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Tom Tower, Christ Church, containing "Great Tom,'
a bell formerly belonging to Osney Abbey.
















THESE papers do not profess even to sketch
the outhnes of a history of Oxford.
They are merely records of the im-
pressions made by this or that aspect of the hfe of
the University as it has been in different ages.
Oxford is not an easy place to design in black and
white, with the pen or the etcher's needle. On
a wild winter or late autumn day (such as Father
Faber has made permanent in a beautiful poem)
the sunshine fleets along the plain, revealing
towers, and floods, and trees, in a gleam of watery
light, and leaving them once more in shadow.
The melancholy mist creeps over the city, the
damp soaks into the heart of everything, and such
suicidal weather ensues as has been described,
once for all, by the author of John-a-Dreams.
How different Oxford looks when the road


to Cowley Marsh is dumb with dust, when the
heat seems almost tropical, and by the drowsy
banks of the Cherwell you might almost expect
some shy southern water-beast to come crashing
through the reeds ! And such a day, again, is
unlike the bright weather of late September, when
all the gold and scarlet of Bagley Wood are con-
centrated in the leaves that cover the walls of
Magdalen with an imperial vesture.

Our memories of Oxford, if we have long
made her a Castle of Indolence, vary no less than
do the shifting aspects of her scenery. Days of
spring and of mere pleasure in existence have
alternated with days of gloom and loneliness, of
melancholy, of resignation. Our mental pictures
of the place are tinged by many moods, as the
landscape is beheld in shower and sunshine, in
frost, and in the colourless drizzling weather.
Oxford, that once seemed a pleasant porch and
entrance into life, may become a dingy ante-room,
where we kick our heels with other weary, wait-
ing people. At last, if men linger there too late,


Oxford grows a prison, and it is the final con-
dition of the loiterer to take ' this for a hermitage.'
It is well to leave the enchantress betimes, and to
carry away few but kind recollections. If there
be any who think and speak ungently of their
Alma Mater^ it is because they have outstayed
their natural ' welcome while,' or because they
have resisted her genial influence in youth.








LANDOR . . . .



TION . . . .67


• 133


. 171

IX. A GENERAL VIEW . . . 191





MOST old towns are like palimpsests,
parchments which have been scrawled
over again and again by their suc-
cessive owners. Oxford, though not one of the
most ancient of English cities, shows, more
legibly than the rest, the handwriting, as it
were, of many generations. The convenient
site among the interlacing waters of the Isis and
the Cherwell has commended itself to men in
one age after another. Each generation has
used it for its own purpose : for war, for trade,
for learning, for religion ; and war, trade, reli-
gion, and learning have left on Oxford their
peculiar marks. No set of its occupants, before
the last two centuries began, was very eager to
deface or destroy the buildings of its predeces-



sors. Old things were turned to new uses, or
altered to suit new tastes ; they were not over-
thrown and carted away. Thus, in walking
through Oxford, you see everywhere, in colleges,
chapels, and churches, doors and windows which
have been builded up ; or again, openings which
have been cut where none originally existed.
The upper part of the round Norman arches in
the Cathedral has been preserved, and converted
into the circular bull's-eye lights which the last
century liked. It is the same everywhere,
except where modern restorers have had their
way. Thus the life of England, for some eight
centuries, may be traced in the buildings of
Oxford. Nay, if we are convinced by some
antiquaries, the eastern end of the High Street
contains even earlier scratches on this palimpsest
of Oxford ; the rude marks of savages who
scooped out their damp nests, and raised their
low walls in the gravel, on the spot where the
new schools are to stand. Here half-naked
men may have trapped the beaver in the Cher-


"The Town before the University

well, and hither they may have brought home
the boars which they slew in the trackless woods
of Headington and Bagley. It is with the life
of historical Oxford, however^ and not with these
fancies, that we are concerned, though these
papers have no pretension to be a history of
Oxford. A series of pictures of men's life here
is all they try to sketch.

