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Oxford Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Oxford

Oxford has played an important role in the history and development of Great Britain. Its architecture and cultural spots, that attract many tourists, belong to every major period in English history. This tour will guide you through Oxford's most interesting and beautiful attractions.
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Oxford Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Oxford Introduction Walk
Guide Location: England » Oxford (See other walking tours in Oxford)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: Linda
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
  • The Radcliffe Camera
  • Bodleian Library
  • Bridge of Sighs
  • Rhodes House
  • Oxford University Museum of Natural History
  • The Pitt Rivers Museum
  • University Parks
  • Cornmarket Street
  • Tom Tower
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Christ Church Meadow
  • Magdalen Bridge
  • University Of Oxford Botanical Garden
  • Magdalen College
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

1) University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (must see)

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the largest parish church in Oxford. It stands on High Street and is surrounded by colleges, which is why it is so popular with the students and professors.

The 1st church was built on this site in 1086 and when the University was founded in the 13th century, it was considered the university’s first building. In 1320 a two storey building was built on to the north side of the chancel; the ground floor was the University’s Convocation House and today it is the Vault Café. The upper floor became the University’s 1st library with books donated by Thomas Cobham.

The church’s Baroque porch was designed by Nicholas Stone. The 13th century tower affords excellent views and is open to the public. The steeple is reputed to be the most beautiful in England.

In 1555 the Oxford Martyrs were tried and condemned in the church. You will notice that a section of the pillar opposite the pulpit is missing. This was cut out to support a small platform where the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer stood when he withdrew his recantation of his Protestant faith, before being taken out and burnt at the stake.

At the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century’s most of the church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style and only the tower and spire remain untouched, except for the 12 statues – 11 of which were replaced in 1894 by George Frampton.

Into the 17th century the church was used for Graduation ceremonies, until the church officials got fed up with the very un-Christian parties held there following graduation, and had the Sheldonian Theatre built to host the ceremonies.
The Radcliffe Camera

2) The Radcliffe Camera (must see)

The Radcliffe Camera, despite its name, isn’t a camera in the technical term; it is the first circular library to be built in the United Kingdom. Camera is another term for a chamber.

John Radcliffe was a royal physician and when it was known that he intended to have a library built at the University to house his science collection, several of the colleges argued amongst themselves about which of them would be honored by the building.

In the end, none of them were; several terraced houses on Cattle Street, the Black Hall and some outbuildings from Brasenose College were demolished to make way for the library. Built in 1749 by James Gibbes in the English Palladian style, from the outside it appears to have three storeys. The ground floor is rusticated; the first floor is divided into bays separated by ten pairs of Corinthian columns. Above this is the lantern and lead-covered dome.

Inside the building, the first floor is actually an open gallery around the walls. There is a 2 meter-high statue of John Radcliffe, sculpted by John Rysbrack. In 1912 an underground archives room was created with a passage connecting it to the Bodleian Library.

There are over 600,000 books in the Radcliffe Camera, which is now a reading room belonging to the Bodleian Library and sadly is not open to the public.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Bodleian Library

3) Bodleian Library (must see)

The Bodleian Library is the main research library of Oxford University and if you are not a student, you can visit it on guided tours which should be booked in advance.

The Bodleian is one of the oldest reference libraries in Europe and one of the six legal deposit libraries in the UK, which means that a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom and Ireland is required by law to be deposited here.

The 1st library was founded by Thomas Cobham, the Bishop of Worcester, in the 14th century. It was a chained library – the books were chained to the shelves to stop people pinching them. In 1437 the Duke of Gloucester donated a vast number of manuscripts and the library became too small, so Duke Humphrey’s Library was built at Divinity School.

Over the years the library fell into disuse until 1598 when a Fellow of Merton College, Thomas Bodley, had the place renovated and enlarged to receive his collection of books. It reopened in 1602 and took its present-day name.

