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Oxford Illustrated. ****


"<:lll!l l-liillllil l:!llll::r


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& f HE name of Oxford is accepted as proof of its
I very great antiquity ; it. being the Celtic form

^1 of Ousen-ford, the ford across the water, as
in Ousen-ey, or Oseney, intimating the
existence of an Island. The later name of Oxna-ford
(though an early one), like the Ox-ford of to-day, is a
departure from its original intention, though not by
any means inappropriate, and is in agreement with the
Arms of the City, in which appears the ox crossing the
ford. For two centuries, between 626 and 827,
Oxfordshire had been a frontier country between the
West Saxons and the Mercians, and Oxford, itself a
ville on the border of the Thames, the natural
boundary-line between the two great kingdoms, had
been the constant scene of struggle, and had belonged
alternately to Mercia and Wessex. In the year 827
Egbert of Wessex, having brought Mercia under his
sway, consolidated his power, and Oxford being no
longer a frontier town had peace and made rapid

During these two centuries great and important
events had been in progress at Dorchester, within eight
miles of Oxford ; events which must have exercised
great influence amongst the inhabitants of this district.
It is at this early date that the religious life of the
diocese of Oxford begins. Quoting from Beda's
Ecclesiastical History, we find " that in the reign of
King Cynegils, in the year 634, the West Saxons were
visited by Birinus, who expressed in the presence of
Pope Honorius his intention to ' scatter the seeds of the
faith ' in the remote districts where no preacher of the
truth had been before. When he came into Britain he
first visited the West Saxons, and found them the most
utter pagans. Having determined to attempt their
conversion he was soon after rewarded by the conver-
sion of the King, and subsequently his people. At the
baptism of Cynegils, Oswald, the King of the Northum-
brians, acted as his godfather, and together they made
a gift to Birinus of the City of Dorcis, that it might
become the seat of a bishopric. Other royal baptisms
followed in those of King Cuthred and King Cwichelm,
the son of Cynegils." Birinus died in 650, and was

I \ ^i K. O O


buried at Dorchester. The influence and extent of this
diocese continued to increase so rapidly under the
successors of Birinus that in 673, on September 24th,
we find a Council was held by Archbishop Theodore at
Hertford, at which " all the Anglo-Saxon bishops were
present, except Bishop Wini," who had been expelled
from the bishopric of Dorchester for simony ; and in
705, upon the death of Bishop Heddi, it was finally
determined, " by a Council of the Fathers of the Church
and the Kings," that the " great " diocese of Wessex
was too large to be governed by a simple bishop, and
Oxfordshire was -accordingly assigned to the See of
Winchester. The influence of these stirring events
must have been greatly -felt at Oxford, and probably
had a direct influence upon the establishment of the
" religious house," founded by St. Frideswide, who died
in 740. Although both monasteries and nunneries
existed in England earlier than this date there is reason
to believe none existed in this district until the
foundation of St. Frideswide's Nunnery, about 727 ; as
an old document, which shows how the church (now the
cathedral) was re-built in 1004, gives the following
narrative of the original foundation of the religious
house. One Didarus, " King of Oxford," gives the
site to his daughter, St. Frideswide, the most holy
virgin, and raises there a nunnery for her. William of
Malmesbury supplements this account by a story of
Frideswide being sought in marriage by a king, named
Algar, whose suit she rejected, dedicating her virginity
to Christ. Finding her lover importunate she flies into
the wilds of Oxford, and when he still follows her
strikes him with blindness, but on his repentance gives

him his sight again. Falkner, in his History of
Oxfordshire, says: " There is nothing improbable
either in there being one Dida, a sub-king of the
Oxfordshire district at this time, or in his building
there a nunnery for his daughter, and St. Frideswide's
Nunnery may be thus considered to date from early in
the Eighth Century."

This house was re-placed by a foundation for secular
canons, and in 1004 some " inns " were provided by
the King for those who sought the benefit of their
learning and piety. In these "inns," afterwards
" halls," we may reasonably suppose we get the earliest
glimpse of the future student life of Oxford, although
it did not aspire to the collegiate life until some cen-
turies later, when in 1264 Walter de Merton transferred
his scholars from Maiden in Surrey, and made his head-
quarters at Oxford, thus establishing Merton College ;
his students being the first to live together in one
building for the purpose of removing them from the
evil influences of the crowded town. Falkner in his
later researches makes the transfer of students to be
in 1294.

