasons in the top flight, winning the Football League Cup a year after promotion. The 18 years that followed relegation in 1988 saw their fortunes decline gradually, though a brief respite in 1996 saw them win promotion to the new (post Premier League) Division One in 1996 and stay there for three years. They were relegated to the Football Conference in 2006, staying there for four seasons before returning to the Football League in 2010. They play at the Kassam Stadium (named after former chairman Firoz Kassam), which is situated near the Blackbird Leys housing estate and has been their home since relocation from the Manor Ground in 2001.
From next season, Oxford RLFC will play in Rugby League’s semi-professional Championship 1, the third tier of British Rugby League. Oxford Harlequins RFC is the city’s main Rugby Union team and currently plays in the National League 3 South West.
Following their promotion from The Championship after the 2011/2012 season, London Welsh RFC moved to the Kassam Stadium to fulfil the Premiership entry criteria regarding stadium capacity. In January 2013, the club stated its intention to continue their tenancy of the Kassam Stadium beyond the 2012/2013 season.
Oxford is also home to the Oxford City Rowing Club which is situated near Donnington Bridge.
Oxford is twinned with Bonn, Germany; Grenoble, France; Leiden, Netherlands; León, Nicaragua; Perm, Russia; Umeå, Sweden; and Saskatoon, Canada.