It is hard, though not impossible, to form a
picture in the mind of Oxford as she was when
she is first spoken of by history. What she may
have been when legend only knows her ; when
St. Frideswyde built a home for religious maidens ;
when she fled from King Algar and hid among
the swine, and after a whole fairy tale of adven-
tures died in great sanctity, we cannot even
guess. This legend of St. Frideswyde, and of
her foundation, the germ of the Cathedral and
of Christ Church, is not, indeed, without its
value and significance for those who care for
Oxford. This home of religion and of learning
was a home of religion from the beginning, and



her later life is but a return, after centuries of
war and trade, to her earliest purpose. What
manner of village of wooden houses may have
surrounded the earliest rude chapels and places
of prayer, we cannot readily guess, but imagina-
tion may look back on Oxford as she was when
the English Chronicle first mentions her. Even
then it is not unnatural to think Oxford might
well have been a city of peace. She lies in the
very centre of England, and the Northmen, as
they marched inland, burning church and cloister,
must have wandered long before they came to
Oxford. On the other hand, the military im-
portance of the site must have made it a town
that would be eagerly contended for. Any places
of strength in Oxford would command the roads
leading to the north and west, and the secure,
raised paths that ran through the flooded fens to
the ford or bridge, if bridge there then was,
between Godstowe and the later Norman grand
pont^ where Folly Bridge now spans the Isis.
Somewhere near Oxford, the roads that ran


The "Town before the University

towards Banbury and the north, or towards
Bristol and the west, would be obliged to cross
the river. The water-way, too, and the paths
by the Thames' side, were commanded by
Oxford. The Danes, as they followed up the
course of the Thames from London, would be
drawn thither, sooner or later, and would covet
a place which is surrounded by half a dozen
deep natural moats. Lastly, Oxford lay in the
centre of England indeed, but on the very
marches of Mercia and Wessex. A border town
of natural strength and of commanding situation,
she can have been no mean or poor collection of
villages in the days when she is first spoken of,
when Eadward the Elder ' incorporated with his
own kingdom the whole Mercian lands on both
sides of Watling Street ' (Freeman's Norman
Conquest^ vol. i. p. 57), and took possession of
London and of Oxford as the two most im-
portant parts of a scientific frontier. If any
man had stood, in the days of Eadward, on the
hill that was not yet ' Shotover,' and had looked



along the plain to the place where the grey
spires of Oxford are clustered now, as it were in
a purple cup of the low hills, he would have
seen little but ' the smoke floating up through
the oakwood and the coppice,'

KaTTi/ov S' Ivi [Jiecrcrr)
eSpaKov 6(f)da\iJL0Lcn Sta Spv/xa irvKva Kal vk-qv.

The low hills were not yet cleared, nor the fens
and the wolds trimmed and enclosed. Centuries
later, when the early students came, they had to
ride 'through the thick forest and across the
moor, to the East Gate of the city ' [Munimenta
Academica^ Oxon., vol. i. p. 60). In the midst
of a country still wild, Oxford was already no
mean city ; but the place where the hostile
races of the land met to settle their differences,
to feast together and forget their wrongs over the
mead and ale, or to devise treacherous murder,
and close the banquet with fire and sword.

Again and again, after Eadward the Elder
took Mercia, the Danes went about burning and
wasting England. The wooden towns were


The Town before the University

flaming through the night, and sending up a
thick smoke through the day, from Thames-
mouth to Cambridge. ' And next was there no
headman that force would gather, and each fled
as swift as he might, and soon was there no
shire that would help another.' When the first
fury of the plundering invaders was over, when
the Northmen had begun to wish to settle and
till the land and have some measure of peace,
the early meetings between them and the English
rulers were held in the border-town, in Oxford.
Thus Sigeferth and Morkere, sons of Earngrim,
came to see Eadric in Oxford, and there were
slain at a banquet, while their followers perished
in the attempt to avenge them. ' Into the
tower of St. Frideswyde they were driven, and
as men could not drive them thence, the tower
was fired, and they perished in the burning.'
So says William of Malmesbury, who, so many
years later, read the story, as he says, in the
records of the Church of St. Frideswyde. There
is another version of the story in the Codex