The Saxon Mound.

ONE of the most striking features of ancient Oxford,
and one also that cannot fail to attract the
attention of any person in visiting the City-
to-day, is that extraordinary Mound which is passed
in the New Ro<ad, upon approaching the City from the
railway stations. The Castle, under whose shadow

Photo by Hills & Saunders, Oxford.

Cornmarket Street.


so to speak the Mound lies, is said to have been the
first stone building of any importance that Oxford had
seen, but this Mound, green and fresh as ever to-day,
must have been in existence nearly two centuries before
the erection of this Castle, in the reign of William the
Conqueror. It is reputed to have been raised by
^thelflaeda, Lady of the Mercians, who had " built a
castle " at Oxford about 910, and although Saxon stone
work is knoijvn to have been erected occasionally during
the previous century, history seems to substantiate the
conclusion that this Mound \\ as the "Castle" referred
to as built by the Lady of the Mercians. As strongly
supporting this view we fid the following passages in
CasselTs History of England, " In 910, the war
between the two races (Saxons and Danes) broke out
once more, and lasted with brief intermission, for ten
years ; when the Danes, finding they were losing
ground, sued for peace. Those who inhabited Mercia
were the first to submit. . . . Edward, the King
(who was the son of Alfred the Great) was materially
assisted in these struggles by his warlike sister, Elfleda,
the widow of the Earl of Mercia, who despite her sex,
appears to have delighted in war. Aided by her
brother's troops, she attacked the Welsh, who had
sided with the Danes, and obliged them to pay tribute
to her." We may therefore justly conclude that this
warlike princess, immediately upon the renewal of the
war, hurriedly raised this Mound for defensive purposes,
which with its artificial defences, probably consisting
of earthworks and ditches surrounding it, excepting

on the north-west side which was protected by river,
must have been at that date a very strong defensive
fort. Nearly at the summit of the Mound is the
entrance to a well-room, made in the reign of Henry
II., during the latter half of the twelfth century. This
also is in good state of preservation at the present day ;
it is said to have a depth of 82 feet, the sides being of
stones well fitted together, and although without water
now, within living memory water was had from the
well ; the disappearance being caused by the sanitary
drainage system of the City about 40 years since.

There is every reason to conjecture that for many
years previous to the date of the erection of this Mound
the Saxon Kings had a Royal Residence here, within
the precincts of the present gaol. Some early portions
of the Saxon Chronicle were undoubtedly written during
the reign of Alfred the Great, as it becomes very full of
detail in regard to his wars with the Danes, which
would give the date as the close of the Ninth Century
Alfred's death being in 901. The first historical
mention of Oxford is from this Chronicle in the year
912, " King Edward took possession of London and
Oxford," after which there are several references to
the births and deaths of Saxon Kings and Princes
taking place here, and also to several " gemots " or
Councils of the nation being held at Oxford up to 1065,
the year before the Norman Conquest. Dr. Ingram,
states that Oxford was for some time the Metropolis
of the Mercian district, and favourite seat of the Saxon
monarchs, as it was afterwards of the Danes.

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The Norman Castle.

THE Castle adjoining, the building of which was
commenced in 1071, is undoubtedly one of the
oldest of the Norman building's in England, as
its building commenced within five years of the
Normans landing in Sussex, and during those eight
centuries this uncouth block of masonry has stood
unchanged frowning upon the City. Having now
reached the age at which records were kept by the
monkish historians we emerge from legend and myth,
and find our authorities in historical records, or so-
called " chronicles." It is extremely interesting to note
how the monkish historians mix up legends with facts,
exhibiting their superstitious fears. At this date Robert
D'Oyly was appointed " Constabularius " of Oxford by
William the Conqueror. His first precaution in these
troublous times, with the Norman hold on the country
so insecure, was to establish himself firmly on a defen-
sive base ; and he therefore immediately set to work
to strengthen the already existing Mercian's fortress by
a series of castles six of which he is said to have
built to complete his fortress ; the Castle now standing
being one of the Bastion Towers commanding the
western approach to the town. The Chronicle of the
Abingdon Monastery and also of Osney Abbey give a
good deal of attention to D'Oyly, who is the principal
figure in the history of Oxfordshire at this date. He
is said to have raised money for building principally
from the Church, which surmise seems to be justified
by the abuse of the monkish historians. An interesting
instance of this is worth copying from the Chronicles

