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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Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;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.

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)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • Norton, A., Munby, J. and Poore, D., forthcoming (2011), Excavations at Oxford Castle, Oxford's Western Quarter from the mid Saxon period to the late 18th century (Oxford Archaeology: Thames Through Time series)
      Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 73, 128
      Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 175, 271 (1141 siege)
      Davies, M.J., 2005, Stories of Oxford Castle: From Dungeon to Dunghill (Oxford Towpath Press)
      Gravett, C., 2003, Norman Stone Castles (Oxford: Osprey Publishing) p. 43-4
      Dodd, Anne (ed), 2003, Oxford before the university: the late Saxon and Norman archaeology of the Thames crossing, the defences and the town (Oxford Archaeology: Thames Valley landscape monograph 17) (esp chap 4 by Julian Munby and David Wilkinson)
      Creighton, O., 2002, Castles and Landscapes (London and New York: Continuum) p. 134-5
      Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of The Thames Valley and The Chilterns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 73
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 205-6
      Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 172-73
      Drage, C., 1987, 'Urban castles' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 117-32 online copy
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 386
      Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 273
      Cooper, J., 1979, 'Castle' in Crossley, A. (ed), VCH Oxfordshire Vol. 4, The City of Oxford (OUP for the Institute of Historical Research) p. 296-300 online transcription
      Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 266, 272
      Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 771-5
      RCHME, 1939, Inventory-City of Oxford (HMSO) p. 156-8 plates 211-13
      Squires, 1928, In West Oxford (London and Oxford) p. 52-84
      Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 41-4
      Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 180-1 online copy
      Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
      Potts, W., 1907, in Page, Wm (ed), 'Ancient Earthworks' VCH Oxfordshire Vol. 2 p. 326 online transcription
      Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 159-163 online copy
      Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 2 (London) p. 408-10 online copy
      Ackermann, Rudolph, 1814, History of Oxford
      King, Edward, 1796, Vestiges of Oxford Castle (London)
      Buck, Samual and Buck, Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities or Venerable remains of above four hundred castles, monasteries, palaces etc. Vol. 2 (London) p. 241
      Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 4 p. 182-5
      Burghers, M., 1719, Conspectus Quadruplex Castri sive arcis oxoniensis
  • Periodical Articles
    • Poore, D., Norton, A. and Dodd, A., 2009, 'Excavations at Oxford Castle: Oxford's western quarter from the mid-Saxon period to the late eighteenth century (based on Daniel Poore's Tom Hassall Lecture for 2008)' Oxoniensia Vol. 74 p. 1-18 (available to subscribers online copy)
      2009, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 39 p. 42
      2006, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 36 p. 48-9
      Guy, Neil, 2005-6, 'Oxford Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol 19 p. 152-178
      2005-6, 'Oxford Castle Redevelopment' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol 19 p. 118-21
      Norton, A., 2005, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 35 p. 83-4 online copy
      2004-5, 'Oxford Castle' Castle Studies Group Bulletin Vol. 18 p. 85-6 (news report)
      2004, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 34 p. 71-2 online copy
      Norton, A., 2003, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 33 p. 77 online copy
      Booth, P., 2003, 'The west gate of Oxford Castle: excavations at Boreham's Yard, Tidmarsh Lane, Oxford, 1994-1995' Oxoniensia Vol. 68 p. 363-422 online copy
      2002-3, 'Oxford Castle: A £1.783 million Heritage Lottery Fund recipient' Castle Studies Group Newsletter Vol. 16 p. 36-8 (news report)
      Booth, P., 2000, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 30 p. 67-8 online copy
      1995, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 25 p. 60, 67 online copy
      1992, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 22 p. 50 online copy
      Harfield, C.G., 1991, 'A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book' English Historical Review Vol. 106 p. 371-392 view online copy (subscription required)
      1990, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 20 p. 86 online copy
      1989, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 19 p. 53 online copy
      Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 309, 315