It was also Bodley who made an agreement with the Stationer’s Company in 1610 to put a copy of each of their books in the library. This agreement became the Deposit Law in the 19th century.

The library expanded in 1612 and 1637 and it became popular with Fellows to donate or bequeath their collections. The New Library was built in 1937 and a tunnel under Broad Street connects the Old and the New Bodleian.

The library holds a staggering 11 million books and other reading matter, 117 miles of shelves and 400 staff members. Among the ancient manuscripts there is a copy of the Magna Charta and the Song of Roland. It also houses one of the last copies of the Guttenberg Bible.
Bridge of Sighs

4) Bridge of Sighs (must see)

Unfortunately if you are not a student of Hertford College you won’t be able to cross the Bridge of Sighs, but you can certainly admire it from street level and add a photo of it to your collection of Oxford’s marvellous structures.

The real name of the bridge is the Hertford Bridge and it was built in 1914 by Sir Thomas Jackson. It took its popular name from the fact that it is supposed to look just like the bridge of the same name in Venice. Actually it resembles the Rialto Bridge more than anything else, but the Bridge of Sighs sounds more romantic.

The bridge is a fine example of the Quadrature of the Parabola, developed by Archimedes in the 3rd century BC – a rather difficult geometrical concept in that the area of a parabolic segment is 4/3 of a certain inscribed triangle. It all comes down to the triangle (top) of the bridge is supported by the arch (parabola) because they are of the same base length and height.

Leaving the Maths lesson behind us, the bridge is covered and glass panelled and links the college’s Old Quad with the New Quad. According to popular legend the college once closed the bridge to overweight students, forcing them to get some exercise by taking the long route from one building to another.
Rhodes House

5) Rhodes House

During your stay in Oxford do take time to visit Rhodes House which is part of the University and stands on South Park Street.

The house was built in 1928 by Sir Herbert Baker, who was commissioned by the Rhodes Trust to design a house for the Rhodes Trust Scholarships and as a memorial To Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes was a politician and the co-founder of the De Beers diamond company. He was an alumnus of the University and a generous benefactor.

The house is built in the Colonial style and resembles a mixture of an English country mansion and a Cape Dutch farmhouse. The circular entrance hall, called the Rotunda, has an oak-paneled gallery below the domed ceiling and a covered veranda.

Three of its magnificent rooms are rented out for business meetings, wedding receptions and private parties. The grandest of the rooms is the Milner Hall with its three black marble fireplaces, stone walls and beamed ceiling.

The Jameson Room has book-lined walls and a beautiful stone-mullioned bay window. The Beit Room is the smallest of the three and its windows overlook the courtyard garden on the east side of the house.

Rhodes House is also the home of the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies. It is a reference library that deals with the history and the economical, political and social current affairs of the Commonwealth, the offshore islands and South Africa.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Oxford University Museum of Natural History

6) Oxford University Museum of Natural History (must see)

A visit to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is a very interesting way of spending an afternoon.

The museum was founded in 1850, but had no building of its own and the natural history specimens were scattered all over the city in other museums. The museum’s building was constructed in 1860, commissioned by Sir Henry Acland and built by Benjamin Woodward and Thomas Dean.

The building is Neo-Gothic and very beautiful. The museum is housed in a large court with a glass roof that is supported by cast iron pillars. These pillars separate the court into three aisles. Around the ground and first floors there are secluded arcades with stone columns. The stone and iron columns are ornately decorated with branches and leaves. The many statues in the museum represent great scientists including Aristotle, Darwin, Bacon and Linnaeus.

The collections display zoological, entomological, paleontological, geological and mineralogical artifacts. There is a splendid collection of crabs brought to England by Charles Darwin. You will see fossils, dinosaurs and amazing insect specimens. The pride of the museum is the head and claw of the last Dodo.

Not long after the museum opened it was the venue of the “Great Debate” between the Bishop of Oxford and Thomas Huxley, a botanist and admirer of Darwin. The debate centered on the theory of evolution by natural selection versus religious belief and is one of the most famous debates in history.