of Abingdon, " In his (Robert D'Oyly's) lust of money
he harried the churches everywhere, but especially the
Abbey of Abingdon ; to wit, tie took away their posses-
sions, and sued them constantly at law, and sometimes
put them at the mercy of the King. Amongst other
evil deeds, he took aw r ay a certain mead that lay
outside the walls of Oxford with the King's consent,
and made it over to the soldiers of the Castle for their
use. This loss grieved the brethren of Abingdon more
than any other evil." But soon after, when his position
had become secure, he became a benefactor instead of
a persecutor, and built churches, and thus secured their
good will. The Chronicle continues: " This happy
change was in answer to the monk's prayers, who
prayed for an illness to correct him ; and to an evil
dream in which he saw himself arrainged before the
Blessed Virgin and tormented with imps. As before
that dream he was a plunderer of churches and of the
poor, so after it he was made a repairer of churches
and a helper of the poor, and a doer of many good
works." The Castle commanding the waterway was
of special Importance in those early days in consequence
of the badness of the roads, waterway being used
wherever possible. After D'Oyly's evil dream he went
by water to Abingdon to make reparation, and the
monks afterwards made a profit by blocking the main
stream, and exacting a toll of 100 herrings from each
boat, using another channel which passed the Abbey,
and which they kept open.

The defensive powers of this Castle were strikingly
shewn in the following century when, in 1141, Maud,
being driven from London, took refuge in Oxford

Photo by Hills & Sounders, Oxford.

Broad Street.


Castle, which was given up to her by the younger
Robert D'Oyly, nephew of the builder. King Stephen
pursued to Oxford, and besieged the Castle, which was
successfully defended for ten weeks, after which, the
food giving out, surrender took place ; Maud having
escaped the night before the surrender. A vivid
description of the escape is given by Falkner in his
History of Oxfordshire, from which the following
extract is taken: " There was a severe frost, the river
and flooded meadows were hard frozen, and deep snow
had fallen afterwards and covered everything. In the
dead of night, Maud, with one or two attendant
knights, slipped out of a postern, and being all of them
clothed in white, they escaped the notice of the outposts
as they crossed the snow. The surroundings seem
strangely familiar, and it requires no great effort of
imagination to picture the wintry scene, the level
mantle of sparkling snow, the frozen river and ditches,
and perhaps a searching wind sweeping over the levels
of the Thames Valley as pitilessly as it does to-day.
The little party made their way on foot across the
marshes to Bagley Hill, and climbing it came down on
Abingdon, where they found horses to carry them to
Wallingford." At a recent visit to the Castle the
writer found that the top is now reached by 100 stone
steps (stone, with wooden casings to each) ; at the top
are six doorways, where the besieged could build out
w r ooden protected battlements for defensive purposes,
such as pouring boiling pitch or oil on to the assailants.
At the basement the walls are 9 feet 3 inches in thick-
ness. The other five towers were demolished about

Domesday Survey.

AT the time of this Survey, in 1085, which was made
for purposes of taxation, Oxford was in a
grievous state of disrepair and dilapidation.
Before the Conquest, in the reign of Edward the
Confessor, there were recorded 721 houses in Oxford,
but at Domesday only 243 of these remained inhabited
478 being returned as vast<z, i.e., unoccupied or
destroyed. Its extent probably corresponded with the
line of walls afterwards built in the reign of Henry
III. ; the western wall reaching to> the Castle and river,
on the east to the end of New College Gardens, on the
south running along the back of Merton College
Gardens, crossing St. Aldates, just below y Christ
Church Gateway, with the south portion of Pembroke
College built upon the wall ; and the north wall crossing
Corn Market Street at St. Michael's Church between
the houses of Ship Street and Broad Street, across the
Quadrangle of the Old Schools until it joined with the
Tower of New College. The City was divided then as
it is to-day by the two great cross roads, the point
of crossing being known as Quatrevoies or Carfax of
the present date.

