Although the center of Oxford is not large, plenty of time should be allowed for a visit, since there are so many things to see. The main features, of course, are the 40 colleges, which as a rule are only accessible to visitors during the afternoon in term-time. Ever since the 13th century college buildings have been set out around a quadrangle, subsequently around several inner courtyards, with a gate which could be locked when necessary. They included a chapel, dining-hall, library and rooms for the students and their tutors, so that each college formed an autonomous body.
The four principal streets of Oxford meet at the intersection known as Carfax, which makes a good starting point for a tour. The 14th century "Carfax Tower", which is a relic of St Martin's Church (now destroyed), has a good view. Going south down St Aldate's Street, past the Town Hall, we come to St Aldate's Church, which dates from about 1318 but has been much altered.
Beyond St Aldate's Church on the right-hand side is Pembroke College, which was founded in 1624, although its origins date back to 1446. It is now housed in neo-Gothic buildings which date from the 19th century. The critic and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) was a student here in 1728-29.
The Christ Church in Oxford is one of the largest colleges at Oxford. It is famous for its huge bell which peals 101 every evening at a particular time.
Merton College is the oldest college still in existence. It was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Chancellor of England and later Bishop of Rochester. Unlike other colleges, it was intended in the first place for secular students. The Chapel consists of a choir of 1277 and a large antechapel of 1414; the tower was added in 1481. Most of the windows of the choir have their original glass (there is a particularly fine Virgin and Child in the east window). The brass lectern of about 1500 is another notable feature.Distinguished members of Merton College have included the politician, Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-94), poet T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) and Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), the English writer and artist.
From the front range of buildings a passage leads under the Treasury into the attractive "Mob Quad" (about 1380). The 14th century library in this quadrangle is the oldest in England still in use, with many historic books.
Merton Street leads into the splendid High Street, a busy street lined with magnificent buildings. It was described by Wordsworth in a sonnet, and the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64) called it "the finest street in England.
Founded in 1458, Magdalen College is located on the Oxford High Street.
Not far to the east of Hertford College is the fortress-like New College, which in spite of its name is not new, having been founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. Until 1854 only students from Winchester were admitted. The chapel was one of the first examples of the Perpendicular style. The stained glass is mostly 14th century, an exception being the large window in the antechapel, which was painted in 1787 from designs by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Other notable features are the statue of Lazarus by Epstein and memorials to three German members of the college who fell in the war. The choir stalls have the original 14th century misericords. Choral evensong in the chapel is an occasion not to be missed if opportunity offers. The high hall has fine linenfold paneling. The cloisters, with wood vaulting, and the detached bell-tower date from the 14th century. The beautiful gardens (1711) are bounded on two sides by the old town walls.
From New College returning along New College Road and turning into Parks Road, we come to Wadham College, little changed since its foundation in 1610. The hall ranks as one of the finest in Oxford, the chapel has good stained glass and the gardens are particularly beautiful. Famous members of Wadham have included Admiral Blake (1599-1657), Admiral of the Fleet under Oliver Cromwell from 1649, and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of many churches and castles.Wadham College is the founding place of the scientific group of minds known as the Royal Society.
In Turl Street is Exeter College, founded by Walter de Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, in 1314. The college today is characterized by much later building in the Victorian style.
Opposite Exeter College is Jesus College, founded by Elizabeth I in 1571, which has traditionally had a high proportion of students from Wales. The rear quadrangle (1670) is particularly fine. Members of Jesus College have included the former prime minister, Harold Wilson, the adventurer, Lawrence of Arabia, the dandy, "Beau" Nash, and the chemist, Thomas Vaughan.
South of Jesus College is Lincoln College, which was founded in 1427 by Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln, "to defend the true faith". The north quadrangle dates from the period of the original foundation. The chapel, with its numerous wood-carvings, is also of interest. A famous past student was the Methodist preacher, John Wesley (1703-91).
Facing Broad Street is Kettell Hall (about 1620). Its beautiful chapel (1691-94), probably by Dean Aldrich, has fine wood-carvings in the style of Grinling Gibbons.
