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THE HISTORY OF OXFORD (I)

From early times to the eighth century

 

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The charm of Oxford is unforgettable. It is the world of Alice in Wonderland and Hogwarts Hall in the Harry Potter film. The city has a long history, largely but not exclusively, due to the University. The city itself is, in its own right, a "wonderland" and it takes only a few moments for the tourist to become immersed in its magical atmosphere.



Prehistory

The fossils and rocks in the surrounding hills reveal that the area was at one time completely covered by the sea. Specimens of fossils of marine creatures found there are on display in the Oxford City Council's Museum of Oxford. Archaeological finds clearly reveal the attraction of Oxford for ancient civilisations. Evidence of a Bronze Age settlement is to be found in Port Meadow, where ring formations reveal a burial mound. Barrows have been found on the University grounds, in St Thomas Street evidence has been found dating from the Beaker period and in the Ashmolean Museum there are exhibits of Neolithic flint arrowheads also found on the University grounds. Evidence from the Roman period has been unearthed on the Churchill Hospital site, mainly in the form of pottery kilns, also on exhibit in the Museum of Oxford.

It is quite clear, therefore, that archaeology reveals that well before the appearance of the first written documents relating to Oxford there had already been bustling settlements in and around the city.

 

City of Oxford Broad Street
City of Oxford Broad Street

 

The humble beginnings of a community

By the first half of the 7th century Christianity arrived to the surrounding areas but no evidence from this period has been discovered to confirm the existence of a town where Oxford now stands. It is thought that it was with the foundation of a monastery in the 8th century, linked to the historical figure of St Frideswide that we have the first indications of a town in the area. The monastery, probably located on the site of Christ Church, was destroyed by fire but rebuilt in 1122 as an Augustinian Priory. The discovery of a cemetery in Christ Church tends to confirm the existence of this early monastery and therefore the humble beginnings of a small community. Where the original "ford" was located, from which the name of the city derives, is the subject of some speculation although recent evidence tends to indicate the ford at North Hinksey as the most probable spot.

RJW


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latest update: 1/12/04