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Bradshaw’s Guide

General view and High Street, Oxford, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


Oxford is the capital of the rich midland county of the same name, and one of the most ancient cities of England. It has for ages been celebrated for its university, which, in extent, number of its colleges, wealth of endowments, and architectural beauty, stands unrivalled by any similar institution in Europe; in fact, the period of its existence as a seminary for learning is supposed to date anterior to the time of Alfred. It is situated on a gentle eminence in a rich valley between the rivers Cherwell and Isis, and is surrounded by highly cultivated scenery — the prospect being bounded by an amphitheatre of lulls. From the neighbouring heights the city presents a very imposing appearance, from the number and variety of its spires, domes, and public edifices; while these structures, from their magnitude and splendid architecture, give it on a near approach an air of great magnificence. The rivers are crossed by bridges. This city was distinguished by its attachment to the unfortunate Charles I., who here held his court during the whole civil war.

The High street extends east and west, under different names, the whole length of the city. From Carfax Church it is crossed, at right angles, by St Giles the other principal street; and from these two branch of nearly every other street in the city. The High street of Oxford is justly considered the finest in England, from its length and breadth, the number and elegance of its public buildings, and its remarkable curvature, which, from continually presenting new combinations of magnificent objects to the eye, produces an uncommonly striking effect. There are also several other handsome streets of recent creation. Oxford has long been famous for good sausages and brawn. The “Crown” is a small inn, entered from the Corn Market by a gateway. This inn was kept by the mother of Davenant, and was the resort of Shakspeare in his journies from London to Stratford-on-Avon.

Ye fretted pinnacles, ye fanes sublime,
Ye towers that wear the mossy vest of time;
Ye massy piles of old munificence,
At once the pride of learning and defence;
Ye cloisters pale, that, lengthening to the sight,
To contemplation, step by step, invite;

Ye temples dim, where pious duty pays
Her holy hymns of ever-echoing praise; — 

Hail, Oxford, hail!

T. Warton’s Triumph of Isis.

This venerable seat of learning has an advantage over Cambridge, in being placed among more attractive scenery, and combining in itself a greater variety of splendid architecture. It stands at the junction of the Cherwell and Thames, 63 miles from London by the Great Western railway, which is continued hence, on the broad or mixed gauge, to Banbury, Birmingham, Worcester, &c. The railway and the meadows round the city were all underwater in the floods of 1853. Population, 27,850, who return two members to Parliament, while the University is represented by two more.

Distant prospects of the city maybe obtained from the Shotover and Hinksey hills. It is called Oxeneford in Domesday Book, or the ford of oxen; and this homely interpretation is duly supported by the city arms. King Alfred, it is asserted, founded the University; but this appears to be doubtful, as his biographer, Asser, mentions nothing of it. Its pre-eminence is, however, admitted as a settled point by legal authorities. There was a nunnery (St. Frideswide’s) here from the year 730; and the monks attached to it, or to the monasteries founded after the Conquest, had the training of Henry I., who here acquired his surname of Beauclerc, from his literary parts.

Two main streets, each about two-fifths of a mile long, cross at a marketplace, called Carfax, a corruption of quatre vōces or four ways, where was a conduit, now at Nuneham Courtney, and contain in or near them some of the best buildings. High Street runs east and west, and St. Giles’Street north and south. At one end (the east) of the former thoroughfare is Magdalene Bridge, by which the city should be approached, as from that spot a view may be obtained which is stated to exceed that of most other towns, by experienced travellers; it is curved, and the size, grandeur, and variety of the buildings, as you turn through it, offer a most striking display. Another fine prospect may be had of the broad part of St. Giles’ Street, north of Carfax.

City Buildings. — The best of these are — the Town Hall (built 1752), 135 feet long. The Council Chamber contains portraits of James II., the Duke of Marlborough, and others; the Music Room, built 1748, by an amateur architect, Dr. Camplin; the Infirmary, founded by Dr. Radcliffe; and the County Gaol, on the west side of the town. The last occupies the site of a castle founded after the Conquest, by Robert d’Oyley, and razed by Parliament, in the civil war, with the exception of the tower of St. George. The New Museum in the Parks, though not pleasing externally, is one of the finest buildings of the kind in England. It was built from designs by Messrs. Dean, at the expense of the University, at a cost of £70,000. A new town has sprung up beyond the Parks.