The building of Balliol College, situated next to Trinity College, was undertaken in 1263 by John de Balliol, as a penance for having taken the Bishop of Durham prisoner, the foundation of the college being secured with the help of bequests from his wife in 1282. The present buildings are however 19th century. The library has an outstanding collection of medieval manuscripts. Balliol is traditionally preferred by Scottish students.Distinguished members of the college have included John Wycliffe, who taught here in 1361; Adam Smith (1723-90), the philosopher and economist, who founded classical political economy; Robert Southey (1774-1843), Poet Laureate, who produced over 100 volumes of poems and ballads; Charles Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909), a poet of epics and ballads; and more recently, the prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, King Olaf of Norway and the novelist Graham Greene (b. 1904).
A cross in St Giles Street marks the spot where the reformers Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burned at the stake. They are also commemorated by the Martyrs' Memorial (by Sir George Gilbert Scott, 1841). Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, and Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, were martyred on October 16th 1555 and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, on March 21st 1556. Cranmer was examined from September 1555 to February 1556 in the hall of the Divinity School.
St John's College
In St Giles, the wide handsome street which runs north from the Martyrs' Memorial, is St John's College, founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas White, a wealthy merchant who was Lord Mayor of London in 1553. Part of the buildings actually consists of the remains of St Bernard's College, a Cistercian establishment built in 1437. The chapel contains the tomb of Archbishop Laud (beheaded 1645), who was member and later master of the college. A fan-vaulted passage leads into Canterbury Quadrangle, mainly built by Laud (1631-36), with attractive colonnades. The gardens are among the most beautiful in Oxford.Famous members of St John's College include the U.S. foreign minister Dean Rusk and the writer Robert Graves.
From St John's College farther along St Giles are Regent's Park College (Baptist) and St Benet's Hall (Benedictine). To the right, in Museum Road, is Rhodes House, headquarters of the Rhodes Trust, founded under the will of the South African statesman Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), which grants some 200 scholarships to Commonwealth and foreign students.
The Oxford University Museum, built in 1855-60 under Ruskin's direction, contains a number of interesting collections, including geological, mineralogical and zoological sections which contain work by Darwin, Burchell and Hope.
Address: Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PP, England
Opening hours: Jan 1 to Dec 31: 10am-5pm
Always closed on: Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Christmas Eve - Christian (Dec 24), Day after Christmas, St Stephen's Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26), Easter - Christian
Entrance fee: FREE
Disability Access: Partial facilities for persons with disabilities.
St Catherine's College
A pretty bridge over the River Cherwell leads from Manor Road to St Catherine's College, built in 1960-64 on part of Holywell Great Meadow.
From the end of South Parks Road there is a pleasant walk along the Cherwell past Parson's Pleasure to a path called Mesopotamia which leads to Magdalen Bridge.
The Ashmolean Museum, founded in 1683, is the most important of the four university museums and is the oldest museum in the country. The neo-Classical building, which was designed by C. R. Rockerell, houses a magnificent collection of art and antiquities, including classical sculpture, Far Eastern art, Greek and Roman pottery and a valuable collection of jewelry.
Address: Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH, England
Opening hours: Jan 1 to Dec 31: 10am-5pm; Sun: 12pm-5pm; Closed: Mon
Always opened on: Spring Bank Holiday - Britain (last Monday, May), Summer Bank Holiday - Britain outside Scotland (last Monday, Aug)
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Day after Christmas, St Stephen's Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26), Christmas Eve - Christian (Dec 24), Easter - Christian
Entrance fee: FREE
Useful tips: Voluntary entry charge.
Disability Access: Full facilities for persons with disabilities.
Guides: Interpretive sessions sometimes available.
Facilities: Gift shop
Worcester College, at the end of Beaumont Street, was founded in 1714. It incorporates parts of Gloucester College, which was founded for Benedictine students in 1283. On the south side of the college site there are six 15th century cottages, and there are three other cottages on the north side. The college gardens are some of the largest in Oxford and contain a lake.
Cornmarket Street, commonly known as the "Corn", is Oxford's busiest shopping street. The former Crew Inn, where Shakespeare is said to have stayed on the journey between Stratford and London, now contains the offices of the Oxford Preservation Trust.
St Michael's Church
On the right-hand side of Cornmarket Street is St Michael's Church, with a Saxon, or possibly early Norman tower.
Until 1993, when men were finally admitted, Somerville College on Walton Street had been exclusively a women's college since its inception in 1894. Its list of famous members includes Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, the writer Dorothy Sayers, the Nobel prizewinner for chemistry, Dorothy Hadgkin, and the soprano Kiri te Kanawa.
Map of Oxford Attractions