27 March 2016

2 Days In Oxford (2 Μέρες Στην Οξφόρδη)

I've been to Oxford a number of times. I love the city, its beauty and its history. It is very hard to find another place where so many world famous politicians, scientists, artists and writers have studied within its university walls.

I've decided to write this blog so that you can still admire what the city has to offer even if you only have a couple of days to spare. In doing so, I simply walked around the city without entering any of the numerous museums, colleges and churches. Obviously, if you have more days to spare it's worth looking at some of these places in more detail.

The History

Oxford was first settled in Saxon times and was initially known as 'Oxen Ford', which means 'ford of the oxen'. It began with the establishment of a river crossing for oxen, around 900AD. It was invaded by the Normans in 1066.

Around 1191 King Henry II granted Oxford's citizens the same privileges and exemptions as those enjoyed by the capital of the kingdom. The very first centres of learning in Oxford were monasteries established at that time. But soon there was a need for higher training that monasteries could provide. In the 13th century friars from the most prominent religious orders came to teach. In the second half of the 13th century, rich, powerful bishops established their own centres of scholarship and the first colleges were born.

The Oxford Canal arrived in 1790 and the railway in 1844. However, the town did not become part of the mainstream industrial Britain until the early 20th century, due to the overriding presence of the university.

Today, the university comprises of 38 colleges. In the 19th century the university was reformed from being a medieval, clerical institution based on privilege, to a modern educational establishment devoted to teaching and scholarship. But the colleges remain, as they always were, autonomous corporations with their own statutes.

What I Saw

(as always, you can click on the photo to enlarge it)

All Saints Church

This is actually the former All Saints Church, as the building is now used as a library by Lincoln College.

Brasenose College

Although it looks medieval, only the gate tower and the Old Quad behind it date back to 1516. The rest of the building was constructed in the latter part of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The college is named after the 'brazen nose'  - a bronze doorknocker - that once hung on its gates. In medieval times anyone fleeing the law could claim sanctuary within by grasping the knocker.

Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

The church is regarded as the original hub of the university, because it was here in the 13th century that the first university meetings and ceremonies were held. This is also where all the administrative documents were kept.

The Mitre Pub

The Mitre was built around 1600 as a coaching inn. 

Although today it houses a chain pub/restaurant, it remains full of history and anecdotes of ale-supping clergy.

Oriel College

The college has the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford. in recognition of this, it is also known as King's College or King's Hall.

One of its most notable students is Bill Clinton.

All Souls' College

The college was founded in 1438. It's the only college in Oxford never to admit any students! Membership is restricted to Fellows only, providing them with facilities to pursue their research.

University College

Claiming to be the oldest college in Oxford (something it no longer promotes), it is thought to have been founded in 1249. None of the original building remains - what you see today was built in the 17th century.

The Queen's College

The college is named after Queen Philippa, wife of Edward II. It was founded in 1340.

However, the statue under the little dome above the gate-house is that of Queen Caroline, who donated substantial funds to the rebuilding of the college in the 18th century.

Examination Schools

It was built in 1882. Many of the final and other examinations of the University take place in this building.

Students can be seen entering and leaving in the exam months, all dressed in 'sub-fusc' garb without which they are not allowed to sit their exam. For men, this means dark suit and white bow tie; for women, it is a black skirt or trousers, white blouse and a black ribbon round the neck. All must also wear a black academic gown and a mortar board.

Magdalen College

Founded in 1458 outside the city walls, the buildings above were part of the Hospital of St John the Baptist. 

Its bell tower was completed in 1505 and it's famous for the Latin grace sung from the top of the choristers every May morning.

The Bridge of Sighs

The bridge is an anglicised version of the Venice original and connects the two parts of Hertford College.

The Turf Tavern

This pub is an Oxford legend. Its foundations date to the 13th century, although most of the present building is from the 16th century. 

