Museum of Oxford

Museum of Oxford

Museum of Oxford

Museum of Oxford

The museum is located in the historic Town Hall, and the entrance is off St Aldate's on the corner of Blue Boar Street. The museum tells the story of the city and Oxford University including: history, archaeology, architecture, environment. Displays include: Oxford's 1192 charter, period room settings and historic paintings.


The galleries look at the history of the City from Prehistoric times to the present day. The lower galleries introduce the city's geology and natural history, and are followed by exhibits about the region's Prehistory, the Roman origins of the area and the Saxon and Medieval periods. Visitors can also enjoy an introductory film narrated by the Time Teams Tony Robinson. This is followed by the more familliar story of the rise of the University, town and gown conflict and Oxford's role in the Reformation and Civil War. In the upper galleries visitors can see displays about Victorian Oxford, it's famous literary connections and the development of the modern town and car industry. To discover more about Oxford's history download the Story of Oxford or take a virtual tour of the whole museum. Visitors finish their tour of the museum in the exhibition gallery which displays between 4-6 special exhibitions throughout the year. Past exhibitions have included The Life and Times of JRR Tolkien, We'll Meet Again: Memories of the Home Front in Oxford 1939-45 and On Location (movies filmed in Oxford).


The museum is housed in Oxford's historic Town Hall building. The main entrance and lower gallery are accessed by steps. The Town Hall has a ground level entrance located just off of the High Street, on the immediate left past Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Please press the door buzzer to gain access and turn right once inside the building. Once inside all areas are accessible to wheelchair users. The following services are available: Access for guide dogs to all areas of the Museum of Oxford; Volunteer assistance (subject to availability); Large print information; Fully accessible toilets in the Town Hall


Location : Museum of Oxford, Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate's,Oxford, OX1 1BX

Transport : Oxford (National Rail) then 10 minutes. Bus Routes : 1, 8, 9, 10, 12, 103, 108, S5, S7 and T1 stop close by.

Opening Times : Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Free

Tel. : 01865 252334

Oxford Castle



Oxford Castle

Oxford Castle

St George's Crypt

St George's Crypt

Oxford Castle is a large, partly ruined Norman medieval castle on the western side of central Oxford. Most of the original moated, wooden motte and bailey castle was replaced in stone in the 11th century and played an important role in the conflict of the Anarchy. In the 14th century the military value of the castle diminished and the site became used primarily for county administration and as a prison. According to the Abingdon Chronicle, Oxford Castle was built by the Norman baron Robert D'Oyly the elder from 1071–73. D'Oyly had arrived in England with William I in the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 and William the Conqueror granted him extensive lands in Oxfordshire. Oxford had been stormed in the invasion with considerable damage, and William directed D'Oyly to build a castle to dominate the town. In due course D'Oyly became the foremost landowner in Oxfordshire and was confirmed with a hereditary royal constableship for Oxford Castle. Oxford Castle is not among the 48 recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, but not every castle in existence at the time was recorded in the survey.


D'Oyly positioned his castle to the west side of the town, using the natural protection of a stream of the River Thames on the far side of the castle, now called Castle Mill Stream, and diverting the stream to produce a moat. There has been debate as to whether there was an earlier English fortification on the site, but whilst there is archaeological evidence of earlier Anglo-Saxon habitation there is no conclusive evidence of fortification. Oxford Castle was clearly an "urban castle" but it remains uncertain whether local buildings had to be demolished to make room for it. The Domesday Book does not record any demolition, so the land may have already been empty due to the damage caused by the Norman seizure of the town. Alternatively the castle may have been imposed over an existing street front which would have required the demolition of at least several houses. The initial castle was probably a large motte and bailey, copying the plan of the castle that D'Oyly had already built 12 miles (19 km) away at Wallingford. The motte was originally about 60 feet (18 m) high and 40 feet (12 m) wide, constructed like the bailey from layers of gravel and strengthened with clay facing. There has been debate over the sequencing of the motte and the bailey: it has been suggested that the bailey may have built first, which would make the initial castle design a ringwork rather than a motte and bailey.


