The city of Oxford is in the South East and the county town of Oxfordshire. The population of around 168,000 marks it as the 52nd largest city in the United Kingdom. It is around 60 miles from London and acknowledged as one of the country’s fastest growing cities and one of the most culturally diverse.
Known across the world as the home of Oxford University, steeped in history and the oldest English speaking university. The buildings in Oxford bear a wide range of architectural styles hence the the term the “city of dreaming spires” that was devised by Matthew Arnold. Oxford’s wide economic base includes motor manufacturing, publishing, publishing, IT and science. Many local businesses are closely associated with the university.
Settlers first arrived in Oxford in Saxon times. “Oxenforda”, as it was originally known meant Ford of the Oxen being reference to the development of a river crossing for cattle at the turn of the tenth century. Throughout that century Oxford established itself as a vital military post between the then kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia which was raided numerous times by Danes.
Oxford Castle was constructed after the Norman Conquest by way of confirmation of Norman superiority over the area, although it is understood that the castle has never been used for military purposes. The castle’s monastic community was set up by the governor Robert D’Oyly from where it became one of Britain’s earliest seats of learning. It was also the location where Geoffrey of Monmouth penned his History of the Kings of Britain which documented Arthurian legends.
The city’s standing was enhanced still further by a charter that was granted by King Henry II. In addition, Rewley Abbey was established for the Cistercian Order, whilst friars of various religious orders had houses of varying degrees of importance at Oxford. Parliaments were also held in the city during the 13th century. At around the same time documents entitled the Provisions of Oxford were devised by a group of barons under the leadership of Simon de Montfort. These are often viewed as England’s earliest written constitution.
The earliest reference to The University of Oxford is during the twelfth century.12th century records. University College, Balliol and Merton, the earliest of Oxford University colleges were founded as Europeans began to translate the work of Greek philosophers. These works were inspirational for scientific, artistic and ideological advancement. The Oxford colleges received healthy support from the Church who were keen to reconcile Greek philosophy and Christian theology.
In 1517 an epidemic of sweating sickness proved extremely damaging to both Oxford and Cambridge. Roughly half of the population of both cities was wiped out and this included many students and university dons.
In 1642 after King Charles I was expelled from London during the English Civil War Oxford housed his court, but Oxford yielded to Parliamentarian forces under the control of General Fairfax in 1646 during The Siege of Oxford. The city later housed the court of King Charles II 1665-66 when London was ravaged by The Great Plague. in 1665–66. Oxford also suffered serious fires in 1644 and 1671.
Important transport links helped to connect Oxford with the rest of the United Kingdom and raise its status still further. The Oxford Canal opened in 1790 connected the city with Coventry and this in turn was connected to the River Thames by The Duke’s Cut constructed by the Duke of Marlborough the previous year. In 1796, the Oxford Canal company built a further link to the Thames, at Isis Lock.
In 1844 Oxford became linked with London via Didcot and Reading courtesy of the Great Western Railway and additional rail networks followed at a pace.
Later in the 19th century, the controversial Oxford Movement within the Anglican Church highlighted Oxford as a centre of theological thought.
Cowley Barracks was completed in 1876 to give a permanent military presence within the city.
The city’s Town Hall was built by Henry T hare and opened in 1897 and opened by the future King Edward VII. This site has housed local government since 1292.
During the First World War, Oxford’s population was substantially changed. University students, fellows and staff enlisted for the war effort, their college accommodation places were taken by training soldiers. As well as this, a large number of war casualties were treated in new hospitals that were housed within the university buildings.
Almost immediately after the First World War Oxford experienced rapid industrial growth and a corresponding increase in population. Printing and publishing were key to the city’s growth and become firmly established by the 1920s. In 1929, Oxford’s boundaries were extended to include Wolvercote, Cowley, Headington and Iffley.
During the same decade the face of Oxford changed dramatically with the establishment of Morris Motors in Cowley for the mass production of cars. At its peak in the 1970s over 20,000 people worked in Morris Motors and Pressed Steel Fisher plants in Cowley. This is now the site of the current Oxford Business Park.
Throughout the Second World War, Oxford managed to avoid most of the air raids during the Blitz, although it still suffered from rationing and a significant influx of refugees who fled London and other vulnerable cities.
In 1954, Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student and Oxford University graduate, ran the first official sub four minute mile at the Iffley Road running track in Oxford.
A second university in the city, Oxford Brooke University was granted a charter in 1991. Formerly the Oxford school of Art and Oxford Brooke Polytechnic, the university was named after its first principal Sir John Brookes. It was voted as Britain’s best new university for ten years.
The large proportion of migrant labour for the car plants and hospitals, immigration from south Asia, and eastern Europe and a continuing large student population give the city its cosmopolitan feel. In Headington and Cowley Road areas the many bars, cafes and restaurants are evidence of the city’s wide cultural diversity.
Oxford’s diverse economy includes manufacturing, publishing and science-based industries. This is supplemented with education, research and tourism.
Car production had featured large in Oxford’s community since the establishment of Morris Motors in the city in 1910. The suburb of Cowley now houses the main production site for BMW’s Mini.
Oxford University Press, a major publishing house is a department of the University of Oxford and along with Wiley Blackwell, Elsevier and several other smaller publishing houses maintains Oxford’s strong presence in this sector.
The influence of the university is the reason for the existence of so many science and technology based businesses. These include Oxford Instruments, Research Machines and Sophios. The University of Oxford also established Isis Innovation in 1990 to promote technology transfer. The city is home to two science parks, being Oxford Science Park and Begbrook Science Park.
The presence of the university has helped Oxford to become a centre for the education sector. Teaching staff are routinely drawn from the pool of Oxford University students and graduates.
There is also a strong history of brewing in Oxford. A number of the colleges had their own breweries and in the 16th century brewing and malting seem to have been the most popular of trades which flourishing as a result of the growing rail network in the 19th century.
Oxford has many major tourist attractions. Many of these belong to the university and colleges. The town centre is home to Carfax Tower and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin both offering stunning views over the city’s spires. Shopping is popular with tourists at the Covered Market as is punting on the Thames and the Cherwell.
Oxford city centre has many shops, numerous theatres and an ice rink. The historic buildings also make this a most popular location for film and TV crews.
There are two shopping centres in the city centre. The Clarendon Centre and The Westgate Centre is named for the original West Gate in the city wall, and is located at the west end of Queen Street. Blackwell’s Bookshop is a huge bookshop that houses the Norrington Room, the largest room for book sales in Europe.
The Bodleian Library, part of The University of Oxford has over 11 million books on around 120 miles of shelving. It is the second-largest library in the UK.
Oxford also has multiple museums, galleries and collections which have free admission. Most of these are departments of the University of Oxford. The first to be established and perhaps the most famous was the Ashmoleum Museum, which was opened in 1683, It holds a significant collection of art and archaeology including works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Turner and Picasso. Other heritage attractions include the University Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of the History of Science.