The last entry of Oxford in Domesday is very
interesting, being that " all burgers of Oxford have
common pasture outside the walls, returning six
shillings and eight pence." This common pasture is
the present Port Meadow of 439 acres. Falkner says:
" It is very remarkable that this great tract of common
land should have escaped the hands of land-grabbers
for 800 years, and be still serving the same purpose


to-day as it did in the time of the Conqueror ; even
Robert D'Oyly, who was so prone to annex meadows,
laid no hand upon it."

The King's dues from Oxford at this time are also
shown to have increased to ^60 ; having been in the
time of Edward 20 and nine pints of honey. He also
had a claim on the City for twenty burghers when
wanted, or a further payment of 20 from the City
as an exemption of all citizens from service.

The Ancient Churches
of the City.

AT Quatrevoies it is generally acknowledged the first
parish church was built. The Chronicles of
Abingdon Abbey has record of its building in the
year 1034, and makes Cnut its founder. Domesday
does not enumerate all the churches in Oxford, but
mentions several others, St. Mary the Virgin, St.
Michael, St. Ebbe, St. Peter, and St. Frideswide.
Some of these churches were in a very bad state at this
date, as the Chronicle goes on to say that Robert
D'Oyly on his recovery from a dangerous sickness
" evinced his penitence by re-building at his own costs
the parochial churches which were in ruins both within
and on the outside of the walls of Oxford." The St.
Michael's Church referred to stood at the north gate,
but a second St. Michael's was standing at the south
gate, which was pulled down upon the building of

Christ Church in the Sixteenth Century ; a second, St.
Peter's (known as " le Bailey "), stood near the west
gate, which has been removed within living memory.
St. Mary Magdalen Church is also said to have been
built by D'Oyly, but it was outside the walls of the
City ; the same remark also applies to the Church of
Holy well, the chancel arch of which is very early, and
the Manor of Holywell being held by him it may very
possibly be attributed to his foundation, although some
authorities differ in this. It is important to
note that St. Aldate's Church is said to have
been restored in the year 1004, the authority
being Ingram, in his " Memorials of Oxford."
The reason why it was not mentioned in Domesday
probably being that it was then attached to St.
Frideswide. Some of the stone seats or arched stalls
were discovered early in the Nineteenth Century, having
been hidden away behind the panel-work. Coming a
little later we find the lower part of the tower of St.
Giles' Church, also outside the north gate of the City,
dated about 1120, whilst the chancel and nave are one
hundred years later, at which date we lose the Norman
characteristic work, and enter into the Early English
style. This merging of the Norman into the Tran-
sitional period is distinctly shown both in St. Giles'
Church and in the Chapter House of the Cathedral ;
where, although the entrance is a good example of
Norman doorway, the interior is Early English. We
shall later treat of the modern churches in the City,
recognising this as a fitting time to close the period
that may fairly be described as " ancient."


Osney Abbey. &

THIS Abbey, dating from the same early period,
cannot be omitted from any history of Oxford.
It must have had a very imposing appearance,
and grew to be very wealthy, it being described as
" the envy of all other religious houses in England and
beyond the seas." In 1129 it was built by D'Oyly the
younger in a modest style, but being re-built in the
following century it increased so greatly in its grandeur
that it was often made the abiding place of the royal
visitors to the city. It fell into use as a prison in the
days of Wolsey, students being confined there for
reading the Bible. Marshall in his Diocesan
Histories, speaking of the Abbey in its early days, says
that " the estates belonging to it had been returned at
the annual value of ^654 IDS. 2d.," equal to about
twelve times the same value at present day. The
Abbey stood at a short distance from the west end of
St. Thomas's Church, and had a chapel of such
grandeur and size as to be selected in 1542 for the
Cathedral Church of Oxford. It is described in an old
document as " a more than ordinary excellent fabrick,
and not only was it the admiration of the neighbours,
but foreigners that came to the University for the
architecture, which was so exquisite and full of variety
of workmanship, as carvings, cuttings, pinnacles,
towers, etc., was so taking that out-landers were
invited to come over and take draughts of it.
Nor was it inside less admirable, the walls being
adorned with rich hangings, the windows with awful

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