From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present
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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 we know that 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. Though 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. It is in the Saxon period that Oxford or Oxenfordia begins to grow in importance which was missing from its Roman past. 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 Danish population of Oxford were blamed for the burning, and large numbers were massacred. The abbey was later rebuilt as an Augustinian priory. The cemetary of the priory has now been excavated in Christ Church Meadow. Oxford's growth during the late Saxon period owed much to its position on a major trade route between the powerful Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. In 1071 the Norman lord Robert D'Oily built Oxford Castle the castle was fortified both against the city and the world at large. Sometime in the late 11th or early 12th century Oxford became a centre of learning 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. Oxford burned the city to the ground in 1138. 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 was hit hard by the Black Plague in 1348-1350. The colleges kept country houses where scholars could flee during periods of plague, but the residents of the city had no such escape. The population of the city dropped and the colleges took full advantage by buying up vacant property and greatly expanding their holdings within Oxford.

Henry VIII left his mark on Oxford; after taking control of Christ Church from its unfortunate founder, Cardinal Wolsey. Henry abolished the study of canon law, instituting chairs for Medicine, Civil Law, Greek, Theology, and Hebrew. This marked a fundamental shift in emphasis for the University away from its monastic beginnings. The rule of Henry's daughter Mary was a time of terrible political and religious unrest in Britain. Mary was Catholic, and she tried to reverse the tide of Anglican reform begun by her father. Many prominent church leaders and reformers were burned at the stake, none more visibly than Bishops Latimer and Ridley, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The three men were tried for heresy and condemned to death when they would not recant their Protestant faith. Latimer and Ridley were burned outside Balliol College on October 16, 1555. Latimer is supposed to have said to Ridley as the fire was lit, Master Ridley, "we shall this day light such a candle in England as shall never be put out". Cranmer had to be held in prison until permission from the pope was obtained for his execution. While in prison he recanted his Protestantism, but the sentence was still carried out. When asked to affirm his recantation publicly, Cranmer retracted it and went courageously to the stake, where he thrust the hand that had signed the recantation into the blaze, saying, "This has offended. Oh! This unworthy hand".

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. The other colleges hosted the rest of the royal court. 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 - destroying its defences. Two roads connect modern Woodstock Road and the Banbury Road: North Parade and South Parade. Contrary to common sense, North Parade runs south of South Parade. The reason for this is that during the Civil War when Charles I was besieged by Cromwell at Oxford, North Parade represented the Royalist North Front, while South Parade was the Roundhead Southern Front.

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, and the Clarendon Building.


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.