Round Hill, Port Meadow

On frosty winter days or in the lengthening evenings of May its profile can be picked out easily if you know where to look. On a grey morning with angled light it melts mysteriously into the surrounding grassland. Four thousand years haven’t quite eroded it, and the floodwaters of the nearby Thames never immerse it completely. Round Hill. ... CONTINUE READING

Cuckoos and Blackbirds

There’s something unmistakably romantic about Cuckoo Lane – and not just the name. Perhaps it’s because it seems to emerge from such a completely unremarkable place – a residential cul-de-sac – before it begins its snickety ascent of Headington Hill. Perhaps it’s the sense that it goes back nearly a thousand years, further in time than the walls ... CONTINUE READING

Ox-Bridged

Last month we posted a photographic essay featuring ten of Oxford's historic bridges. Here's the full Story: There’s really only one place to start: Grandpont. Big bridge. The name says it all. The giant blocks of corallian ragstone which underpin it were hewn and levered into place nearly a thousand years ago at the command of Robert d’Oilly, henchman ... CONTINUE READING

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

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

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

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

Crotch Crescent

You don’t have to be in the back seat of the car playing ‘I Spy’ to find yourself screaming out the names of certain Oxford road signs. Of all the streets in our fair city none quite matches Crotch Crescent. Squitchey Lane comes close in terms of mystery, and is arguably more onomatopoeic, but Crotch Crescent feels not ... 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