Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Oxford

  • Oxford in 50 Buildings by Andrew Sargent

    When I agreed to write the story of Oxford in 50 Buildings I knew I had accepted a difficult assignment. This is no ordinary town.

    Oxford can be seen as the product of many individual decisions. First being Alfred the Great’s decision to turn this insignificant river crossing settlement with its convent into one of his system of defensive burhs. The individual decisions of many long-forgotten wandering teachers who felt that this would be a good place to earn a living, creating a critical mass that became the university. Then with the young William Morris’s decision to assemble his cars at Cowley rather than in an established manufacturing town.

    oxford-in-50-buildings-2 The Radcliffe Camera from the unusual vantage of the tower of St Mary's Church (c. Oxford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Many of the decisions which have gone to make the Oxford we know are fossilised in bricks (or stone) and mortar. So the story of this complex place can be told using its buildings, though doing that in just fifty buildings is a real challenge. Everyone has their favourites, and the celebrities (such as the Radcliffe Camera) feature in guidebooks and in tourist photos and videos which are then carried all around the world. Some are truly iconic. Others, perhaps less photogenic, played an important part in the story. Which do you include; which do you regretfully have to leave out?

    Oxford is, of course, world famous as a university. But it is also a town where people live and work. In fact, it was a town for centuries before the university began to develop. These two faces of the town share the same space yet have their own priorities and often live separate lives. They have always jostled for prominence – think of the long tradition of town versus gown rivalry. Part of the fun for the writer is to tell both stories as they intertwine.

    oxford-in-50-buildings-1 This seventeenth-century tavern was a a favourite haunt of the Inklings (c. Oxford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    I resisted the temptation to photograph all the venerable colleges with their mellow stonework and leafy gardens; they all have their architectural gems, their place in history and famous alumni. Instead, I limited my choice to those which marked a key moment in the bigger story. For example Merton, the first college, New College, the first to admit undergraduates, or the monastic remains at Worcester. That left space for some of the non-university buildings which have shaped the Oxford story. Some being the fourteenth-century half-timbered merchant’s house on the corner of Ship Street, for example, or the former Cooper’s factory where the world-famous marmalade was made. The Eagle and Child tavern also squeezes in, one of several surviving seventeenth-century inns, but which is elevated into the national consciousness as the favoured drinking hole of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein.

    It would be easy to fill the selection with medieval or eighteenth-century architecture, but the book needs a good spread over time. The story is brought right up to date with the Saïd Business School and Plant Oxford, the Mini factory at Cowley. But it does not end here. New architecture will continue to write itself into the narrative as society, and with it both the town and university, adapt to an ever-changing world.

    Once the selection was made, even photographing each of the fifty buildings presented its problems. Constant traffic and pedestrians allow only brief opportunities for a well-composed shot, while access to many university buildings is restricted in term time.

    I expect every reader will argue with my final fifty, wanting to include a favourite here and drop another there. Make your own selection, and above all enjoy the wide range of architectural gems which weave the fabric of this remarkable place.


    Andrew Sargent's new book Oxford in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Oxford Pubs by Dave Richardson

    I have written books before but unlike some of the authors in Amberley’s Pubs series, I’m not a local historian. But it really was a no-brainer when Amberley approached me to write the volume about Oxford, as I knew most of the pubs already and the history of some is well documented.

    Oxford Pubs - Microsoft Word - Document4 Angel & Greyhound Pub

    I decided from the outset that I wanted to give a flavour of what these pubs are like today, to act as a guide book as well as a historical record. So I have included only a few which are no longer with us – the Golden Cross, now Pizza Express; the Roebuck, now Wagamama; and the Swindlestock Tavern, which closed over three centuries ago. I also tell the stories of the Angel and the Greyhound coaching inns, both on High Street, whose names live on at the Angel and Greyhound pub in St Clement’s.

    Oxford Pubs - Microsoft Word - Document4 The Mad Hatter Cocktail Bar

    Research was long and arduous, but someone had to do it.

    I ventured into pubs I had never been in before despite living in Oxford for 35 years, including the Mad Hatter cocktail bar which is a bizarre place where, in true Alice in Wonderland style, you have to answer a question before they let you in. Beware the tea served from ornate teapots, though -- it tasted like a boozy cocktail to me!

    I took most of the external photographs myself, while a professional photographer friend, Phil Gammon, took most of the internal shots. The pubs chosen for their interesting interiors include the Bear, Chequers, King’s Arms, Turf Tavern, White Horse, Old Bookbinders, Rose & Crown, Victoria, and Angel and Greyhound. For archive photographs I went to the Oxford Mail/Oxford Times archives where the librarian, Chris McDowell, was particularly helpful, providing many photographs from the 1950s onwards.

    I’m pleased with the many stories I unearthed about Oxford’s pubs, so I hope you enjoy reading the book. For example, where’s the Oxford pub with a witch’s broomstick plastered up behind a wall? Where did Shakespeare used to stay, possibly fathering an illegitimate child with the landlady? Which pub has a ceiling painted to resemble the Sistine Chapel in Rome? And which pub was a sixteenth century brothel? You’ll have to read the book to find out…..

    Oxford Pubs - 9781445647289

    Dave Richardson's Oxford Pubs is available for purchase now.

2 Item(s)