Churches. — St. Aldates, or Old’s, as it is called, is an old edifice near Christ Church, in the south quarter of Oxford. St. Cross or Holywell, an ancient Gothic church, near the Cherwell; All Saints, in the middle of High Street, in the classic style, built by Dean Aldrich. St. Giles’, at the top of that street, is an early Gothic edifice; St. Michael’s, near the bottom, and St. Martin’s, at the bottom, near Carfax, are two others. That of St. Mary Magdalene is also a very ancient foundation, to winch a new aisle was added in 1841, in honour of the martyrs Cranmer, Pulley, and Latimer, who were burnt (the last two in 1535, and Cranmer the year following) in Canditch, near Baliol College. Close to this church is the beautiful Martyrs’ Cross, a three-storied Gothic pile, 73 feet high, by Scott. Statues of these celebrated Protestant confessors, by Weekes, are placed in the niches, and the whole lodged here in 1841, exactly three centuries after the publication of Cranmer’s Bible. The famous Bocardo prison, in which they were confined, was in a gate of the old wall at the top of St. Giles’ Street, St. Mary’s, in High Street, is marked by a fine Gothic spire, 180 feet high; it is the University Church. St. Peter’s, near Magdalene Bridge, is a restored Norman and pointed “edifice. The Cathedral, part of Christ Church College, in Aldates Street. It was originally the Church of St. Frideswide’s Priory, and was made the seat of a bishop in 1542 by Henry VIII. The oldest portion is the Norman door; the fine early Gothic cloisters are 54 feet long—spire 144 feet high. Some quaint effigies are seen; one of Schmidt’s old organs; a quaint and a curious wooden shrine of the saint. St. George’s, in George Street, St. Phillip’s and St. James’, in Park Town, a continuation of St. Giles’ Street.

University Buildings. — There are nineteen colleges and five halls in Oxford, having about 6,000 members, and a total revenue of nearly £480,000.

All Soul's College, in High Street, was founded 1437, by Archbishop Chichley; a Gothic front, 194 feet long, and two courts, with a chapel and library behind. A leather screen in the chapel; the library was built by the Codrington family. Archbishop Sheldon, Jeremy Taylor, Herrick the poet, and Blackstone the lawyer, were of this college.

Baliol College, in Broad Street, was founded in 1282, by the Baliol family; old court and new chapel. Wickliffe was master of this college before he became professor of divinity, and John Evelyn as a member. An iron cross marks the spot here Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer were burnt at the stake. A new wing of College buildings and a fantastic Chapel have of late years been built, from signs by Mr. Salvin.

Brazenose College, is on the site of Little University Hall, and had an immense brass knocker, or “nose,” on its Tudor gate; founded 1509. John Fox, the martyrologist, Spelman, and several other antiquaries, were among its members. The Chapel has been restored by Mr. Buckler, of Oxford.

Corpus Christi, in Merlon Lane, founded 1527, by Bishop Fox, who projected the union of the Roses. His crozier, portrait, and statue are in the library. In the president’s gallery are portraits of the famous seven bishops, Kew, Trelawney, &c., Hooker and Bishop Jewel were members.

Christ Church, which includes the cathedral, in Aldates Street. It was founded 1525 by Wolsey, who built the largest of its three courts, about 260 feet square. In the tower over the front (380 feet long) is the “Mighty Tom,” which weighs 12,000lbs. Every night at ten minutes past nine it strikes 101 strokes, that is as many as there are students on the foundation. Wolsey’s Hall is full of portraits, and the library, of busts, &c; while, for members it reckons Sir T. More, Bishop Atterbury, Dr. South, Lord Mansfield, Robert Boyle, Sir P. Sidney, Locke, Camden, Ben Jonson, Canning, Peel, Gladstone.

