Guy Fawkes’ Lantern

The British don’t go in much for dates and anniversaries. We’ve heard of 1066 – and of course 1966; but who can name the feasts of St George or St Andrew, still less the actual day when the battle of Hastings was fought or England won the world cup? (23 April, 30 November, 14 October, 30 July for ... CONTINUE READING

Brasenose Lane

The rain in Brasenose Lane still goes – mainly – down the drain. The difference is that this particular gutter is in the middle of the road rather than cambered to either side. The technical term for it is a ‘kennel’. Did it get that name, as some claim, because it was a favourite haunt for scrawny medieval ... 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

Bradshaw’s Hat

At two o’clock on the bitterly cold afternoon of Saturday 30 January 1649, King Charles I stepped out from the balcony of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, and onto the executioner’s scaffold … A few minutes later, the masked axeman held up his bloody trophy for all to see. In the words of one observer, there went up in ... 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

Park Town Arch

In his article on ‘The Expansion of Towns - Planned and Unplanned' [Journal of the Town Planning Institute, 43 (1957), p.106] D.W. Riley identifies certain towns as possessing 'an efficiency, culture, and charm which are the gradually matured expression of generations of settled living'. He might well be describing what is arguably the greatest Victorian suburb in Britain, ... CONTINUE READING

Martyrs’ Cross

Far at the end of the long sweep of St Giles, dark and pointedly brooding (some say it resembles the needling spire of a subterranean church) lurks the Martyrs’ Memorial, one of Oxford’s best-known monuments. It is a grim reminder of the often bloody history of our nation, and of Oxford’s special part in that gruesome tale: the ... CONTINUE READING

The Norrington Room

When you cross the threshold into the Norrington Room of Blackwell’s bookshop, you are entering world record territory. Surrounding you are nearly three miles of shelves, and on those shelves are over 150,000 books. This is officially the biggest bookselling room on the planet (and doubtless home to a copy of the Guinness Book of Records in which such ... CONTINUE READING