Diplomaticus (dccix.). Aethelred is made to
say, in a deed of grant of lands to St. Frideswyde's
Church (' mine own minster '), that the Danes
were slain in the massacre of St. Brice. On that
day Aethelred, 'by the advice of his satraps,
determined to destroy the tares among the wheat,
the Danes in England.' Certain of these fled
into the minster, as into a fortress, and therefore
it was burned and the books and monuments
destroyed. For this cause Aethelred gives lands
to the minster, ' fro Charwell brigge andlong the
streame, fro Merewell to Rugslawe, fro the lawe
to the foule putte,' and so forth. It is pleasant
to see how old are the familiar names ' Cherwell,'
'Hedington,' 'Couelee' or Cowley, where the
college cricket-grounds are. Three years passed,
and the headmen of the English and of the
Danes met at Oxford again, and more peacefully,
and agreed to live together, obedient to the laws
of Eadgar ; to the law, that is, as it was adminis-
tered in older days, that seem happier and better
ruled to men looking back on them from an age

The Town before the University

of confusion and bloodshed. At Oxford, too,
met the peaceful gathering of 1035, when Danish
and English claims were in some sort reconciled,
and at Oxford Harold Harefoot, the son of Gnut,
died in March 1040. The place indeed was
fatal to kings, for St. Frideswyde, in her anger
against King Algar, left her curse on it. Just
as the old Irish kings were forbidden by their
customs to do this or that, to cross a certain
moor on May morning, or to listen to the
winnowing of the night-fowl's wings in the dusk
above the lake of Tara ; so the kings of England
shunned to enter Oxford, and to come within
the walls of Frideswyde the maiden. Harold
died there, as we have seen, but there he was
not buried. His body was laid at Westminster,
where it could not rest, for his enemies dug it
up, and cast it forth upon the fens, or threw it
into the river. Many years later, when Henry
III. entered Oxford, not without fear, the curse
of Frideswyde lighted also upon him. He came
in 1263, with Edward the prince, and misfortune



fell upon him, so that his barons defeated and
took him prisoner at the battle of Lewes. The
chronicler of Oseney Abbey mentions his con-
tempt of superstitions, and how he alone of
Enghsh kings entered the city: ' ^od nullus
rex attemptavit a tempore Regis Algari^ an
error, for Harold attemptavit^ and died. When
Edward i. was king, he was less audacious than
his father, and in 1275 he rode up to the East
Gate and turned his horse's head about, and
sought a lodging outside the town, reflexis
habenis equitans extra moenia aulam regiam in
suburhio posit am introivit. In 1280, however,
he seems to have plucked up courage and
attended a Chapter of Dominicans in Oxford.

The last of the meetings between North and
South was held at Oxford in October 1065.
^ In urhe qiice fa?noso nomine Oxnaford nuncu-
patur^ to quote a document of Cnut's. (Cod,
DipL DccxLvi. in 1042.) There the Northum-
brian rebels met Harold in the last days of
Edward the Confessor. With this meeting we


T'he T'own before the University

leave that Oxford before the Conquest, of which
possibly not one stone, or one rafter, remains.
We look back through eight hundred years on
a city, rich enough, it seems, and powerful, and
we see the narrow streets full of armed bands of
men — men that wear the cognisance of the horse
or of the raven, that carry short swords, and are
quick to draw them ; men that dress in short
kirtles of a bright colour, scarlet or blue ; that
wear axes slung on their backs, and adorn their
bare necks and arms with collars and bracelets of
gold. We see them meeting to discuss laws
and frontiers, and feasting late when business
is done, and chaffering for knives with ivory
handles, for arrows, and saddles, and wadmal,
in the booths of the citizens. Through the mist
of time this picture of ancient Oxford may be
distinguished. We are tempted to think of a
low, grey twilight above that wet land suddenly
lit up with fire ; of the tall towers of St. Frides-
wyde's Minster flaring like a torch athwart the
night ; of poplars waving in the same wind that



drives the vapour and smoke of the holy place
down on the Danes w^ho have taken refuge there,
and there stand at bay against the English and
the people of the town. The material Oxford of
our times is not more unlike the Oxford of low
wooden booths and houses, and of wooden spires
and towers, than the life led in its streets was
unlike the academic life of to-day. The Con-
quest brought no more quiet times, but the
whole city was wrecked, stormed, and devastated,
before the second period of its history began,
before it was the seat of a Norman stronghold,
and one of the links of the chain by which
England was bound. ' Four hundred and
seventy-eight houses were so ruined as to be
unable to pay taxes,' while, ' within the town or
without the wall, there were but two hundred
and forty-three houses which did yield tribute.'

