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Oxford Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
St Georges Tower; Oxeneforde

In the civil parish of Oxford.
In the historic county of Oxfordshire.
Modern Authority of Oxfordshire.
1974 county of Oxfordshire.
Medieval County of Oxfordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SP50940616
Latitude 51.75217° Longitude -1.26306°

Oxford Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Oxford Castle is an important example of a motte and bailey castle located within a town. The history of the castle is well documented and it played a key role in the history and development of Oxford itself. The motte survives well and contains a rare well chamber as well as the archaeological remains from the stone keep built on it. Limited archaeological investigations in 1952 and 1966 showed that evidence of the earlier Saxon settlement on the site has been preserved beneath the mound, whereas similar evidence in Oxford has been largely lost in the development of the city. The survival of these features, St George's Tower and buried remains within the area of the bailey, make the site important to the understanding of the development of towns in general during the Middle Ages, and of Oxford in particular.
The monument includes the main surviving elements of a large motte and bailey castle, built in c.AD1071 on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon settlement, by Robert d'Oilly, a contemporary of William I. The first castle was mainly constructed of earth and timber although St George's Tower - Listed Grade I - may pre-date the mound, also having been built by Robert d'Oilly. The motte has survived well and includes evidence of alterations to the castle in the medieval period. The steep sided motte is 18m from base to summit and has a maximum diameter of 65m at the base and 23m on the flat summit. There was originally a wooden tower on the top of the mound but this was replaced in the medieval period with a ten sided stone keep, the foundations of which are visible on the summit. Inside the motte is a well-preserved Grade I Listed 13th century well chamber. This has a vaulted roof and is hexagonal in plan. The area of the bailey has been largely built over but can be traced along Bulwark Lane to the north-east and by the prison wall and Paradise Road to the south-west. The best surviving area of the bailey and of the structures within it are contained within the walls of Oxford Prison, including St George's Tower, part of the line of the curtain wall and accompanying ditch and the Grade I Listed crypt of St George's Chapel. St George's Tower may be earlier than the motte and is the earliest stone building surviving on the site. The Tower survives as a four storey structure and is in a remarkably good state of preservation for a building of its early date. The line of the curtain wall, built to replace the original bailey earthworks, and a section of the ditch which surrounded the bailey, survive below ground within the prison area. Part of this line is preserved above ground as the foundations of the round tower, rebuilt in the 1800's but containing, as a core, the stonework of one of the castle towers. St George's Chapel crypt once lay beneath the chancel of St George's Chapel. It was moved and rebuilt during 1794 but includes 11th century columns. The crypt is considered to be an integral part of the history of the site. The castle has played an important role in the history of Oxford and of England. In 1142 the Empress Matilda was besieged in the castle by King Stephen and the castle was again attacked in 1215 during the 'Barons' War'. However, by the 14th century the castle was in a ruinous state, at least in part. In 1611 most of the site was owned by Christ Church but it was to be reoccupied by the loyalist forces during the early years of the English Civil War. After a period of siege the castle was re-fortified by the Commonwealth in 1649, only to be slighted in 1652, bringing to an end the site's use as a castle. In 1776 New Road was built through the bailey and part of the site was acquired for a prison in 1785. Between 1790 and 1856 the rest of the site was developed including a new canal terminus and other major works. In 1856 the prison was extended and many new structures put up which have protected rather than destroyed much of the buried archaeological remains. Limited excavations have also established that significant remains of the earlier Saxon settlement survive. St George's Tower, the oldest surviving structure on the site, is included in the scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

St George's Tower may well be a late Saxon tower of thegnal status built in association with the west gate of the Saxon burh (c.f. St Michael at the North Gate.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:51

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