Operation hours: Monday - Sunday 10 am – 5 pm.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Pitt Rivers Museum

7) The Pitt Rivers Museum (must see)

When you have finished visiting the Museum of Natural History, don’t leave without going to see the Pitt-Rivers Museum whose entrance is in the Natural History Museum.

This brilliant museum houses one of the best archaeology and anthropology collections in the world. It began with 20000 objects donated by Lieutenant General Pitt-Rivers on the understanding that archaeology and anthropology be taught at the University. All the museum staff are teachers of these two subjects.

The collection now has over half a million artifacts spread out on three storeys of wrought iron verandas. Most of these items were donated to the museum by travelers and missionaries and include handmade objects from ancient cultures.

The wonderful thing about this museum is that the items on display in wood and glass cases are arranged according to their use, instead of chronologically. This was Pitt-Rivers idea of how a museum should display its exhibits and it is a very good idea, because in this way you can plainly see the evolution of design and culture.

So you will see canoes in different stages of sophistication suspended from the ceiling, farming tools, trepanning tools that make you feel very lucky to have been born in the 20th century and other medical articles and items used in witchcraft, including a pickled slug that was used to cure warts.

Among the more amusing items is an antique Chinese opium pipe next to a modern “bong” made from a Coca-Cola bottle used for smoking marijuana, donated recently by students.

Opening hours: Monday- 12:00- 16.30; Tuesday to Sunday- 10.00 - 16.30 (and bank holiday Mondays);
Sight description based on wikipedia
University Parks

8) University Parks (must see)

If you want to spend an agreeable, relaxing afternoon away from visiting colleges and museums, you should head for the University Parks to the northeast of the town.

The University bought this large parkland little by little from Merton College between 1853 and 1864. At first it covered 91 acres, today some of the land has been taken up by the Science Area and the University Museum, so the parks now total 74 acres.

It comprises beautiful gardens, rare plants and sports fields. It lies mostly on the west bank of the River Cherwell, with an area known as Mesopotamia which lies between the upper and lower levels of the river.

The parks are bordered to the west by Parks Road, to the south by the Science Area and to the north by Northam Gardens. There are plenty of benches and lawns to relax on, and the winding paths are bicycle-free.

You can sit under the shade of one of the seven giant Sequoias or the Japanese Pagoda, which were all planted in 1888, or watch a cricket match on the only cricket ground in the UK that lets spectators watch free of charge. The cricket pavilion was built in 1881 by Sir Thomas Jackson.

There is a lovely duck pond with a small island in its centre and the High Bridge, also called the Rainbow Bridge, built in 1924. You can stroll through the Genetic Garden where you will learn about the evolution of plant-life. A small copse of trees called the Coronation Clump was planted in 1953 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne.
Cornmarket Street

9) Cornmarket Street

Cornmarket Street (aka Cornmarket or The Corn, for short) is a pedestrian thoroughfare in Oxford, sided by Carfax Tower in the north and Magdalen Street in the south. The street was pedestrianised in 1999. To the east it has the small Golden Cross arcade of small jewellery and craft shops in a historic courtyard, leading to the Covered Market. To the west is the indoor Clarendon Shopping Centre that connects to Queen Street. 26–28 Cornmarket is a 14th-century timber-framed building, surviving half of the New Inn completed in 1386. The largest department store in Oxford at 50 Cornmarket Street was established in 1738 by Boswells of Oxford. In 1928 the shop opened a new main entrance on Broad Street, but still retains an entrance on Cornmarket. The tower of the Church of England parish church of St Michael at the Northgate is the oldest building in Oxford. It is of Saxon origin and dates back to cc. 1000–1050. The church was named after the medieval gate of Oxford's city walls that spanned the north end of Cornmarket.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Tom Tower

10) Tom Tower

On your first evening in Oxford you will be surprised to hear a bell ringing out 101 times at five past nine. Something is strange here and the next morning you will seek out the source of this oddity, which is to be found in Tom Tower over Tom Gate, the main entrance of Christ Church.

