A Brief History of Oxford

Oxford 22-3-2006Oxford has been an established town since the 9th century although it is believed to have been a settlement for thousands of years. Originally known as Oxenforda, meaning “ford of the oxen”.

In Roman Times Oxford seems to have been quite insignificant although there is evidence of pottery kilns in the city and the surrounding area taking full advantage of the rich clay beds beneath. It was an ideal site for Roman Industry being so close to the River Thames and the readily available fuel from the Headington and Cowley woodlands. Even though Oxford may not have been a valued large settlement at this time, pottery making was widespread and was one of the earliest industries recorded in the area.

Legend has it that St Frideswide (daughter of Mercian King Didan) who was born around 650 fled her homeland and settled in Oxford where she built an abbey (where Christ Church stands today). King Algar followed her and attempted to take both her and the abbey by force but he was struck down with blindness, she later forgave him and his sight was restored. The abbey was raised to the ground in 1002 but was later rebuilt as a Priory and St Frideswide was declared the patron Saint of Oxford City. The building was extended and incorporated into the structure of the Cardinal’s College and is unique in that it combines a college chapel and a cathedral. In 1546 it was re-founded as Christ Church and has been used as the cathedral of Oxford Diocese ever since.

Henry VIII’s daughter Mary tried to reverse the tide of Anglican reform that her father had started and burnt many prominent Anglican Church leaders at the stake. In 1555 outside the Balliol College, having been tried and condemned to death after refusing to renounce their Protestant beliefs Bishops Latimer and Ridley were burned. Scorch marks from the fire can still be seen on the doors to Balliol college where there is also a commemorative cross set into the pavement. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was also burned outside the college after permission was granted from the Pope. He publically retracted his renouncement of his faith and thrust the hand that had signed the recantation into the flames saying “This has offended. Oh! This unworthy hand”.

In 1790 the Oxford Canal was completed connecting the city with Coventry and shortly after was connected to the River Thames. In 1844 the Great Western Railway linked Oxford with London firmly establishing the city as a valuable trade centre.

By the early 20th century Oxford was undergoing a period of rapid growth both in terms of population and industry. During the 1920’s William Morris established the Morris Motor Company in Cowley just to the south east of the city and by the 1970s over 20,000 peopled worked there and at the Pressed Steel Fisher plant.

Today Oxford is a busy cosmopolitan town where the ancient University with hundreds of years of history meets the increasingly popular high tech community with an abundance of museums, colleges and buildings steeped in history alongside the more modern theatres, shops, restaurants and cafes.

Special Feature

Morris Minor 1000 Traveller EstateWilliam Morris started the Morris Motor Company in 1910 and shortly after the 2 seat Morris Oxford Bullnose had been designed and was in production. He set up his 1st factory in a disused Military Training College at Cowley in 1913 and a coupe van was soon rolled out. A larger car, the 2 seat and 4 seat Morris Cowley was then introduced. The Company continued to grow becoming a front runner of the British market and in 1924 overtook Ford, becoming the largest car manufacturer within the UK. The introduction of the Morris Minor opened up the small car market using an 847 cc engine produced by the Wolseley Motor Company which he later bought after they went bankrupt. The Morris Eight followed as a direct response to the Ford Model Y. In 1938 William Morris merged the Morris Motor Company and MG with the newly acquired Riley to form a new company – the Nuffield Organisation.

Production was put on hold during the Second World War but re started after the war with the pre-war Eight and Ten designs. The Eight was replaced by the Morris Minor, reusing the small car name from 1928. The Ten was replaced by a new 1948 Morris Oxford and again later by the 1956 Morris Oxford III.

In 1952 the Nuffield Organisation merged with the Austin Motor Company to form the British Motor Company (BMC) and in 1975 became British Leyland Ltd (BL) The last Morris-badged car was the Morris Ital (basically a face lifted Marina) and production ended in 1984. None of the former Morris buildings now exist, British Aerospace sold the site in 1992, it was than demolished and replaced with the Oxford Business Park. The adjacent former Pressed Steel Company site (now known as “Plant Oxford”) is owned and operated by BMW, who use it to assemble the new MINI. The history of the company is commemorated in the Morris Motors Museum at the Oxford Bus Museum. Where a selection of Morris cars and one of William Morris’ bicycles are on display.