By the mid-12th century Oxford Castle had been significantly extended in stone. The first such work was St George's Tower, built of coral rag stone in 1074, 30 by 30 feet (9 m × 9 m) at the base and tapering significantly toward the top for stability. This was the tallest of the castle's towers, possibly because it covered the approach to the old west gate of the city. Inside the walls the tower included a crypt chapel, which may be the site of a previous church. The crypt chapel originally had a nave, chancel and an apsidal sanctuary. It is a typical early Norman design with solid pillars and arches. In 1074 D'Oyly and his close friend, Roger d'Ivry endowed a chapel with a college of priests. At an early stage it acquired a dedication to Saint George. Early in the 13th century the wooden keep on top of the motte was replaced with a ten-sided stone shell keep, 58 feet (18 m), closely resembling those of Tonbridge and Arundel Castles. The keep enclosed a number of buildings, leaving an inner courtyard only 22 feet (7 m) across. Within the keep, stairs led 20 feet (6 m) down to an underground 12 feet (3.7 m) wide stone chamber, with an Early English hexagonal vault and a 54 feet (16 m) deep well providing water in the event of siege.


Robert D'Oyly the younger, Robert D'Oyly the elder's nephew, had inherited the castle by the time of the civil war of the Anarchy in the 1140s. After initially supporting King Stephen, Robert declared his support for Empress Matilda, Stephen's cousin and rival for the throne, and in 1141 the Empress marched to Oxford to base her campaign at the castle. Stephen responded by marching unexpectedly from Bristol in December, attacking and seizing the town of Oxford and besieging Matilda in the castle. Stephen set up two siege mounds beside the castle, called Jew's Mount and Mount Pelham, on which he placed siege engines, largely for show, and proceeded to wait for Matilda's supplies to run low over the next three months. Stephen would have had difficulty in supplying his men through the winter period, and this decision shows the apparent strength of Oxford Castle at the time. Matilda responded by escaping from the castle; the popular version of this has the Empress waiting until the Castle Mill Stream was frozen over and then dressed in white as camouflage in the snow, being lowered down the walls with three or four knights, before escaping through Stephen's lines in the night as the king's sentries tried to raise the alarm. The chronicler William of Malmesbury, however, suggests Matilda did not descend the walls, but instead escaped from one of the gates. Matilda safely reached Abingdon-on-Thames and Oxford Castle surrendered to Stephen the next day. Robert had died in the final weeks of the siege and the castle was granted to William de Chesney for the remainder of the war. At the end of the war the constableship of Oxford Castle was granted to Roger de Bussy before being reclaimed by Henry D'Oyly, Robert D'Oyly the younger's son, in 1154.


In the Barons' War of 1215–17 the castle was attacked again, prompting further improvements in its defences. In 1220 Falkes de Breauté, who controlled many royal castles in the middle of England, demolished the Church of St Budoc to the south-east of the castle and built a moated barbican to further defend the main gate. The remaining wooden buildings were replaced in stone, including the new Round Tower which was built in 1235. King Henry III turned part of the castle into a prison, specifically for holding troublesome University clerks, and also improved the castle chapel, replacing the older barred windows with stained glass in 1243 and 1246. Due to the presence of Beaumont Palace to the north of Oxford, however, the castle never became a royal residence. By 1327 the fortification, particularly the castle gates and the barbican, was in poor condition and £800 was estimated to be required for repairs. From the 1350s onwards the castle had little military use and was increasingly allowed to fall into disrepair. The castle became the centre for the administration of the county of Oxford, a jail, and a criminal court. Assizes were held there until 1577, when plague broke out in what became known as the "Black Assize": the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, two knights, eighty gentlemen and the entire grand jury for the session all died, including Sir Robert D'Oyley, a relative of the founder of the castle. Thereafter assizes ceased to be held at the castle.


