4km Historical Oxford Run

Sheldonian Theatre

4km Historical Oxford Run

This quick run route takes you past some of Oxford’s most historic buildings. This route starts and takes you through Oxford’s university history, then moves to Oxford’s industrial history and ends back in the city centre. You can easily see the various landmarks from the street; however, tours are available at some of the landmarks if you’d like to learn more in your own time.

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Route overview of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

Route overview

Our tour starts at the Clarendon Building and the Sheldonion Theatre.

Initially, the Clarendon Building was built between 1712 and 1715, serving as Oxford University Press’s printing house. It is one of Oxford’s most notable architectural aspects and was classified as a grade-I structure in 1954. From 1831 to 1975, it served as the University’s central administration office. Since then, it has become part of the Bodleian Library. However, the University Press Delegates still use the building as a meeting space.

Clarendon Building

Clarendon Building. Credit: Oxford Mail

Built in 1669, the Sheldonian Theatre is the University’s official ceremonial hall for graduation ceremonies and congregational meetings. On ceremonial occasions, the two proctors of the University were supposed to occupy the two ornately carved and gilded boxes that face each other across the theatre (they are no longer used). The “fasces,” which are bundles of rods wound around an axe, protrude from the heads of the lions on the front of the boxes. These were Roman symbols of power, which, in this case, were the proctors’. You can virtually see the inside of the theatre here. Events are frequently held here, which you can look at and book on their website.

Sheldonian Theatre

The Sheldonian Theatre. Credit: Access Guide, University of Oxford

Leaving the Sheldonion Theatre, go down Catte Street, past the Radcliffe Camera. Turn left onto High Street, then right onto Merton Street. After about 10 metres, you will see the Oxford Examination Schools on your right.

Part 1 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run from the Clarendon Building, Sheldonian Theatre, and Examination Schools

Part 1 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

The Examination Schools, built between 1876 and 1881, were constructed in a Jacobean mansion design and built to organise and manage university exams. Inside, you will find Italian marble staircases, wooden carvings, and original Victorian fireplaces. This is still one of the University’s biggest buildings and has space for conferences, meetings, and lectures. You can take a virtual tour of the interior here.

Examination Schools

Examination Schools. Credit: The Oxford Magazine

Continue past the Examination Schools, staying on Merton Street. Follow the curves of the road onto Oriel Square, then left onto Bear Lane, which becomes Blue Boar Street. At the end of the street, turn left onto St. Aldate’s. After about 120 meters, you will see Tom Tower on your left.

Part 2 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run from the Examination Schools to Tom Tower

Part 2 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

Tom Tower was built from 1681 to 1682 and is named after its bell, Great Tom. This tower inspired the Dunster Tower at Harvard and the Clock Tower at the University of Auckland. Great Tom is the loudest bell in Oxford, weighing six and a quarter tonnes. The bell has sounded 101 times every night since WWII to symbolise the 101 original scholars of the college.

Tom Tower, Christ Church College

Tom Tower. Credit: Britfield

Retrace your steps from Tom Tower to turn left onto Pembroke Street. After 180 metres, continue straight onto Penny Farthing Place. Turn slightly left onto Roger Bacon Lane and follow two of its curves. Turn right onto Turn Again Lane, then, at Old Greyfrairs Street, turn right again and continue under pedestrian bridges and past some shops. Turn right onto Castle Street at the main road, then left onto Paradise Street. After about 95 metres, turn right towards Oxford Castle. You may want to run slower or walk through here, as it could be crowded with tourists.

Part 3 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run through Roger Bacon Lane and Turn Again Lane

Part 3 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

St. George’s Tower in Oxford Castle and Prison was built around 1020 AD and is the oldest building in Oxford. The castle was commissioned by William the Conqueror so they could dominate the town.

St. George's Tower, Oxford Castle and Prison

St. George’s Tower. Credit: Oxford Castle

Follow Oxford Castle Street past The Mound, then turn left onto Tidmarsh Lane over Quaking Bridge onto St. Thomas’ Street. Turn left onto The Lion Brewery and run around the building to return to St. Thomas’ Street.

Part 4 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run to Oxford Castle and Prison

Part 4 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

The Lion Brewery, also known as Morell’s Brewing Company, had a turbulent past. It existed during the time when, in 1874, there were nine breweries in Oxford, and the majority of university colleges operated their own individual brewing facilities. Morell’s was one of Oxford’s longest-running family-owned businesses and was powered by a watermill on Castle Mill Stream. The brewery was unfortunately closed in 1998 after a serious altercation among family members. Marston’s now brews Morell’s beers on their sites. Today, this old brewery houses luxury apartments.

The Lion Brewery

The Lion Brewery. Credit: Hotelmix

Turn left onto St. Thomas’ Street to reach St. Thomas the Martyr Church.

Part 5 of the Part 4 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run to Oxford Castle and Prison to The Lion Brewery and St. Thomas the Martyr Church

Part 5 of the Part 4 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

St. Thomas the Martyr Church dates back to 1190 and is one of Oxford’s oldest churches. The oldest part of the church is the Norman chancel with three Norman windows. The priest’s door on the south side of this chancel has its original ironwork and dates from 1250. The window in the east dates to the 14th century, while the nave and tower date to the mid-15th century.

St. Thomas the Martyr Church

St. Thomas the Martyr Church. Credit: St. Thomas the Martyr Church website

Run around the church to reach Becket Street and turn right. Just before the roundabout, turn right, then left to cross the pedestrian crossing, then right to continue on Hythe Bridge Street.

Part 6 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run from St. Thomas the Martyr Church to Park End Street

Part 6 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

When Hythe Bridge Street curves, continue onto George Street. After 350 metres, turn right onto Cornmarket Street to see St. Michael at the North Gate and a 14th-century timber framed building.

Part 7 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run to St. Michael at the North Gate and 24 Cornmarket Street

Part 7 of the 4km Historical Oxford Run

St. Michael at the North Gate, specifically the Saxon Tower, was built in 1040 using rubble and coral rag. It is Oxford’s oldest building. This was the location where the Oxford martyrs were held captive prior to being executed by burning at the stake on Broad Street. The door through which they were taken can still be seen; the tower is open to the public. Today, St. Michael serves as the ceremonial city church of Oxford.

St. Michael at the North Gate, Saxon Tower

St. Michael at the North Gate. Credit: Motacilla

24-26 Cornmarket Street has a timber-framed structure that dates back to the late 14th century. As old as it is, it is quite stunning. At first sight, you see only half of the original structure, which was once owned by a wine merchant who operated the “New Inn,” a bed and breakfast. Most of the structure is original, with certain parts added during Jesus College-funded repairs in the 1980s. Part of it is now a Pret-a-Manger for you to grab a bite or drink at the end of your run.

24-26 Cornmarket Street

24-26 Cornmarket Street. Credit: JESSOP Consultancy

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If you enjoyed this route, see our 5.5km Dog-friendly Run

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This route was curated in collaboration with Headington Road Runners.

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