Oxford, One of the World’s Oldest Universities

Having lived in St Andrews for many years, I looked forward to exploring another university town. Yes, similar to St. Andrews, most buildings in Oxford are connected with the university.

Considered as the oldest university in the English speaking world, the exact foundation date is unknown, but teaching is known to have existed from 1097, with rapid expansion over the next hundred years. University ratings are highly subjective and many raters vary widely with their results, however, The Higher Education World University Rankings rate Oxford, as the world’s number 1 university for 2016-17.

While we prefer rural B&B’s, I was unable to find one with good reviews, at a reasonable price and with ready access to public transport. Therefore, we opted for the Travelodge Abingdon Road. Located a couple of miles from downtown, it was only 1/4 mile from the bypass and it was adjacent to a park & ride. An almost new hotel, we found it modern, bright, reasonably comfortable and very well managed, with exceptional staff. The young lady at check-in was excellent, asking for our interests and plans, providing a number of relevant brochures.

Sightseeing or Ho-Ho bus Oxford

Staying 2 nights, we had a single day to tour the city, which is a perfect recipe for the local sightseeing or Ho-Ho bus. Bonus – the sightseeing bus now operates from the adjacent park & ride, which was 150 yards from the hotel. The first bus departed at 10:00, with the last bus leaving downtown shortly before 18:00, so for UKP 28.00 we spent 8 hrs touring the colleges and sights of Oxford.

The park & ride loop took us downtown, where we boarded a City and University Loop bus, completing entire loop, which lasted about 90 mins. We then spent the afternoon walking around the downtown area.

Oxford University

The university is unique, in that it comprises 44 individual and independent colleges. Students applying to Oxford request a specific college(s), with many of them providing full accommodation and meals. Each year they receive about 5 applications for every spot available.

Christ Church College

Located downtown, Christ Church College was formed in 1524 and is one of the larger colleges at Oxford, with over 600 students.

Tom Tower, Main Entrance to Christ Church College

Named after the bell, Great Tom, this is the main entrance into the college, except for visitors. Visitor entrance is about 150 yard down the road, then through the gardens to the ticket office.

Christ Church College & Gardens

While it is a working academic and religious institution, it is open to visitors. Costs vary by month, with summer months being UKP 9.00/adults and UKP 8.00/seniors. This permits self guided visits to the Quad, Cloisters, Mess Hall and Cathedral.

Christ Church College Mess Hall

This long hall is the messroom for Christ Church students, with all walls adorned with portraits of prominent previous students, dating back to the 1500’s.

View of Christ Church Mess Hall from the entrance

Judi in the Christ Church Mess Hall

As seen above, the staff are all attired with bowler hats. They were all very pleasant and informative. We chatted with the chap stationed behind Judi.

Christ Church College Tom Quad

Christ Church College Cathedral

The college has a fully functioning cathedral, which is the college’s chapel. The Dean is also head of the college.

Christ Church College Cathedral Altar

Roof & Stained Glass Window

One of many stained glass windows

Student residence

Almost all Christ College students live onsite in recently renovated rooms. Above is one of the residences. The tour exit is onto Merton Street, which has further colleges.

Merton College

Merton College Chapel

Merton College is one of the older colleges, having been founded in 1264. Previous students include TS Eliot and JRR Tolkein.

Oriel College

Oriel College

Oriel College is the 5th oldest of Oxford’s College, being founded in 1326. It has about 600 students and 100 academic staff.

Oxford Covered Market

Crossing the High Street, our next stop was the Covered Market, which is located downtown, with multiple entrances off High Street and Market Street. Founded in 1774, the historic market comprises over 40 shops, with about 50% selling foodstuffs – green grocers, butchers, fishmonger, bakeries, cafes, etc. The others are fashion wares, gift stores, flowers, jewelry, etc.

Oxford Covered Market

We stopped at one of the cafes, where Judi had lunch and I enjoyed a pot of tea and a scone. Escaping out the rear entrance onto Market Street, we headed up the narrow Turf Street towards Broad Street, which has a multitude of colleges and other attractions.

