Oxford’s Legends and Lore Walk

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Luminox Display

Oxford’s Legends and Lore Walk

A fun fact about Oxford is that it was once a temporary capital city of England in the 1640s, used as the headquarters of King Charles during the English Civil War. A royal court, mint, printing press, and rival Parliament were also established in Oxford, making it a fortified garrison. You can see some of these functions and rooms in the Bodleian Library on a guided tour.

Grab your notebook and camera, ready to explore and learn some of the rather absurd stories that have somehow remained in the minds of the locals.

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Route overview of the Oxford's Legends and Lore Walk

Route overview

It is said that Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland comes from the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, Alice Lidell. They were on a boat trip when Lewis was asked to tell Alice and her sisters a story. Long story short, Alice in Wonderland came to be. Alice’s Shop across from Christ Church was originally a grocery store featured in Through the Looking Glass, where a sheep ran the store. The illustrator of the book modelled The Old Sheep Shop on this shop.

Storefront of Alice's Shop

Storefront of Alice’s Shop. Credit: Visit Joana

From Alice’s Shop, turn left up St. Aldate’s, then right onto Blue Boar Street which becomes Bear Lane. At the end of the road, curve right onto Oriel Square and follow the next curve onto Merton Street. Follow the next curve left to find the Exam Schools on your left. Continue onto High Street and turn right to find Magdalen College on your left. Continue down High Street for the next part of the route.

Part 1 of the Oxford's Legends and Lore walk from Alice's Shop to Christ Church Cathedral, Exam Schools, and Magdalen College

Part 1 of the Oxford’s Legends and Lore walk

It is said that a Princess named Frideswide founded Oxford. She wanted to devote her life to the church and become a nun, but she was pursued by a king who wanted to marry her. He followed her to Oxford but strangely went blind as he reached the borders. After begging her forgiveness and promising not to marry her, his sight suddenly returned. Frideswide established a nunnery at Christ Church Cathedral, part of Christ Church College. Oxford’s earliest colleges were built around this nunnery as centres of monastic scholarship. The original nunnery, run by Frideswide until she died in 727, was destroyed in 1002. Today, Frideswide is known as the Patron Saint of Oxford University.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral. Credit: Christ Church University of Oxford

During the Black Death, it is said that the doctors at Christ Church College prescribed potato peels at every meal to ward off the plague. Naturally, people grew tired and bored of eating potato peels and graffitied “No Peel” on the doors leading to the Great Hall. Although quite funny, “No Peel” in fact refers to Sir Robert Peel, a prime minister educated at the College. He received the nickname “Orange Peel” because he had red hair, but mostly because he did not support the freeing of the Catholics; instead, he supported the Protestants, represented by the colour orange. One day, he resigned from his position after his almost sudden support of the Catholics. This resulted in pro and anti-peel groups since Oxford was against the Reformation and was a Catholic city. During an anti-peel protest, “No Peel” was hammered into the door of the Christ Church Treasury and is now a reminder of this conflict.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- No Peel, Christ Church Treasury

No Peel, Christ Church Treasury. Credit: Lebatihem

New Oxford students are given the “grey book” of the University’s Examination Regulations. Typically, students don’t read this book and find other uses for it. This tendency has awarded the book the nickname “The Doorstop.”  It is rumoured that one of the rules or guidelines within this book is that if you arrive at the Exam Schools on a horse, in full armour, carrying a sword, examiners are obliged to give you a glass of sherry. Naturally, this rumour was tested by a student and was, in fact, given a glass of sherry. However, he was missing a piece of his uniform: the sword. He was apparently fined one shilling. Another variation of this story is that should students arrive dressed this way, they would automatically be granted a First; it is unknown whether or not this actually occurred.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Doorstop

Doorstop. Credit: Will Thompson

Allegedly, during the Second World War meat shortages, Magdalen College’s deer that frequented the deer park were reclassified as vegetables… This was an attempt to undercut the law set by the Ministry of Food. Sadly, this bizarre story has no evidence of it being true.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Magdalen College Deer Park

Magdalen College Deer Park. Credit: Robert Scott

High Street becomes St. Clement’s Street after the roundabout, then London Place, then Headington Road. As the road splits at London Place, turn left onto Marston Road. Turn left onto King’s Mill Lane and continue along the Mesopotamia Walk.