Exeter College, founded 1315, by the bishops of Exeter; the front, which has been modernized, is 220 feet long, many of the members are from the diocese of Exeter. One was Noy, who proposed the levy of ship-money to Charles I. A fine new chapel, in imitation of the Sainte Chapelle, Paris, has been recently built, from designs by Mr. Scott.

Jesus College is chiefly used by the countrymen of the founder, Hugh Price, a Welshman; two courts. Portraits of Charles I. (by Vandyke) and Elizabeth in the hall. Archbishop Usher and Beau Nash were members. Recently fronted from designs by Messrs. Buckler.

Lincoln College, founded 1427, by the bishops of that diocese; two small courts. Archbishop Potter and John Wesley were members.

Magdalene, or as it is generally called Maudlin College, is in High Street, and was founded 1448, by William of AYaynflete. Two old courts and a third modern one, behind a front, 1,300 feet long; in which arc an old and a new gate, and a beautiful pinnacled tower of the 15th century, 150 feet high. The president entertains the Sovereign at public visits. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were here in 1841. In 1087, James II. made his celebrated attempt to force the Romish divine, Farmer, into the presidency instead of Hough. The choir (men and boys) sing a Latin hymn on the top of the tower every May Day morning at five o’clock. Dr. Renth, the late president, died in his 99th year, in 1856. Addison’s walk is here, in the large and beautiful grounds, by the Cherwell. Among other members were Wolsey, Latimer, John Hampden, Hammond, Collins, the poet, and Gibbon. The new Grammar School (built from designs by Messrs. Buckler) contains a magnificent carved oak roof. Some handsome stained glass has lately been placed in the College Chapel. The choral services are celebrated.

Merton College, in John Street, is the oldest, being founded in 1264, by Walter de Merton (in Surrey). Three courts; the most ancient part is Bishop Rede’s library, built 1376. The chapel, the parish church of St. John the Baptist, is nearly as old; and contains a new painted ceiling and some good brasses. The choral services (for which Oxford is famed) are more effective here than in any other Collegiate Chapel. William of Waynflete, Bishop Hooper, and Massinger, Sir R. Steele, and Duns Scotus, were members, as well as Bodley, founder of the Library. St. Alban’s Hall adjoins this college. Merton Grove is worth a visit.

New College, is approached from Broad Street, and was founded by William of Wykeham, in 1379, for draughting his scholars from Winchester; good quadrangle, cloisters, and Gothic chapel, in which the founder’s pastoral staff is kept. Good gardens, City Wall. Choral service celebrated. Reynolds painted the window, or rather gave the design for it; which Warton refers to in a complimentary couplet. Philpot the martyr, Bishop Ker, Sir H. Wotton, &c., were of this college.

Oriel College is in Merton Lane, founded in 1324, by Edward II., whose golden cup is here. Raleigh, Sandys, Butler, poets, Dr. Arnold, and Archbishop Whateley, were members of this college. Dr. Newman, Keble (author of the Christian Year), Charles Marriott, and other celebrated modern theologians, belonged to this college. The gateway has been restored by Messrs. Buckler, of Oxford. St. Mary’s Hall, founded in 1383, is attached.

Pembroke College, in Aldates Street, is a modern foundation, not older than 1724. It contains a quadrangle, oriel gate, and new hall, built 1724, in the Gothic style. Carew, the poet, John Pym, the orator of the Long Parliament, Archbishop Newcomb, Dr. Johnson, Blackstoue the lawyer, and Whitfield, were members.

Queen's College is in High Street, founded in 1340, in honour of Edward III.’s Queen, Philippa; two courts. Archbishop Potter, Henry V., Cardinal Beaufort, Wycherley, the poet, Bernard Gilpin, the “apostle of the north,” and Jeremy Bentham, were members. Edmund Hall formerly belonged to Osney priory.