Balliol College

Balliol College on Broad Street

Founded in 1263, Balliol College is one of the oldest Oxford Colleges, but is also one of the largest, with about 750 students.

Sheldonian Theatre

Sheldonian Theatre

Located on Broad Street adjacent to the admission’s office and between the libraries, Built between 1664 and 1669, The Sheldonian Theatre is used for graduation ceremonies and can be rented for many other functions.

Sheldonian Theatre – rear entrance

Clarendon Building

Clarenden Building

Also located on Broad Street, the Clarenden Building was built between 1711 to 1713. It was originally built for the Oxford free press, but is now the home of the Admissions Office and Bodleian Library Administration.

Bodleian Library

This was definitely the best tour in Oxford. Only the Mini Tour was available by the time we arrived, so for UKP 8.00 we received a guided tour of the Divinity Room & Duke Humfrey’s Library.

Note – about 100 stairs are required to access the library, as no lifts are available.

If you have the time, I suggest planning ahead and scheduling one of the extended tours, which get to see so much more.

Divinity School

Built between 1427 and 1483, the 15th Century Divinity School was originally used for theology lectures, exams and discussions. It is now the meeting place for tours and the area that graduating student gown up before heading to the theatre for the ceremony. We then climbed approximate 100 stairs, entering the Duke Humfrey Library, which contains numerous ancient books.

Bodleian Library – tower at one of the entrances

One of Europe’s oldest libraries, the first library started in 1320 at the adjacent church. In 1488 a new library was constructed above the Divinity School, which is the one we visited on the tour. In 1550, the library was purged of all books, but was rescued in 1598 by Sir Thomas Bodley.

Bodleian Library – tour entrance with window being the Duke Humfrey Library

The library is currently 1 of 6 legal deposit libraries, which by legislation, are required to received every publication produced in UK. Therefore, the library receives about 1,000 publications every day. Our guide explained that all magazines, etc that contain free samples, have the printed material catalogued, with the additional samples also catalogued separately. If a Bodleian Reader requests a publication, they will receive any samples that originally came with the publication.

Bodleian Library – rear exit

Completing the guided tour, Judi took a short break sitting on a wall facing the bridge of Sighs, while I went for a quick walk around the local streets.

Bridge of Sighs

Hertford Bridge – referred to as Bridge of Sighs

The Hertford Bridge connects two parts of Hertford College and is commonly referred to as the Bridge of Sighs. However, it was never intended to replicate the Venice landmark, especially as it more closely Venice’s Rialto Bridge.

Radcliffe Camera

The Radcliffe Camera, adjacent to the Bodleian Library, was built between 1737 and 1749. Originally conceived as a Science Library, it is now part of the Bodleian Library, with 2 levels of books and underground passageways connecting it to the main library.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin

A church has existed on the current site of The University Church of St Mary the Virgin since 1086, with the tower built in the 1200’s. After I picked up Judi, we stopped at their cafe, enjoying a pleasant cup of tea and scones.

Tower spire close-up

Church from  High Street

All Souls College

Founded in 1438, All Souls College, is unique in that it has no undergraduates. However they conduct extensive research projects.

All Souls College Quadrangle

All Souls College Church

Chapel Entrance

No guided tours were available, however, entry was free and everything was well signed.

Queen’s College

Founded in 1341, Queen’s College was not open to visitors, but we could snap a quick photo of the quadrangle.

Oxford University Examination School

Located on High Street, it was built between 1876 and 1882 and was originally built as the examination centre. To date it still host exams, but is also used as a conference centre and for business meetings.

University College, Oxford

The oldest constituent college, University College was founded in 1249.

Approaching the time for the last bus, we wandered down High Street, towards one of the bus stops.

High Street by Magdalen Bridge

Approaching Magdalen College Church heading to the bus stop

We caught the last bus, returning to the Park & Ride at about 18:00, after a fairly long and hot day. A most enjoyable day that was steeped in history.


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