Halley's House

The house in the photo above was once the home of astronomer Edmund Halley, who calculated the orbit of the comet which now bears his name. His meteorological observations led to the publication in 1686 of the first map of the winds of the globe.

St Edmund's Hall

This tiny college is considered Oxford's oldest surviving educational establishment. Tradition has it that it was founded in the 1190s by St Edmund of Abingdon, long before the first colleges were established in the city.

Carfax Tower

The tower is all that remains from the 13th century St Martin's Church, which was pulled down as part of a road widening scheme in 1896.

County Hall

This fortress-like building houses the headquarters of Oxfordshire County Council.

Nuffield College

The site and funds for the college were donated by Lord Nuffield, otherwise known as William Richard Morris (of Morris Motors) in 1937. Although Lord Nuffield had originally envisaged a college specialising in engineering, he was persuaded instead to fund a post-graduate college devoted to the study of social, economic and political problems.

It's Stalinesque style tower houses the college library and was only completed in 1960.

Oxford Castle

Atop the green mound in the photo above once stood the Oxford Castle, built in 1071. 

The present structure was built in the 19th century. The last public execution took place here in 1863.

Osney Island

A bit further from the rail line that connects to the Oxford Station, a bridge leads on to Osney Island which is surrounded by arms of the River Thames. The district has nicely preserved 1850s terraces and characterful waterside pubs.

Ashmolean Museum

Built in 1841, it contains the University of Oxford's collections of art and antiquities. It's the oldest museum in the UK.

Taylor Institute

The four statues standing at the top of the columns represent France, Germany, Italy and Spain, because the institute was founded for the study of the languages of these four countries.

Worcester College

The college is different from most others in that it has no intimate, enclosed quandrangles. This in no was detracts from the appeal of the place as it boasts beautiful gardens.

Somerville College

Even though the college was founded in 1859, it was not recognised as a full college until 1959. Despite this handicap it has educated an extraordinary number of female figures, including Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi. It now also admits male students.

The Eagle and Child pub

If you want to visit a historic pub in Oxford, then this should be in the top of your list. It has been an inn since at least 1650. But its fame rests on the literary group known as the 'inklings', which met in the so-called Rabbit Room. Headed by C S Lewis, the group also included JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams.

It was here, in these surroundings, that Tolkien began discussing his fantasy saga The Lord of the Rings.

Oxford Town Hall

Opened in 1897, this fine neo-Jacobean building was built to the greater glory of the City Council, reflecting Oxford's new found status and self-confidence, after it was declared a county borough in 1889.

Oxford Museum

The museum highlights the history of the city, from prehistoric times to the industrial age.

Pembroke College

The college was founded in 1624 by King James I.

Alice's Shop

In the book 'Through The Looking Glass' Alice visits the shop and is served by a bad-tempered sheep. It was drawn in the book by Sir John Tenniel as 'the Old Sheep Shop'. Today, the shop is devoted to the sale of souvenirs related to the Lewis Carroll stories.

Martyr's Memorial

The memorial was erected in 1841, according to designs by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The martyrs were bishops Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, now collectively known as the 'Oxford Martyrs'. They were the victims of the Catholic Queen Mary's purge of Protestants and were burned at the stake in the town's north ditch.

Balliol College

The college is renowned for having produced the greater number of politicians and statesmen than any other college in Oxford.

Together with university College and Merton, it claims to be the oldest college in Oxford, said to have been founded in 1263.

Trinity College

It dates back to 1286, when monks from Durham Abbey founded a college on the site of the present-day Durham Quad.

Unlike most other Oxford colleges, the front is not closed off from the street. Its lawn almost invites visitors to enter, which they do through a small entrance.


One of the world's most famous bookshops. Opened in 1879 by Benjamin Blackwell, the original shop was tiny (just 3.6 sq m). Today, its basement is the cavernous Norrington Room, a huge space with around 160,000 books on over three miles of shelving! When the room opened in 1966 it gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest display of books for sale in one room anywhere in the world.