St. John's College, in St. Giles’ Street, was founded 1555, by Lord Mayor White, and receives many scholars from Merchant Tailors’ School. The chapel was part of a Cistercian college, founded by Archbishop Chichley; Laud’s MSS. in the library. Fine gardens. Archbishop Laud, and Bishop Juxon, were of this college. It contains a pastoral staff, and has good choral services.

Trinity College, in Broad Street, founded 1555, by Sir T. Pope, a native of Deddington; two courts, one by Wren. In the chapel, very fine carvings, by Gibbons, and a picture of the Resurrection (after West) in needlework, portraits of Sir T. Pope and T. Warton, the poet, in the hall, where the fellows dine

 —  —  — untaxed, untroubled, under
The portrait of their pious founder,

and Walton’s Progress of Discontent. Archbishop Sheldon, Chillingworth, Selden, Lord Somers, Lord Chatham, Warton, and others, were members of Trinity. Chillingworth was born at Oxford. Very fine gardens.

University College, in High Street. It was founded as far back as 1280, by William of Durham (though by some attributed to King Alfred); front 260 feet long, with two gates, carvings by Gibbons in the chapel. Of this college Archbishop Abbot, Bishop Ridley, Dr. Radcliffe, and Sir W. Jones, were members.

Wadham was founded in 1613, by Nicholas Wadham; court, Gothic chapel, timbered hall. Blake, Bishop Wilkins, Dr. Kennicott, Sir C. Wren, and Dr. Bentley were members. Bishop Wilkins was Warden when the Royal Society was founded — the first meeting was held at his house. Fine gardens.

Worcester College, in Beaumont-street, founded in 1714, on the site of Gloucester Hall.

What are called the University Buildings, as distinct from the different colleges, are those grouped together in Broad Street, in a handsome square, round the Radcliffe Library. Here are the schools (where lectures on divinity, medicine, &c., are read), partly in the Gothic style. The Bodleian Library, founded in 1602 by Sir T. Bodley, contains nearly a quarter of a million of books, old, new, and rare MSS. Over this is the Picture Gallery, in which are portraits, busts, the Arundel marbles, specimens of natural history, &c. Convocation Room, and the Theatre, for public meetings, built by Archbishop Sheldon in 1669, from Wren’s designs, though only 80 feet by 70, will hold 4,000 persons. The Clarendon Printing Office was built by Vanburgh. A new printing office is behind it, near the observatory, a large quadrangular pile, 250 feet by 290, built 1829. The Radcliffe Library — 

You proud dome, fair learning’s amplest shrine — 

is a handsome building of 16 sides, 100 feet diameter, built 1749, by Gibbs, at the cost of Radcliffe, the physician: busts, marbles, books, and drawings are here. Its dome, thus alluded to by Warton, is one of the most conspicuous objects in the views of Oxford. In the Ashmolean Museum, which is nothing better than a large curiosity shop, are the head and feet of the famous Dodo, whose portrait is in the British Museum. The rest of him was destroyed as rubbish, by order, in 1755. One of the most complete accounts of this solitary specimen of a race which has become extinct in the present age of man, may be found under “Dodo,” in the Penny Cyclopoedia.

In St. Giles’ Street stands the Taylor Institute, a handsome modern building, in the Italian style, built by Cockerell. The centre is 150 feet long, and the wings 70. It is designed to be a complete gallery of art and science. It is also a college for modern languages. Various drawings, paintings, busts, &c., are collected here. The Botanic Garden is fronted by one of Inigo Jones’s gates.

Beaumont Street, near the castle, is so called after a palace built here by Henry I. Here Henry II. lived, and his two sons, Richard of the Lion’s Heart, and John Lackland, were born. Another native was Anthony à Wood, the antiquarian, and the well known author of the History of Oxford, and of its eminent members.

North of the town, a little up the Thames, is Osrey Mill, on the site of an abbey formerly of great note. Not far from this stood Godstow nunnery, where Rosamond Clifford was wooed by Henry II. Fair Rosamond was a nun here, and was buried under the chapter house; her bones were scattered at the Reformation. The well known story of the bower in which she was concealed by Henry from his jealous queen, Eleanor, and the dagger and the cup of poison, is denied by critical historians.