With the buildings of Robert D'Oily, a
follower of the Conqueror's, and the husband
of an English wife, the heiress of Wigod of
Wallingford, the new Oxford begins. Robert's


T'he Town before the University

work may be divided roughly into two classes.
First, there are the strong places he erected to
secure his possessions, and, second, the sacred
places he erected to secure the pardon of Heaven
for his robberies. Of the castle, and its ' shining
coronal of towers,' only one tower remains.
From the vast strength of this picturesque edifice,
with the natural moat flowing at its feet, we
may guess what the castle must have been in the
early days of the Conquest, and during the wars
of Stephen and Matilda. We may guess, too,
that the burghers of Oxford, and the rustics of
the neighbourhood, had no easy life in those
days, when, as we have seen, the town was
ruined, and when, as the extraordinary thickness
of the walls of its remaining tower demonstrates,
the castle was built by new lords who did not
spare the forced labour of the vanquished. The
strength of the position of the castle is best
estimated after viewing the surrounding country
from the top of the tower. Through the more
modern embrasures, or over the low wall round



the summit, you look up and down the valley of
the Thames, and gaze deep into the folds of the
hills. The prospect is pleasant enough, on an
autumn morning, with the domes and spires of
modern Oxford breaking, like islands, through
the sea of mist that sweeps above the roofs of
the good town. In the old times, no movement
of the people who had their fastnesses in the
fens, no approach of an army from any direction
could have evaded the watchman. The towers
guarded the fords and the bridge and were them-
selves almost impregnable, except when a hard
winter made the Thames, the Cherwell, and
the many deep and treacherous streams passable,
as happened when Matilda was beleaguered in
Oxford. This natural strength of the site is
demonstrated by the vast mound within the castle
walls, which tradition caP.s the Jews' Mound,
but which is probably earlier than the Norman
buildings. Some other race had chosen the
castle site for its fortress in times of which we
know nothing. Meanwhile, some of the practical

T'he Town before the University

citizens of Oxford wish to level the Jews' Mound,
and to ' utilise ' the gravel of which it is largely
composed. There is nothing to be said against
this economic project which could interest or
affect the persons who entertain it. M. Brunet-
Debaines' illustration shows the mill on a site
which must be as old as the tower. Did the
citizens bring their corn to be tolled and ground
at the lord's mill ?

Though Robert was bent on works of war,
he had a nature inclined to piety, and, his piety
beginning at home, he founded the church of
St. George within the castle. The crypt of
the church still remains, and is not without
interest for persons who like to trace the chang-
ing fortunes of old buildings. The site of
Robert's Castle is at present occupied by the
County Gaol. When you have inspected the
tower (which does not do service as a dungeon)
you are taken, by the courtesy of the Governor,
to the crypt, and satisfy your archaeological
curiosity. The place is much lower, and worse
c 33


lighted, than the contemporary crypt of St.
Peter's-in-the-East, but not, perhaps, less inter-
esting. The square-headed capitals have not
been touched, like some of those in St. Peter's,
by a later chisel. The place is dank and earthy,
but otherwise much as Robert D'Oily left it.
There is an odd-looking arrangement of planks
on the floor. It is the new drop^ which is found
to work very well, and gives satisfaction to the
persons who have to employ it. Sinister the
Norman castle was in its beginning, ' it was from
the castle that men did wrong to the poor
around them ; it was from the castle that they
bade defiance to the king, who, stranger and
tyrant as he might be, was still a protector against
smaller tyrants.' Sinister the castle remains ;
you enter it through ironed and bolted doors,
you note the prisoners at their dreary exercises,
and, when you have seen the engines of the law
lying in the old crypt you pass out into the
place of execution. Here, in a corner made by
Robert's tower and by the wall of the prison, is

T^he Town before the University

a dank little quadrangle. The ground is of the
yellow clay and gravel which floors most Oxford
quadrangles. A few letters are scratched on the
soft stone of the wall — the letters ' H. R.' are
the freshest. These are the initials of the
last man who suffered death in this corner —
a young rustic who had murdered his sweet-
heart. ' H. R.' on the prison wall is all his
record, and his body lies under your feet,
and the feet of the men who are to die here
in after days pass over his tomb. It is thus
that malefactors are buried, ' within the walls
of the gaol.'

