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  Themes Homepage > Oxford
From source to sea

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Oxford and the Thames have shared at least a thousand years of well recorded history. Although the area had been inhabited since the Stone Age, its growth really began during the Saxon period, with major fortifications in 911.

Oxford was well established as a centre of learning by the beginning of the 13th century, and so tutors, students and their families have travelled upstream for hundreds of years to reach the colleges.

A traditional pursuit at Oxford is punting. For those of you who have punted at Cambridge, remember that poling is not done at Oxford from the raised platform, which is only found at the bow.
Punting at Oxford
Punting at Oxford
Map of Thames from Oxford to Iffley
Map of Thames from Oxford to Iffley
Water, water, everywhere
Oxford is served by a number of waterways, each running roughly north to south through the town. On the west is the navigable river Thames, and to the east of this is a branch of the Thames known as Mill Stream, but sometimes refered to as the Old Navigation. Further east is the Oxford Canal, and finally the river Cherwell.

Henry Taunt (1842-1922), a well known Oxford photographer, published a guide book, "A New Map of the River Thames from Oxford to London" in 1873 from which the page on the left is reproduced.
Oxford Castle
The branch of the Thames known now known as Mill Stream was of strategic importance in Norman times. Robert D'Oilly built a castle here in 1071. The castle keep and wall have long since gone, but one of the towers, St George's Tower, remains.

It is said that Empress Maud, grand-daughter of William the Conqueror, was beseiged at Oxford Castle sometime around 1145 by the army of King Stephen. Clad in ghostly white cloaks, she, and three trusty knights, lowered themselves from the castle walls, crossed the frozen river in the dead of night, and escaped to Abingdon.
Remains of Oxford Castle
Remains of Oxford Castle
Oxford Castle, Castle Mill
Oxford Castle, Castle Mill
The King's Mill
There may have been a saxon mill on the river-bank, long before the norman Castle was built. Its importance is recorded in "The Thames Highway, a history of the locks and weirs", by Fred. S. Thacker, published in 1920. Thacker prints an extract from the records of the city of Oxford stating that :-

"At a Council holden the 24th of June 1545, it was agreed that a certain lock lately erected and called 'Ruly mydell lokk' shall be stopped up so that .... (it) ... shall not turn water from the King's (Castle) mill of the city of Oxford."
Osney Lock
Just north of Oxford is Osney Lock. The mill next to the lock has a perpendicular window which once belonged to Osney Abbey. The erection of Osney, or Ousenay Abbey began in 1129, with a donation from Robert D'Orly, who was also responsible for Oxford Castle.

Legend has it that his wife, Edith, observed magpies chattering on a certain tree, as though they were speaking to her. She was told that they were poor souls in purgatory that were entreating some good of her. For their relief, work on the abbey began. The confessor, who had convinced her of the story, became the Abbot.

All who contributed something towards the building were entitled to "forty days' indulgence and forgiveness from sin". As a result, the Abbey became immensely wealthy.
Osney Lock
Osney Lock
Folly Bridge
Folly Bridge
Folly Bridge
This lantern slide, taken from a series by W.Parker in 1911, shows Folly Bridge and Salters Boat House close to the south of the city centre. The steamboat was one of those which carried passengers to and from Kingston.

Folly Bridge was known as Grand Pont in Tudor times, and its modern name has an interesting history. The tower, which stood on the bridge, had long been known as "Friar Bacon's Study." The city leased it to a citizen called "Welcome,", who added a story. This was known by neighbours as "Welcome's Folly," and the bridge acquired a new title of "Folly Bridge."
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  Themes Homepage > Oxford
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