      Youngs, S.M. and Clark, J., 1981, 'Medieval Britain in 1980' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 25 p. 212 download copy
      1979, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 9 p. 130-2 online copy
      Hassall, T.G., 1978, 'Oxford Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 135 p. 268-9
      1977, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 7 p. 56 online copy
      Hassall, T.G., 1976, 'Excavations at Oxford Castle , 1965-1973' Oxoniensia Vol. 41 p. 232-308 online copy
      Hassall, T.G., 1974, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 4 p. 23 online copy
      Hassall, T.G., 1973, 'Excavations at Oxford, 1972: Fifth Interim Report' Oxoniensia Vol. 38 p. 280-5 online copy
      King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
      Hassall, T.G., 1971,'Excavations at Oxford 1970' Oxoniensia Vol. 36 p. 9-10 online copy
      1971, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 15 p. 148 download copy
      Hassall, T.G., 1971, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 1 p. 23-4 online copy
      Renn, D.F., 1964, 'The first Norman Castles in England 1051-1071' Château Gaillard Vol. 1 p. 125-132
      Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
      Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
      Jope, E.M., 1952, 'Late Saxon Pits under Oxford Castle Mound: Excavations in 1952' Oxoniensia Vol. 17 p. 77-111 online copy
      Lynam, Charles, 1911, 'The Crypts of the Churches of St Peter in the East, and of St George within the Castle, Oxford' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 68 p. 209-17 online copy
      Hope, W.H.St John, 1910, The Archaeological Journal Vol. 67 p. 363-6 online copy
      Hope, W.H.St J., 1903, 'English Fortresses and Castles of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 60 p. 87 online copy
      Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 210 online copy
      Parker, 1886, Oxford Architectural Society (new ser) Vol. 5 p. 14-20
      Hartshorne, C.H., 1851, 'The castle, and 'the provisions of Oxford.'' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 8 p. 354-65 online copy
      Hartshorne, C.H., 1850, Archaeological Institute p. 135-43
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
    • Stevenson, J. (ed), 1858, Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon Vol. 2 p. 3 (London; Longman Rolls series) online copy (A newer edition based on the earliest manuscript should be consulted. see Hudson, J. (ed), 2007, Historia Ecclesie Abbendonensis The History of the Church of Abingdon (Oxford; Oxford University Press))
      Luard, H.R (ed), 1869, 'Annales monasterii de Oseneia (1016-1297)' in Annales Monastici (Rolls Series 36) Vol. 4 p. 9 online copy
      Ingram, James, (ed) 1912, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Everyman Press, London) Laud Chronicle AD1140 view online transcription (Ingram's translation and notes date from 1823. More recent translations of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles should be consulted for serious study)
      Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 88 online copy (The newer edition and translation by Potter, K.R. (ed), 1976 (2edn), Gesta Stephani (Oxford University Press) should be consulted for serious study. See also Speight, S., 2000, 'Castle Warfare in the Gesta Stephani' , Château Gaillard Vol. 19 see online transcription)
      Pipe Rolls 1172-4, 1190-1, tempus John (see Pipe Roll Society for published references)
      Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 433 online copy
      Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 384-8
      C145/14(14) (Survey of c. 1250) The National Archives reference (calendared in Maxwell Lyte, H.C., 1916, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 1 No. 336)
      C145/115(21) (Survey of 1331) The National Archives reference (calendared in Maxwell Lyte, H.C., 1916, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 2 p. 292 No. 1193 online copy)
      C145/80(6) (Survey of 1317) The National Archives reference (calendared in Maxwell Lyte, H.C., 1916, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 2 p. 86 No. 345 online copy)
      E178/4394 (Survey of 3 James I) The National Archives reference
      SP14/49/82 (Survey of 1609) The National Archives reference
  • Antiquarian (Histories and accounts from late medieval and early modern writers)
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • Shapland, Michael, 2012, Buildings of Secular and Religious Lordship: Anglo-Saxon Tower-nave Churches (PhD Thesis University College London) passim but esp Appendix 1.21 (on St George's tower)
      Fradley, Michael, 2011, The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150 (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) available via EThOS
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Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
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This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

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