One is glad enough to leave the remains of
Robert's place of arms — as glad as Matilda may
have been when ' they let her down at night
from the tower with ropes, and she stole out,
and went on foot to Wallingford.' Robert
seems at first to have made the natural use of
his strength. ' Rich he was, and spared not
rich or poor, to take their livelihood away, and
to lay up treasures for himself.' He stole the



lands of the monks of Abingdon, but of what
service were moats, and walls, and dungeons,
and instruments of torture, against the powers
that side with monks ?

The Chronicle of Abingdon has a very-
diverting account of Robert's punishment and
conversion. ' He filched a certain field without
the walls of Oxford that of right belonged to the
monastery, and gave it over to the soldiers in
the castle. For which loss the brethren were
greatly grieved — the brethren of Abingdon.
Therefore, they gathered in a body before the
altar of St. Michael — the very altar that St.
Dunstan the archbishop dedicated — and cast
themselves weeping on the ground, accusing
Robert D'Oily, and praying that his robbery
of the monastery might be avenged, or that he
might be led to make atonement.' So, in a dream,
Robert saw himself taken before Our Lady by
two brethren of Abingdon, and thence carried
into the very meadow he had coveted, where
*most nasty little boys,' turpissimi pueri^


"The 'Town before the University

worked their will on him. Thereon Robert
was terrified and cried out, and wakened
his wife, who took advantage of his fears,
and compelled him to make restitution to the

After this vision, Robert gave himself up to
pampering the monastery and performing other
good works. He it was who built a bridge
over the Isis, and he restored the many ruined
parish churches in Oxford — churches which,
perhaps, he and his men had helped to ruin.
The tower of St. Michael's, in ' the Corn,' is said
to be of his building ; perhaps he only ' re-
stored ' it, for it is in the true primitive style —
gaunt, unadorned, with round-headed windows,
good for shooting from with the bow. St.
Michael's was not only a church, but a watch-
tower of the city wall ; and here the old north-
gate, called Bocardo, spanned the street. The
rooms above the gate were used till within quite
recent times, and the poor inmates used to let
down a greasy old hat from the window in front



of the passers-by, and cry, ' Pity the Bocardo

birds ' :

' Pigons qui sont en I'essoine,
Enserrez soubz trappe voliere,'

as a famous Paris student, Fran9ois Villon,
would have called them. Of Bocardo no trace
remains, but St. Michael's is likely to last as
long as any edifice in Oxford. Our illustrations
represent it as it was in the last century. The
houses huddle up to the church, and hide the
lines of the tower. Now it stands out clear,
less picturesque than it was in the time of
Bocardo prison. Within the last two years the
windows have been cleared, and the curious and
most archaic pillars, shaped like balustrades,
may be examined. It is worth while to climb
the tower and remember the times when arrows
were sent like hail from the narrow windows on
the foes who approached Oxford from the north,
while prayers for their confusion were read in
the church below.

That old Oxford of war was also a trading


T^he Town before the University

town. Nothing more than the fact that it was
a favourite seat of the Jews is needed to prove
its commercial prosperity. The Jews, however,
demand a longer notice in connection with the
still unborn University. Meanwhile, it may be re-
marked that Oxford trade made good use of the
river. The Abijigdon Chronicle (ii. 129) tells us
that 'from each barque of Oxford city, which makes
the passage by the river Thames past Abingdon,
a hundred herrings must yearly be paid to the
cellarer. The citizens had much litigation about
land and houses with the abbey, and one Roger
Maledoctus (perhaps a very early sample of the
pass -man) gave Abingdon tenements within
the city.' Thus we leave the pre-Academic
Oxford a flourishing town, with merchants and
moneylenders. As for the religious, the brethren

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