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The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, in South East England. The city has a population of just under 165,000, with 151,000 living within the district boundary. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through Oxford and meet south of the city centre. For a distance of some 10 miles (16 km) along the river, in the vicinity of Oxford, the Thames is known as The Isis.
The Oxford Martyrs were tried for heresy in 1555 and subsequently burnt at the stake, on what is now Broad Street, for their religious beliefs and teachings. The three martyrs were the bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The Martyrs’ Memorial stands nearby, round the corner to the North on St. Giles.
During the English Civil War, Oxford housed the court of Charles I in 1642, after the king was expelled from London, although there was strong support in the town for the Parliamentarian cause. The town yielded to Parliamentarian forces under General Fairfax in the Siege of Oxford of 1646. It later housed the court of Charles II during the Great Plague of London in 1665–66. Although reluctant to do so, he was forced to evacuate when the plague got too close.
In 1790, the Oxford Canal connected the city with Coventry. The Duke’s Cut was completed by the Duke of Marlborough in 1789 to link the new canal with the River Thames; and in 1796 the Oxford Canal company built their own link to the Thames, at Isis Lock. In the 1840s, the Great Western Railway and London and North Western Railway linked Oxford with London.
Oxford’s Town Hall was built by Henry T. Hare, the foundation stone was laid on 6 July 1893 and opened by the future King Edward VII on 12 May 1897. The site has been the seat of local government since the Guild Hall of 1292 and though Oxford is a city and a Lord Mayoralty, it is still called by its traditional name of “Town Hall”.
By the early 20th century, Oxford was experiencing rapid industrial and population growth, with the printing and publishing industries becoming well established by the 1920s. Also during that decade, the economy and society of Oxford underwent a huge transformation as William Morris established the Morris Motor Company to mass produce cars in Cowley, on the south-eastern edge of the city. By the early 1970s over 20,000 people worked in Cowley at the huge Morris Motors and Pressed Steel Fisher plants. By this time Oxford was a city of two halves: the university city to the west of Magdalen Bridge and the car town to the east. This led to the witticism that “Oxford is the left bank of Cowley”. Cowley suffered major job losses in the 1980s and 1990s during the decline of British Leyland, but is now producing the successful New MINI for BMW on a smaller site. A large area of the original car manufacturing facility at Cowley was demolished in the 1990s and is now the site of the Oxford Business Park.
The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and is first mentioned in 12th century records. Oxford’s earliest colleges were University College (1249), Balliol (1263) and Merton (1264). These colleges were established at a time when Europeans were starting to translate the writings of Greek philosophers. These writings challenged European ideology – inspiring scientific discoveries and advancements in the arts – as society began seeing itself in a new way. These colleges at Oxford were supported by the Church in hopes to reconcile Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology.
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford is unique as a college chapel and cathedral in one foundation. Originally the Priory Church of St Frideswide, the building was extended and incorporated into the structure of the Cardinal’s College shortly before its refounding as Christ Church in 1546, since which time it has functioned as the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford.
Oxford’s second university, Oxford Brookes University, formerly the Oxford School of Art, or Oxford Polytechnic, based on Headington Hill, was given its charter in 1991 and has been voted for the last five years the best new university in the UK.
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.
Oxford city centre is relatively small and is centred on Carfax, a cross-roads on which a clocktower stands, and which forms the junction of Cornmarket Street (pedestrianised), Queen Street (semi-pedestrianised), 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 Boswells, which was founded in 1738. St Aldate’s has few shops but is the location of a number of local-government buildings, including the Town Hall, the city police station and local council offices. The High (the word street is not part of the name of this road) has a number of independent and high-end chain stores.
There are two small shopping centres 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 located at the west end of Queen Street. It is quite small and contains a number of chain stores and a supermarket.
Blackwell Bookshop is a very popular tourist attraction in Oxford. Blackwell Books claims the largest single room devoted to book sales in the whole of Europe, the cavernous Norrington Room (10,000 sq ft).
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