Oxford is a world renowned University City, with its origins dating back over eight hundred years. The Colleges of the University, with their beautiful architecture dating from medieval times in many cases, provide a spectacular and inspiring backdrop for educational , business and cultural programmes for visitors and students from all over the world.
Oxford is also a thriving modern city, home to some of the newest developments in business and research. It is also an important cultural centre, with many art galleries, theatres, films and musical performances. It is very cosmopolitan, welcoming people from all over the world for education, business or cultural visits.
Oxford University and the Colleges
As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford is a unique and historic institution. There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.
In 1188, the historian, Gerald of Wales, gave a public reading to the assembled Oxford dons and in around 1190 the arrival of Emo of Friesland, the first known overseas student, set in motion the University's tradition of international scholarly links. By 1201, the University was headed by a magister scolarum Oxonie, on whom the title of Chancellor was conferred in 1214, and in 1231 the masters were recognised as a universitas or corporation.
In the 13th century, rioting between town and gown (townspeople and students) hastened the establishment of primitive halls of residence. These were succeeded by the first of Oxford's colleges, which began as medieval 'halls of residence' or endowed houses under the supervision of a Master. University, Balliol and Merton Colleges, which were established between 1249 and 1264, are the oldest.
Less than a century later, Oxford had achieved eminence above every other seat of learning, and won the praises of popes, kings and sages by virtue of its antiquity, curriculum, doctrine and privileges. In 1355, Edward III paid tribute to the University for its invaluable contribution to learning; he also commented on the services rendered to the state by distinguished Oxford graduates.
From its early days, Oxford was a centre for lively controversy, with scholars involved in religious and political disputes. John Wyclif, a 14th-century Master of Balliol, campaigned for a Bible in the vernacular, against the wishes of the papacy. In 1530, Henry VIII forced the University to accept his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and during the Reformation in the 16th century, the Anglican churchmen Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were tried for heresy and burnt at the stake in Oxford.
The University was Royalist in the Civil War, and Charles I held a counter-Parliament in Convocation House. In the late 17th century, the Oxford philosopher John Locke, suspected of treason, was forced to flee the country.
The 18th century, when Oxford was said to have forsaken port for politics, was also an era of scientific discovery and religious revival. Edmund Halley, Professor of Geometry, predicted the return of the comet that bears his name; John and Charles Wesley's prayer meetings laid the foundations of the Methodist Society.
The University assumed a leading role in the Victorian era, especially in religious controversy. From 1833 onwards The Oxford Movement sought to revitalise the Catholic aspects of the Anglican Church. One of its leaders, John Henry Newman, became a Roman Catholic in 1845 and was later made a Cardinal. In 1860 the new University Museum was the scene of a famous debate between Thomas Huxley, champion of evolution, and Bishop Wilberforce.
From 1878, academic halls were established for women and they were admitted to full membership of the University in 1920. Five all-male colleges first admitted women in 1974 and, since then, all colleges have changed their statutes to admit both women and men. St Hilda's College, which was originally for women only, was the last of Oxford's single sex colleges. It has admitted both men and women since 2008.
During the 20th and early 21st centuries, Oxford added to its humanistic core a major new research capacity in the natural and applied sciences, including medicine. In so doing, it has enhanced and strengthened its traditional role as an international focus for learning and a forum for intellectual debate.
The Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library, library of the University of Oxford, one of the oldest and most important nonlending reference libraries in Great Britain. A legal deposit library entitled to free copies of all books printed in Great Britain, the Bodleian is particularly rich in Oriental manuscripts and collections of English literature, local history, and early printing.
A library was established at the University of Oxford by Thomas de Cobham (died 1327), but it was not completely secured by the university until 1410. Then Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, endowed the institution with books and money for a room between 1411 and 1447. Completed in 1450, the room is still in existence.
With the impoverishment of the university, the development of printing, and the growth of college libraries, the university library declined in importance; and in 1550, Edward VI’s commissioners withdrew what books were left. Soon after, the shelves were also dismantled. About 50 years later the library was restored by Sir Thomas Bodley (a collector of medieval manuscripts) and reopened in 1602. Bodley added new buildings, surrounding university buildings were taken over, and additions were made at various times up to the 19th century. A new building, connected with the old buildings by an underground way and designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was opened in 1946.
The University Parks
Oxford University Parks is a large parkland area northeast of Oxford city centre. The University Parks consist of about 70 acres (30 hectares) of parkland on the bank of the River Cherwell, together with a 4 acre (1.5 hectare) spur of land running towards the south.
University Parks is a parkland for sports and recreational purposes since 1864. Today, University Parks has a wide range of sport facilities available, allowing visitors to participate in cricket, lacrosse, tennis, football or rugby. Harry Potter fans also have the special opportunity to play Quidditch.
Additionally, the parkland features beautiful plants and trees. You can enjoy a pleasant walk by following the cycle path over the river Cherwell at the rollers, turning left at the second cattle grid and re-crossing the Cherwell at Rainbow Bridge to return to the University parks (see the Lunchtime Walkers’ routes).
Other interesting places in the park are the Cricket pavilion, the giant sequoias, which was planted in 1888, the High Bridge and the Genetic Garden.
A perfect place for a picnic, to stroll around, feed the ducks at the pond or play ball games as the mood takes you. But tree climbing is not advised – as the trees are mainly rare specimens from all over the globe in need of respect and protection.
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford was established in 1683 and is the oldest museum in the United Kingdom. It houses the University of Oxford’s collections of art and antiquities. The Museum was enhanced by a 2009 redevelopment project, which saw the collections expand into 39 new galleries. The holdings have the character of a ‘collection of collections’, an accumulation of sometimes highly specialized private collections.
The Ashmolean’s collections, which continue to grow by gift, bequest, and purchase, feature over 1,500 oil paintings. Among the most celebrated treasures of paintings are those from the Italian Renaissance, works by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and by the Impressionist Camille Pissarro. Notable works spanning 600 years of fine art include, ‘The Hunt in the Forest’, by Paolo Uccello, ‘Landscape with Ascanius shooting the Stag of Sylvia’ by Claude Lorrain, ‘A young Woman with a Macaw’ by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and ‘Cows at Cookham’ by Stanley Spencer.