Jesus College

It's also known as Welsh College, because the money for its foundation in 1571 was provided by a Welshman called Hugh Price. 

The Bearded Ones

At the eastern end of Broad Street, visitors are met by the intimidating gaze of the Emperor's Heads, or 'Bearded Ones'. They tower over the railings of the Sheldonian Theatre.

Such busts were used in antiquity to mark boundaries, but noone knows whom they represent. They were installed in 1669.

Sheldonian Theatre

Commissioned in 1662, this was Christopher Wren's first architectural scheme, which he designed at the age of 30. Modelled on the ancient open-air Theatre of Marcellus in Rome, but roofed over to take account of the British weather, it was mainly built as an assembly hall for university ceremonies. For most of the year it is now used for concerts.

Bodleian Library and Divinity School

For fans of Harry Potter a visit in these two buildings is a must! The Divinity School became Hogwarts Sanatorium in the films.

It is well worth taking a guided tour as it will allow you access to areas not accessible otherwise. They are regarded by many as the finest interiors in Oxford.

Radcliffe Camera

Dr John Radcliffe, a famous Oxford physician, left the sum of £40,000 to found a library on his death in 1714. The building, designed by James Gibbs, was completed in 1749.

Christ Church College

Again, fans of Harry Potter would want to enter this college because its massive hall is no other than Hogwart's Dining Hall in the movies!

Its magnificent Tom Tower (above) was built by Christopher Wren in 1681. Its bell chimes 101 times each evening at 9.05pm, one for each member of the original foundation. 9.05pm as Oxford is situated five minutes west of Greenwich.

The college was founded in 1525 by Thomas Wolsley, Henry VIII's all powerful Lord Chancellor. 

Clarendon Building

This neoclassical edifice, erected in 1715, was home to the original Oxford University Press when it was moved from the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre. The Press moved out of the Clarendon building in 1830, but it it still used for meetings of the delegates of the Press. 

Museum of the History of Science

The building originally housed the Old Ashmolean Museum when it was completed in 1683. It now contains the Museum of the History of Science, with the world's finest collection of European and Islamic astrolabes, mathematical instruments, clocks and physical/chemical apparatus. It also displays a blackboard used by Albert Einstein in one of his lectures on the theory of relativity.

The Bear Pub

One of the oldest pubs in Oxford, dating back to 1242.

Its walls and ceilings are lined with cabinets containing over 7,000 ties from a huge range of organisations. 

Various other places

The building above, at No 126 High Street, is the best preserved example of a 17th century facade in Oxford. 

The Grand Cafe (above), with its elegant windows and Corinthian columns, was part of the historic Angel Inn until the mid 19th century. The inn was one of Oxford's most important inns.

The entrance to the Botanic Garden includes a fine arch (above) paid by the Earl of Danby. Set into the arch is his statue, as well as that of Charles II in the niche to the right and that of Charles I on the left.

The William Morris Garage (above) is where Morris built the prototype of the 'bullnose' Morris Oxford in 1912, a project that was to launch Morris on the road to fame and fortune.

The Church of St Cross (above) was founded in the 11th century. Its churchyard contains some very interesting graves, including those of Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows) and Oxford shopkeeper Theophilus Carter (reputedly the model for Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter).

Holywell Street (photos above) is a delightful street, lined with pastel-coloured 17th and 18th century houses.

Walking down New College Lane (above) at night, don't be surprised to hear the sound of horses' hooves ringing on the cobblestones and steel weapons clashing. The Lane was the assemply point of the Royalist force during the Civil War, preparing to ride out from the city and confront the Parliamentarians. 

The photo above is of the former Morrell's Brewery, the last brewery in Oxford. Its closure in 1998 marked the end of a long tradition, as at one time no less than 14 breweries thrived in this part of the city.

 Oxford Canal

 Oxford Canal

Oxford Canal

The famous Randolph Hotel (above), where I stayed. I thoroughly recommend it!

Church of St Mary Magdalen

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