Objects of Notice near Oxford

Blenheim, the Duke of Marlborough’s seat, is the great attraction. It was part of the Manor of Woodstock, and was given to the great Marlborough, by Queen Anne, to commemorate the important victory over the French, of 2nd August, 1702, on which day, every year, the holder of the seat presents a stand of colours to the queen. The house was built by Vanburgh, avid is an excellent example of his heavy, but. picturesque style; it is nearly 390 feet long; the way the chimnies arc disposed is muck admired. The interior is adorned in the style of that day, with rich tapestries, painted ceilings, &c. A piece of ornamental water in the parks, by “Capability” Brown; also a pillar, 130 feet high, celebrating Marlborough’s victories, the inscription being written by Lord Bolingbroke; and Rosamond’s Well, which is all that remains of the White Castle, a bower, &c., the chief scene of Scott’s Woodstock.

Warton’s inscription on a spring here is pretty — 

Here quench your thirst, and mark in me
An emblem of true charity.
Who while my bounty I bestow
Am neither heard nor seen to flow.

Woodstock Park was a favourite seat of King Alfred, and succeeding monarchs. Edward Third’s son, the Black Prince, was born here, in 1330; near the park gate stood a house in which Chaucer the poet resided. Good leather gloves are made at Woodstock.

Ensham, the seat of Lord Parke, and Cornbury that of Lord F. Churchill, are both near Wychwood Forest, a well wooded tract of oak, beech, and other timber, which is to be reclaimed and cultivated. Warton (who is poet of Oxford and the localities around) wrote some of his best lines, “The Hamlet,” here. Some rare fossils are found in the rock below, which is a soft shelly oolite. Stonesfield in particular, on the old Roman way or Wheman Street, has furnished valuable specimens, and a Roman pavement was discovered there in the last century. Witney (10 miles) is still a flourishing seat of the blanket manufacture. Cumnor Place (in Berkshire), which belonged to the abbots of Abingdon, was the scene, according to Scott’s Kenilworth, of poor Amy Robsart’s murder, by Verney, at the command of her husband, the Earl of Leicester. In the church, a marble effigy of Anthony Foster, who was implicated in the tragedy; but lie is there described as a gentleman and scholar. The ” Black Bear” still figures at the village inn. Nuneham Courtney, on the Thames, is the seat of the Harcourts, at which are to be seen curious county maps, worked in tapestry, and a picture gallery. Parson’s Pleasure (or Loggerhead), is a famous bathing-place on the Cherswell.

Ditchley, Lord Dillon’s seat, was the birthplace of the celebrated Lord Rochester, as notorious for his profligacy as for his sincere repentance. Near this is Kiddington (4 miles), with an old church, of which Warton was rector; it is described in his Ode on the First of April. Renshaw is the old seat of the Dormers. Heythrop, belongs to the Earl of Shrewsbury. Glympton, i.e., the Glyme town, from the river which runs through it, is the seat of E. Way, Esq. At Aynho, the Cartwright’s seat, near Deddington, in Northamptonshire, is a picture gallery. From Shotover Hill (4 miles), 600 feet high, there is a good prospect of Oxford and its spires. Middleton Park, the seat of Earl Jersey, is near an old church. Kirtlinglon, Sir G. Dashwood, Bart., was an old Saxon village, called Kyntingtun. Bletchington, A. Annesley, Esq. Ambrosden, the seat of Sir G. Turner, Bart., was formerly the vicarage of Bishop Kennet, who published an account of the village in his “Parochial Antiquities.”

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Places nearby

  • Berkshire : Reading

    Reading is situated on two small eminences, whose gentle declivities fall into a pleasant vale, through which the branches of the Kennet flow till they unite with the Thames at the extremity of the town.

  • Oxfordshire : Banbury

    Banbury is situated on the river Cherwell; the navigable canal from Coventry to Oxford passes by this town.

  • Oxfordshire : Henley

    Delightfully situated on a sloping bank of the Thames, amid extensive beech woods.