Is History Really Around Every Corner in Oxford?


Date of Publication: 17 October 2018

You’ve probably heard us talking about Oxford, gushing about how much we love the city and how every corner holds some kind of historical secret.

Well, this is in fact probably true, especially if you consider how long Oxford University has been around. Even before the University was officially formed, there is evidence of teaching at Oxford as far back as 1096. From 1167, the University expanded rapidly when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. Today, the University is made up of 38 colleges, and all are self governing institutions. Oxford has many notable alumni, including 29 Nobel Laureates, 27 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, and many heads of state and government around the world.

Where did the first scholars meet to discuss ideas? Was there a pub most favoured by past Nobel Laureates? What are all the beautiful buildings in Oxford actually famous for?

When you consider how many great minds have passed through Oxford at some point in time, it is easy to believe that something exciting has happened on every street in Oxford!

For example, have you ever heard of The Inklings? Probably not. But they were a literary group, who met every week for nearly twenty years between 1930 and 1949, to read and discuss each other’s unfinished work. This group met at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford- and the best known members were CS Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and JRR Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings). There are many other famous writers from Oxford, such as T.S. Eliot, who attended Merton College and wrote ‘The Waste Land’ in Oxford. Or John Galsworthy, who attended New College and wrote the Forstye Saga here.

Harry Potter on the other hand, almost everyone has heard of him. It is Christ Church’s formal dining hall which was the inspiration for Hogwart’s hall, although it isn’t the only Oxford location to have appeared in the films. Several scenes were also filmed in the Bodleian Library, and New College’s grounds, which are the setting for the showdown between Harry and Draco in the Goblet of Fire.

Even if you took one square of Oxford- such as Radcliffe Square– you would find a wealth of history there. At the middle of the square, you will find the Radcliffe Camera (Camera meaning ‘room’ in Latin), which was built in 1737-49 to house the Radcliffe Science Library. The first porter of the library was Pudsey Mussendine, who was paid a salary of £20 a year. Across from the Camera is St Mary’s Church, whose spire can be seen from the surrounding streets as well. A church was first established on this site when Oxford was still a walled city- in Anglo Saxon times. The church is said to possess one of the most beautiful spires in England.

Just below the church, you can find the Vault’s Cafe- a small slightly underground room which serves delicious food and cake. The Cafe is in fact in the old University Congregational House, built in 1320- this room is where top scholars used to meet to discuss the ideas of the day. Last but not least, is All Souls College. The college was founded by Henry VI of England in 1438, and in the 500 years which followed, only men were admitted until 1979. The college is one of the wealthiest in Oxford, with a financial endowment of £286.4 million (2014).

Hopefully, this brief dive into Oxford’s long and illustrious history has given you a taste of all that this city has to offer, and why we are so proud to call it our home.

Want to learn more about Oxford and its history- then have a read of this: C.S Lewis and Oxford’s Literary Heritage

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