Part 2 of the Oxford's Legends and Lore walk from Magdalen College, along Headington Road onto Mesopotamia Walk

Part 2 of the Oxford’s Legends and Lore walk

Continue to the left of Parson’s Pleasure on the Marston Cyclepath, passing the Fignon Bridge to your right. When the path splits, turn right to follow the path closest to the stream. Continue along the path as it becomes Lazenbee’s Ground Walk around the small pond, then becomes North Walk. Continue straight until you reach Parks Road over onto Banbury Road to turn left.

Part 3 of the Oxford's Legends and Lore walk to Parson's Pleasure bath, past the J.R.R. Tolkien onto Banbury Road

Part 3 of the Oxford’s Legends and Lore walk

Parson’s Pleasure was initially a male-only nude bathing area. Women were forbidden from here but had their own area known as “Dame’s Delight” in the 1930s, which closed in the 1970s due to some flooding of the river.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Parson's Pleasure

Parson’s Pleasure. Credit: Ross Mackenzie

At the split in the road at the street of St. Giles’, turn right to cross the road, then turn left passing the war memorial on your left. You will find the Eagle and Child Pub on your right. Continuing down St. Giles’, you will see St. John’s College on your left.

Continue along St. Giles’ into Magdalen Street East, passing the Martys’ Memorial on your right, to turn left into Broad Street, where Luminox took place. Continue along Broad Street to see the Sheldonian Theatre on your right. Walk around the Theatre, then turn left to find the Bridge of Sighs in New College Lane.

Part 4 of the Oxford's Legends and Lore walk to the Eagle and Child Pub, St. John's College, Broad Street, the Sheldonian Theatre, and the Bridge of Sighs

Part 4 of the Oxford’s Legends and Lore walk

The Eagle and Child Pub is not only a gathering place for good food and drink. It was once a gathering place for the local, self-proclaimed “Inklings.” Some members included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lewis Carroll. Initially, they met in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen College, but their more frequent meeting spot was in a private room (conveniently the “Rabbit Room”) at the back of the Eagle and Child on Mondays or Tuesdays during lunchtime. As you can expect, they spoke about their own works and did readings. This continued for decades. Sadly, the pub is undergoing some changes and will be closed for an unknown amount of time.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Eagle and Child Pub

Eagle and Child Pub. Credit: Oxford Mail

St. John’s College has a library that is said to be haunted by the ghost of Archbishop William Laud, a former Chancellor of Oxford University. In 1645, he was beheaded for supporting Charles I; hence, his ghost is said to be headless. More disturbingly, it is said he kicks his head around like a football.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Library of St. John's College

Library of St. John’s College. Credit: Meraj Chhaya

Oxford celebrated its 1000-year birthday, if you will. To mark the occasion, a fire festival called the Luminox was held here on Broad Street. It was quite an impressive display, with the street lined with little pots of fire arranged in various structures. Additionally, there was a pendulum which swung around 1000 times.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Luminox Display

Luminox Display. Credit: Garrett Coakley

The Sheldonian Theatre is one of the buildings synonymous with Oxford and is where the Oxford graduations take place. You may notice busts of fourteen bearded men. The original busts were completed in 1669 and replaced in the 1970s as the faces eroded. But nobody actually knows who the busts are modelled from. It is suggested they are apostles or philosophers. But they are mostly referred to as the Emperors. One anecdote is that they show the history or evolution of beards since each one is different.

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Sheldonian Theatre Beards

Sheldonian Theatre Beards. Credit: Sheldonian Theatre

The Bridge of Sighs is also synonymous with Oxford, and it is rumoured that it was once closed off to students. Allegedly, a survey was conducted many years ago. It was “found” that students at Hertford College were the heaviest in Oxford. To assist with this issue, the bridge was closed, forcing students to take the stairs and, therefore, giving them more exercise. The fact is, the bridge was never closed on any occasion. Also, using the bridge requires more steps to be climbed than other routes…

Oxford's Legends and Lore- Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs. Credit: Bob Collowan, Wikimedia Commons

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