Find a Hotel

Oxford History!

The origins of Oxford are not actually known with any certainty, being as they are, shrouded in the mists of time, but various ideas have been submitted (and disputed) regarding its genealogy. Medieval historian, John Rous wrote in his 1490 work, 'Historium Regum Angliae', that Oxford was originally King Mempricius' city, Caer-Memre, built on the River Thames somewhere between 1400 and 1500 BC. However, other historians from Rous' time were more inclined to support the popular legend that Oxford was in fact founded by the Trojans, after they landed on British soil in around 1100 BC.

Archaeological Evidence
Whilst there may be no definite historical basis for John Rous' claims or for the Trojan story, there is some evidence of a settlement in Oxford possibly as early as 4000 BC. Archaeological finds of Neolithic arrowheads and other remains from that period have been discovered in the city, and although no specific or more detailed evidence exists of an actual settlement at this time, it is known that a large Neolithic population once resided in Oxford. In addition, a more permanent settlement between 2000 and 700 BC is suggested by evidence of Bronze Age barrows in the area. Oxford in the time of the British Roman invasion appears to have been largely ignored by its conquerers. In fact, records show (or rather they don't) that there was no town of 'Oxford' in Roman times, although evidence of villas in the surrounding countryside does exist, together with a temple at nearby Woodeaton. Instead, Brittania's new leaders favoured Colchester, London (Londinium) and Chester, making Colchester their first capital of the new province, swiftly followed by London (once they realised the strategic importance of the River Thames).

Industrial Centre
Whilst Oxford has certainly not been recorded as being the centre of any importance during Roman times, evidence does exist of pottery kilns in the city and surrounding areas which may have supplied earthenware vessels to the new rulers of the realm. This is further supported by number of probable kiln sites unearthed in the region - at Woodperry, south of Stow Wood, Marston, Iffley, Littlemore, Kennington, and Headington (Churchill Hospital) - no doubt taking full advantage of the city's rich clay beds. Add to this the fact that Oxford was (and is) of course very close to the important trading highway of the River Thames, plus the fuel readily available from the Headington and Cowley woodlands, and you can see how the city would have made an ideal location for Roman industry. Although there was no large-scale settlement in 'Oxford' at this time pottery making appears to have been widespread and prolific in the area. In fact, this industry is one of the earliest recorded in Oxford. Although Oxford (or Ohsnafordia, as it was known in Saxon times) wasn't really recognised by the Romans, in the Saxon age it began to assume a much greater importance within Britain. In the late Saxon period particularly, when it was positioned on a major trade route between the two powerful kingdoms of Mercia and King Alfred's Wessex, growth was high.

St. Frideswide
According to legend, St. Frideswide was born in around 650, daughter of Mercian King Didan, and was brought up to holiness by Algiva. When proffered (and refusing) the hand of King Algar (also a Mercian) she fled her homeland to settle in Oxford and there she built an abbey (where Christ Church stands today) - reportedly to preserve her virginity. And preserve her it did, for when King Algar followed her there and attempted to take both her and the abbey by force he was struck blind. Only St. Frideswide's later forgiveness restoring his lost vision. Long after her death in 735 and during the reign of Ethelred the Unready, the abbey was raised to the ground (in 1002) with Oxford's Danish population being blamed for the burning, and a large number of them were massacred (as part of the then King's desire to remove all Danes from England). It was later rebuilt as an Augustinian Priory, the cemetary of which has been excavated in Christ Church Meadow. St. Frideswide is now the patron Saint of Oxford City and the square just outside if the Railway Station (created as part of the Oxford Transport Strategy) has been named after her.

Alfred the Great
King of Wessex (871 - 899) and leader of the Saxon resistance to the onslaught of Danish Viking invaders, but probably better remembered by many for the legend of his lack of culinary skills. Legend also records King Alfred as responsible for founding Oxford University, not as unlikely as it may first appear. Certainly Alfred was responsible for the Saxon system of fortified towns (known as 'burhs') which were built in an attempt to keep the Danes at bay, and in 911 (after the time of King Alfred), Oxford became a burh itself. Under this new royal protection, its growth and importance only accellerated. This may have been why it was seemingly chosen as a site for a Royal Mint, as suggested by the evidence of coins from the period bearing the mark of 'Ohsnafordia'.

The Danes Revenge
During the uncertain reign of Ethelred the Unready, in 1009, the Danes sacked Oxford in retribution for the massacre of 1002 and just four years later the city, having increased in importance, was again forced to submit to Danish invasion by Swein Forkbeard and his armies. In fact, Oxford was viewed as so important during this period that Cannute (later to become king) chose the city for his coronation in 1018.