The bell tower was designed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1532, but when the Cardinal fell from power the building remained unfinished. 150 years later Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to finish the tower and his designs kept to the original late Gothic style, even though it had been out of fashion for a long time.

The work was carried out by master stonemason, Christopher Kempster. The tower is square with an octagonal lantern topped by an ogee dome, which has been copied many times over the centuries.

The bell inside the tower is called Great Tom. It weighs over 7 tons and is 1.52 metres high and 2.13 metres across the base. It is unclear exactly when the bell was first cast, but early records name it Mary and until 1545 it hung in Osrey Abbey, when it was moved to St Fridewide’s Church and renamed Tom.

It was recast three times before it was moved to Tom Tower in 1682. The final recasting before its installation was carried out by Christopher Hodson.

As to the hour it chimes its 101 peal: Oxford time was once calculated five minutes after Greenwich Time. This isn’t unusual, as most towns had their own time, until 1848 when Railway Time was officially adopted based on Greenwich Time. The 101 peals were once a signal for the college’s original 101 students to return before the gates closed. It remains to this day a part of college tradition.
Christ Church Cathedral

11) Christ Church Cathedral (must see)

Christ Church Cathedral holds the rather unique position of being both a college chapel and the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford. Until the 20th century it was also the smallest cathedral in the United Kingdom.

Its history dates back to before the Norman Conquest when a shrine was built here in memory of St Frideswide, a much-persecuted 7th century priestess who seems to have spent most of her life guarding her chastity from the amorous attentions of King Algar, one of the kings of the Seven Kingdoms of Saxony.

By 1122 the cathedral was part of the St Frideswide Priory, but in 1520 the buildings and lands were confiscated by Cardinal Wolsey who wanted them to build Cardinal College. Five of the bays in the western part of the nave were demolished to build what is now Tom Quad, before Wolsey in his turn was ousted by King Henry VIII who had Christ Church College built on the foundations.

The rest of the cathedral was built in the Perpendicular, or English Gothic, style, with the five bays of the eastern part of the nave, the choir and the tower keeping the original Norman architecture.

The wonderful rose window is in the Botanical style of ten petals around the central glass. Other windows of note are the Becket Window dating back to 1320, which survived the Reformation and the Jonah Window, depicting the City of Nineveh, created in 1632.

The shrine of St Frideswide has been restored and it stands before a beautiful stained glass window with 16 panels that tell the story of her life. If you look closely at the 16th panel, you will see a water-closet, which certainly didn’t exist in the 8th century and is a give-away to the window’s Victorian creation.

The Cathedral Shop, where you can buy souvenirs, books and CD’s among other gift items, is housed in the 12th century Chapter House. While browsing the shelves, take a look at the vaulted ceiling, where you will see 13th century medallions depicting the Saints.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Christ Church Meadow

12) Christ Church Meadow (must see)

If it is a nice day and you don’t feel like having lunch in one of Oxford’s many excellent restaurants, why not take a picnic out to Christ Church Meadow, which is open to the public every day until sunset.

This roughly triangular-shaped stretch of land is a flood-meadow, which differs from a water-meadow which is man-made. The Meadow is bordered by the River Thames, called the Isis, the River Cherwell and Christ Church, which owns and maintains the land.

The upper part of the Meadow is given over to sports fields, while cattle graze for much of the year on the lower section. Deer are also brought here in the summer and autumn months.

Where the two rivers meet there is a small island on which stand several boathouses. Oxford’s Torpids bumping races are held here in March, and the Eights Week Regatta takes place in May.

You can see a plaque dedicated to James Sadler, who, in 1784, became the first Englishman to go up in a hot air balloon from the Meadow.