By the 16th century the barbican had been demolished to make way for houses and the moat had begun to be occupied with housing. By 1600 the moat was almost entirely silted up and houses had been built all around the edge of the bailey wall. In 1611 King James I sold Oxford Castle to Francis James and Robert Younglove, who in turn sold it to Christ Church College in 1613. The college then leased it to a number of local families over the coming years. By this time Oxford Castle was in a weakened state, with a large crack running down the side of the keep. In 1642 the English Civil War broke out and the Royalists made Oxford their capital. Parliamentary forces successfully besieged Oxford in 1646 and the city was occupied by Colonel Ingoldsby. Ingoldsby improved the fortification of the castle rather than the surrounding town, and in 1649 demolished most of the medieval stonework, replacing it with more modern earth bulwarks and reinforcing the keep with earth works to form a probable gun-platform. In 1652, in the third English Civil War, the Parliamentary garrison responded to the proximity of Charles II's forces by pulling down these defences as well and retreating to New College instead, causing great damage to the college in the process. In the event, Oxford saw no fresh fighting; early in the 18th century, however, the keep was demolished and the top of the motte landscaped to its current form.


After the Civil War, Oxford Castle served primarily as the local prison. As with other prisons at the time, the owners, in this case Christ Church College, leased the castle to wardens who would profit by charging prisoners for their board and lodging. The prison also had a gallows to execute prisoners, such as Mary Blandy in 1752. For most of the 18th century, the castle prison was run by the local Etty and Wisdom families and was in increasing disrepair. In the 1770s the prison reformer John Howard visited the castle several times, and criticised its size and quality, including the extent to which vermin infested the prison. Partly as a result of this criticism, it was decided by the County authorities to rebuild the Oxford Prison. In 1785 the castle was bought by the Oxford County Justices and rebuilding began under the London architect William Blackburn. The wider castle site had already begun to change by the late 18th century, with New Road being built through the bailey and the last parts of the castle moat being filled in to allow the building of the new Oxford Canal terminus. Building the new prison included demolishing the old college attached to St George's chapel and repositioning part of the crypt in 1794. The work was completed under Daniel Harris in 1805. Harris gained a reasonable salary as the new governor and used convict labour from the prison to conduct early archaeological excavations at the castle with the help of the antiquarian Edward King.


In the 19th century the site continued to be developed, with various new buildings built including the new County Hall in 1840–41 and the Oxfordshire Militia Armoury in 1854. The prison itself was extended in 1876, growing to occupy most of the remaining space. In 1888 national prison reforms led to the renaming of the county prison as HM Prison Oxford. The prison was closed in 1996 and the Oxford Prison buildings have since been redeveloped as a restaurant and heritage complex, with guided tours of the historic buildings and open courtyards for markets and theatrical performances. Access to the castle is by guided tour only. The main entrance, Gift Shop, Café 1071 and The Key Learning Centre are all fully accessible. There are lifts in both the castle and The Key Learning Centre which have tactile and Braille controls, and voice announcements. All floors of the Prison Wing are accessible by lift. There are accessible toilet facilities equipped with emergency call alarms located in Café 1071 and The Key Learning Centre (left/angled and right hand transfer). Not accessible by wheelchair users are St George’s Tower (which has 101 steps on a steep, narrow and winding staircase) and The Mound which has some steep steps and gradients.Only assistance dogs are permitted entry. Carers are admitted for free.


Location : Oxford Castle, Oxford OX1 1AY

Transport : Oxford (National Rail) then 5 minutes. Bus Routes : 3B, 4, 4A, 4B, 4C, 5, U1 and X30 stop close by. Coach station is 5 minutes walk.

Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 16:20 (last tour)

Tickets : Adults £10.75;   Concessions £9.00;   Children (5 - 15) £7.50

Tel. : 01865 260666