Balloon Madness

Early on the morning of 4 October 1784 a thirty-one-year-old pastry cook by the name of James Sadler took off close to Merton Field in a hot-air balloon. ‘I perceived no Inconvenience,’ he later commented, ‘and being disengaged from all terrestrial Things, contemplated a most charming distant View. With Pleasure and Admiration I beheld the Surface of the ... CONTINUE READING

Peacocks and Trout

Quick! Out of the car park (thank goodness it’s too difficult for coaches to get here), across the narrow road (eyes right for the even narrower medieval bridge), through the porch (note the Stonesfield slate roof), over the flagstones (part of the original seventeenth-century fisherman’s cottage), along the refurbished interior (smells of 'artisan breads' and 'rustic thick-cut chips'), under ... CONTINUE READING

Godstow

Once upon a time there were three abbeys in Oxford: Godstow, Osney, and Rewley. Along came King Henry VIII. Then there were none. All that remains of Rewley Abbey (founded by Cistercian monks at the end of the thirteenth century) is a segment of the precinct wall, and an arch, easily missed as you walk down the side ... CONTINUE READING

John Bigg’s Other Shoe

This month’s story was supposed to have been about the ruined abbey of Godstow, but the response to Bradshaw’s Hat has been so rich and so interesting that we feel compelled to postpone the Dissolution for a while. Martin Sheppard, distinguished publisher of History books, got straight to the point with a reminder of the semiotics of millinery in the ... CONTINUE READING

Treacle Well

There are certain, special places where the modern world feels very far away. As you pass through the wooden gate into St Margaret’s churchyard, Binsey, the relentless thrum of the ring road seems to recede into the distance, and time starts to slip …   For centuries pilgrims have made their slow journey to this sacred spot. Walking it ... CONTINUE READING

A Little More Allotment

Mrs Thatcher was not a friend of allotments, despite (or perhaps because of) being a grocer’s daughter from the famously potato-growing county of Lincolnshire. In July 1980 her government attempted to repeal Section 8 of the 1925 Act. Had she succeeded it would have meant abolition of the last remaining safeguards against local authorities wishing to dispose of ... CONTINUE READING

Allotments

The Right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Oxford, Mrs E F M Standingford, couldn’t quite believe her eyes as she stepped decorously through the gates of Osney, St Thomas and New Botley allotments, one warm August afternoon in 1986. Patiently waiting for her on the other side was Mr Trevor Green, and beside him a pumpkin of gargantuan proportions. ... CONTINUE READING

Swing Bridge

Once it was pivotal. Now, ivy-clad and rusting, it tells of an era long since past. Yet still it retains a grandeur and a fascination, like the mouldering carcass of some giant metal dinosaur. It’s a railway swing bridge. It dates from 1851. It was designed by none other than Robert, son of George 'Rocket' Stephenson. And it stands ... CONTINUE READING

A River Runs Through It

Running through every story on this website is a silver thread: the river which has shaped Oxford’s destiny, indeed the very reason for Oxford’s existence. The water even takes on a different name as it flows here, turning briefly from Thames to Isis (supposedly from the Latin ‘Tamesis’) though few people now use that term, except in literary circles. ... CONTINUE READING

Morris Oxford

It was hardly a surprise when, in 1892, fifteen-year-old William Morris secured his first job at a bicycle repair shop. He was a passionate cyclist who thought nothing of pedalling to Birmingham and back in a day, from the family house in 16 James Street, a round trip of over a hundred miles. He was also good with ... CONTINUE READING