A Brief History of Oxford

Although opinions regarding the origins of Oxford vary, archaeological finds suggest that the original settlement in Oxford was Neolithic, possibly dating back to as early as 4000 BC.

Mostly ignored by the Roman conquerors during their invasion, Oxford did not become a significant location until later. However, by the time of the Saxon rule Oxford had gained an abbey and found itself situated on a major trade route between the powerful Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. The importance of Oxford at this time was therefore based on its geographical location.

Oxford’s history was further developed and enhanced by King Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and the ruler responsible for leading the Saxons against Danish Viking invaders. To keep the Danish out and the towns and their population safe, King Alfred developed the Saxon system of “burhs”, or fortified towns. In 911, Oxford became a burh and received royal protection.

By the late 11th or early 12th century, and in spite of a major fire that devastated the city, Oxford had become a centre of learning for training clerics. By the 13th century it had become an academic centre that attracted students from Europe and its population was estimated at over 5,000. The University in Oxford developed during this period and soon became famous for its legal studies.

However, tragedy struck Oxford in the 14th century, as the city was heavily affected by the Black Plague. Although the wealthy were often able to escape to safety, many of the poor were not so lucky, and as a result, the population fell dramatically.

During the later reign of Henry VIII, the dissolution of religious institutions led to more unsettled times, and Protestant martyrs were burned in Oxford under the reign of Mary I. Many stayed away from attending the University, and again the population and growth of Oxford suffered.

However, as a result of the reorganisation of the church in 1542, Oxford was granted the status of a city.

With Elizabeth I on the throne, Oxford’s development changed yet again, with a renewed demand for an effective education system. During the 17th century, new buildings were commissioned which addressed both academic and urban needs.

The 18th century saw years of reform and key modernisation, including the construction of the canal in 1790, which enabled the city to become a centre of canal transportation from London to the Midlands. By 1844 the city was also connected by rail.

By the end of the nineteenth century, although largely dependent on the University, Oxford was benefiting from increased tourism and an ever-increasing population, as it still does today.

Now, in the 21st century, Oxford’s industrial links and economy have grown stronger, whilst the city has shown its ability to adapt to changing environmental and economic needs. Improvements have been made to public transport, and the park-and-ride scheme makes the city easier to access. Businesses have also thrived, and with the opening of Oxford Business Park, the prime location of bespoke offices in Oxford offer even more opportunities for the city’s development and growth.

Are you from Oxford?  Do you have an interesting anecdote or family history story about life in Oxford?  Then we’d love to hear from you!  Let us know your tales of Oxford life by leaving a comment below.

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