From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present


51° 45' 7" N 1° 15' 28" W

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Oxford is a city in Oxfordshire, England. It is home to the University of Oxford. It is known as the "city of dreaming spires", a term coined by Matthew Arnold in reference to the harmonious architecture of the university buildings. The River Thames runs through Oxford, where for a distance of some 10 miles it is known as the Isis.

King Arviragus is believed to have founded Oxford in 70 AD but there was a large Neolithic population here, possibly as early as 4000 BC from archaeological finds of Neolithic arrowheads and other remains in the area, although no evidence of a settlement exists. Evidence of Bronze Age 2000-700BC barrows indicate a more permanent settlement during that period.

Oxford seems to have been largely ignored by the Roman conquerors, although there is evidence of pottery kilns here which may have supplied earthenware vessels to the new rulers of the island realm. There was a Roman villa on the boundary between Cutteslowe and Water Eaton.

The Saxon period that Oxford or Oxenfordia begins to grow in importance. A Saxon abbey was established where Christ Church now stands, and the abbess was St. Frideswide, a Mercian princess. St. Frideswides abbey burnt to the ground in 1002. The abbey was later rebuilt as an Augustinian priory. In 1071 the Norman lord Robert D'Oily built Oxford Castle.

In the late 11th or early 12th century, Oxford became a centre for training clerics. It is not known precisely when a school or university was established. In some ways Oxford University was never really founded, it simply evolved. By the 13th century Oxford was firmly established as an academic centre, drawing students from all across Europe. Studies were centred on houses established by the Dominicans, Fransiscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians.

Oxford served as the home base for King Charles during the English Civil War. The town itself supported the Parliamentary cause, but the University was staunchly royalist. In 1642 the colleges of Oxford University gave most of their plate to Charles. From 1642 to 1646 Charles stayed at Christ Church, while Queen Henrietta Maria had her court at Merton College. Oxford suffered for its support of Charles when the war was over. In 1650 Oliver Cromwell was made Chancellor of the University, and many heads of colleges were replaced with Cromwell supporters. The following year Parliament ordered the city to be slighted by destroying its defences.

Some of Oxford's great buildings date from the 18th century. Queen's College was rebuilt, as was Magdalen Bridge and Folly Bridge. New structures from this period included the Radcliffe Camera and Observatory.


St. Frideswide built the abbey as a means to preserve her virginity. When a persistent suitor tried to take the abbey and the abbess by force, he was struck blind. Only when the saintly Frideswide forgave him was the unfortunate man's sight restored. St. Frideswide is now the patron saint of the city of Oxford.

Queen Maud Matilda held the city during her interminable struggle with King Stephen. In the winter of 1142 she was besieged within the castle. She dressed all in white and her men lowered her over the castle walls on a rope. Camouflaged against the snow, Maud crept through the enemy lines and escaped.