There are three entrances to the Meadow: one through the Memorial Gardens on St Aldate’s; a gate on Merton Street between Corpus Christi and Merton Colleges and the third, a gate at the eastern end next to the Botanical Garden. You are asked to please observe the rules on the notice boards outside each entrance.
Magdalen Bridge

13) Magdalen Bridge (must see)

To get from the Plain to the High Street, or viceversa, you will cross Magdalen Bridge, which spans the River Cherwell which at this point is divided by a small island.

There has been a bridge on this spot for many centuries; the first records of one date back to just before 1002 and was a narrow wooden affair. Other wooden bridges succeeded this one until the 16th century when the first stone bridge was built. It was 460 meters long made up of 20 arches.

By 1769 the bridge was too narrow for traffic crossing to and from the growing city center, and it was becoming unsafe through poor maintenance and the rather annoying habit the river has of flooding several times a year. Eventually, during the spring floods of 1772 a number of arches on the western side disintegrated and the bridge was closed.

Today’s bridge was designed by John Gwynn and built between 1772 and 1790 by John Randall. It has 11 arches: the central one spanning the island and only has water flowing through it when the island is flooded.

Three arches span the two branches of the river with two smaller ones on each outer bank. When it was constructed, the bridge was 8 meters wide, but it was widened to 14 meters in 1882.

There has recently been a new tradition among students: jumping off the bridge during the May Day celebrations. The water under the bridge isn’t very deep and there have been some accidents, so now the bridge is closed to the public on May Day.
Sight description based on wikipedia
University Of Oxford Botanical Garden

14) University Of Oxford Botanical Garden (must see)

Don’t miss a stroll through the University of Oxford Botanical Garden on the banks of the River Cherwell, to the north east of the Meadow.

Founded in 1621 as an herb garden full of medicinal plants, it is the oldest botanical garden in the United Kingdom and the oldest scientific garden in the world. Its founder, Henry Danvers, 1st Earl of Danby, was a Knight of the Garter.

The four and a half acres of land on which the Garden lies was once part of a Jewish cemetery until the Jews were driven out of Oxford in 1290. To raise the land above flood level, 4000 cartloads of earth and manure were needed.

There are over 8000 different species of plant-life here, set out in three sections: The Walled Garden is surrounded by the original stone walls. You will find the hardiest plants in this garden, in long narrow beds, arranged in botanical order. The Garden’s oldest tree, an English Yew dating back to 1645, is also to be found in the Walled Garden.

The second part of the Garden is given over to the Glasshouses for the more fragile plants and includes the Alpine House, the Conservatory, the Fernery, the Orchid House, the Palm House, the Succulent House and the Tropical Lily House.

The last section of the Garden is simply called Outside the Walled Garden and was founded in 1947 from the allotments belonging to the Fellows of Christ Church. In this part you will find the Autumn Border, the Bog Garden, the Glasshouse Borders, the Herbaceous Borders, the Merton Borders, the Spring Walk, the Vegetable Beds and the Water Garden.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Magdalen College

15) Magdalen College (must see)

The most beautiful of all Oxford University’s colleges is undeniably Magdalen College, which was founded in 1458 by William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester.

This lovely college stands on the River Cherwell, surrounded by beautiful grounds, such as the Meadow, Fellows Garden and the Grove where deer graze during the winter and spring. The famous Addison’s Walk links the Meadow to Fellows Garden which in turn is linked to the college by a bridge.

Magdalen Tower is a well-known landmark and since the reign of King Henry VII the college choir sings at the top of the tower at 6am every May Day. The Great Quad was built in 1474, but the north side is relatively new, having been rebuilt in 1822.

The Great Tower was built by William Orchard in 1509 and the Hall and the Chapel were built around the same time. The New Building was constructed in 1733. St John’s Quad with the outdoor pulpit and the Grammar Hall are connected to the Great Quad by the Gothic style Founders Tower.

In the south-west corner of the college you will find St Swithin’s and Longwall Quads which were built in the 19th and 20th centuries. The newest part of the college, the Grove Buildings were put up in 1990.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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