The Bridge of Sighs over New College Lane
Oxford is a university city, and the county town of Oxfordshire. It has achieved worldwide fame from its mediaeval university which dominates and shapes the city centre. The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
Noted for its dreaming spires, the city attracts vast numbers of tourists who visit the University and many sites of interest. The Royalist capital in the Civil War, Oxford has had many notable roles and seen countless notable people throughout its ancient history.
The city stands on the north bank of the River Thames, where the River Cherwell meets it, although its suburbs spread to the Berkshire side too. For a distance of some 10 miles along the river, in the vicinity of Oxford, the Thames is known as The Isis, apparently an affectation invented by the scholars of Oxford University. It is the largest town in Oxfordshire, and indeed the largest town on the Thames above Middlesex. Though famed for scholarship, it is a town of industry too.
Buildings in Oxford demonstrate an example of every British architectural period from Anglo-Saxon to the twenty-first century. The grandest buildings are those of the university, including the iconic, mid-18th century Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian Theatre, the buildings of the Bodlean Library, and the individual colleges. The soaring, harmonious architecture of Oxford's university buildings inspired the poet Matthew Arnold to name Oxford the "city of dreaming spires".
Oxford is 24 miles north-west of Reading, 26 miles north-east of Swindon, 36 miles east of Cheltenham, 43 miles east of Gloucester, 29 miles south-west of Milton Keynes, 38 miles south-east of Evesham, 43 miles south of Rugby and 51 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames (also sometimes known as the Isis locally from the Latinised name Thamesis) run through Oxford and meet south of the city centre.
As the county border between Oxfordshire and Berkshire passes through the city, suburbs are to be found in both counties. Suburbs and neighbourhoods within the borders of city of Oxford, include:
- Blackbird Leys, Oxfordshire
- Cowley, Oxfordshire
- Iffley, Oxfordshire
- Cutteslowe, Oxfordshire
- Grandpont, Berkshire
- Headington, Oxfordshire
- New Hinksey, Berkshire
- Osney, Oxfordshire
- Sunnymead, Oxfordshire
- Wolvercote, Oxfordshire
Suburbs and neighbourhoods outside the city boundaries include:
- Botley, Berkshire
- Cumnor Hill, Berkshire
- Dean Court, Berkshire
- Kennington, Berkshire
- North Hinksey, Berkshire
Universities and education
The University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It contains 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls, found in and around the city centre.
In the 1990s the Oxford Polytechnic became "Oxford Brookes University" (which has no connection to the ancient university). The city also plays host to Ruskin College.
Oxford is home to wide range of schools many of which receive pupils from around the world. Three are University choral foundations, established to educate the boy choristers of the chapel choirs, and have kept the tradition of single sex education. Examination results in state-run Oxford schools are consistently below the national average and regional average. However, results in the city are improving with 44% of pupils gaining 5 grades A*-C in 2006.
Oxford has numerous major tourist attractions, many belonging to the university and colleges. As well as several famous institutions, the town centre is home to Carfax Tower and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, both of which offer views over the spires of the city. Many tourists shop at the historic Covered Market. In the summer punting on the Thames/Isis and the Cherwell is popular.
University of Oxford
- Main article: University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of the most famous and prestigious higher education institutions of the world, averaging nine applications to every available place, and attracting 40% of its academic staff and 17% of undergraduates from overseas. It is currently ranked as the world's number one university, according to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
Oxford is renowned for its tutorial-based method of teaching, with students attending an average of one one-hour tutorial a week.
The city centre
As well as being a major draw for tourists (9.1 million in 2008, similar in 2009), Oxford city centre has many shops, several theatres and an ice rink. The historic buildings make this location a popular target for film and TV crews.
The city centre is relatively small, and is centred on Carfax, a cross-roads which forms the junction of Cornmarket Street (pedestrianized), Queen Street (semi-pedestrianized), St Aldate's and the High. Cornmarket Street and Queen Street are home to Oxford's various chain stores, as well as a small number of independent retailers, one of the longest established of which is Boswell's, founded in 1738. St Aldate's has few shops but several local government buildings, including the town hall, the city police station and local council offices. The High (the word street is traditionally omitted) is the longest of the four streets and has a number of independent and high-end chain stores, but mostly university and college buildings.
There are two small shopping malls in the city centre: The Clarendon Centre and the Westgate Centre. The Westgate Centre is named for the original West Gate in the city wall, and is at the west end of Queen Street. A major redevelopment and expansion to 750,000 sq. ft, with a new 230,000 sq. ft John Lewis department store and a number of new homes, was completed in October 2017.
Blackwell's Bookshop is a large bookshop which claims the largest single room devoted to book sales in the whole of Europe, the cavernous Norrington Room (10,000 sq ft).
The Bodleian Library
The University of Oxford maintains the largest university library system in the UK, and, with over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles of shelving, the Bodleian group is the second-largest library in the UK, after the British Library. The Bodleian is a legal deposit library, which means that it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK. As such, its collection is growing at a rate of over three miles (five kilometres) of shelving every year.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the Old Bodleian Library to see inside its historic rooms, including the 15th-century Divinity School, medieval Duke Humfrey's Library, and the Radcliffe Camera. The Weston Library was redeveloped and reopened in 2015, with a new shop, cafe and exhibition galleries for visitors.
Museums and galleries
Oxford is home to many museums, galleries, and collections, most of which are free of admission charges and are major tourist attractions. The majority are departments of the University of Oxford.
The first of these to be established was the Ashmolean Museum, the world's first university museum, and the oldest museum in the UK. Its first building was erected in 1678–1683 to house a cabinet of curiosities given to the University of Oxford in 1677. The museum reopened in 2009 after a major redevelopment. It holds significant collections of art and archaeology, including works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Turner, and Picasso, as well as treasures such as the Scorpion Macehead, the Parian Marble and the Alfred Jewel. It also contains "The Messiah", a pristine Stradivarius violin, regarded by some as one of the finest examples in existence.
The University Museum of Natural History holds the University's zoological, entomological and geological specimens. It is housed in a large neo-Gothic building on Parks Road, in the University's Science Area. Among its collection are the skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, and the most complete remains of a dodo found anywhere in the world. It also hosts the Simonyi Professorship of the Public Understanding of Science.
Adjoining the Museum of Natural History is the Pitt Rivers Museum, founded in 1884, which displays the University's archaeological and anthropological collections, currently holding over 500,000 items. It recently built a new research annexe; its staff have been involved with the teaching of anthropology at Oxford since its foundation, when as part of his donation General Augustus Pitt Rivers stipulated that the University establish a lectureship in anthropology.
The Museum of the History of Science is housed on Broad St in the world's oldest-surviving purpose-built museum building. It contains 15,000 artefacts, from antiquity to the 20th century, representing almost all aspects of the history of science.
In the University's Faculty of Music on St Aldate's is the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, a collection mostly of instruments from Western classical music, from the medieval period onwards. Christ Church Picture Gallery holds a collection of over 200 old master paintings. The University also has an archive at the Oxford University Press Museum.
Parks and nature walks
Oxford is a very green city, with several parks and nature walks within the ring road, as well as several sites just outside the ring road. In total, 28 nature reserves exist within or just outside Oxford ring road, including:
- University Parks
- Rock Edge Nature Reserve
- Lye Valley
- South Park
- C. S. Lewis Nature Reserve
- Shotover Nature Reserve
- Port Meadow
- Cutteslowe Park
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