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OXFORD, as we read in our Chronicles, was, even in the British age, consecrated to the Muses. It was called by the Romans Bellositum. When the place was first fortified does not appear; but the walls, of which some parts are still remaining, were raised upon former foundations, about the time of the Conquest, by Robert D'Oiley, who erected the Castle at the command of the Conqueror in 1071; a work of great strength, and considerable extent, of which one solitary Tower is the only part remaining: the old building being much decayed, on its site, and at the expence of the county, a large and commodious Gaol has lately been erected, which, for strength and convenience, will hardly be surpassed by any in the kingdom. King Henry I. built a Royal Palace on a spot called Beaumont, on the west side of the city, few remains of which are now visible, but the site may be traced in some gardens. King B
Richard I. called Coeur de Lion, was born in this palace.
The University of Oxford has many fabulous accounts relating to the time of its origin. It most probably was instituted soon after the propagation of Christianity in this kingdom. Alfred is supposed by some to have been its founder; but others think that he only restored it, in an age of confusion and ignorance, and was the father of that establishment and security, which, notwithstanding some temporary shocks and interruptions, it has maintained ever since. The first College of the University, incorporated by royal charter, was that of Walter de Merton, A. D. 1274; about which time 15,000 scholars are reported to have been resident here: but in the reign of Henry III. the University is said to have consisted of double that number.
In the city and its environs were several Monasteries, the principal of which were St. Frideswide's and Oseney Abbey, and the Dominican, Augustine, and Franciscan convents. The bishopric, which was heretofore part of Lincoln diocese, was erected by King Henry VIII. in 1542.
The situation is on an eminence, rising gradually from its extremities to the centre. It is encompassed by meadows and corn-fields. The meadows, which are chiefly to the south and west, are about a mile in extent; beyond which are hills of a moderate height, bounding the prospect.
The eastern prospect has likewise some hills at a little distance, the valley growing considerably narrower towards the south; but the north is open to corn-fields and inclosures for a considerable extent, without any hill to intercept the air. It is washed by a number of streams: on the east, by the different branches of the Cherwell; on the south and west, by those of the Thames: all which meet, and join a little below the city, forming one beautiful river. The soil is dry, being on a fine gravel, which renders it not less healthful than pleasant.
From Botley hill, the second hill in Bagley wood, Headington hill,. IfHey, and Nuneham, are views of Oxford of uncommon variety and beauty, presenting scenery combined of objects of nature and art, such as cannot be paralleled in any part of Great Britain, and have not many rivals on the continent. Before the Colleges were erected, the Students were instructed in the houses of citizens, or in inns or halls, supported by benefactions from rich persons, or their own patrimony.
The town, including the suburbs, is a mile in length frorn^east to west, and almost as much in breadth from north to south, being three miles in circumference; but it is of an irregular figure; and several airy spaces are comprehended within these limits, besides the many courts and gardens belonging to the respective Colleges.
The city, properly so called, formerly surrounded by a wall, with bastions at about 150 feet distance from each other, is of an oblong form, and about two miles in circumference. Magdalen College, with the eastern as well as the northern suburbs, which contain the parishes of Holywell, Magdalen, and St. Giles, with Balliol, Trinity, St. John's, and Wadham Colleges, are without the old walls; of which some part remains as a boundary to Merton College on the south and east and to New College, beginning near the east end of the High-Street, and continuing almost to the Clarendon Printing House, where there was a Portal and a Chapel, called in the old maps, The Ladies' Chapel, some remains of which are still visible.
The principal street of the city runs from east to west, the entire length of the town, but under different names; the High-Street, beginning at Magdalen Bridge, includes at least two thirds of that length; the remainder is to the end of Castle-Street. The High-Street is perhaps without a rival, being of a spacious width and length, adorned with the fronts of three Colleges, St. Mary's and All Saints' Churches, terminated at the east end with a view of Magdalen College Tower, and a beautiful Bridge. Every turn of this street presents a new object, and a different view, each of which would make an agreeable picture in perspective; whereas, had it been straight, every object would have been seen at one and the same instant, but more foreshortened than at present.
The second street is that which runs from south to north, crossing the street already described. The south side is called Fish-Street, and the other the Corn-Market; from whence we pass into Magdalen-parish and St. Giles's, which form a very spacious street, and in some respects is preferable to either of the former, it having the pleasure and advantage of the country, though connected with the town. One end of this street is terminated by St. Giles's Church, and adorned with the front of St. John's College.
On the east side of Fish-Street (commonly called St. Old's, by corruption from St. Aldate's) stands Christ Church College, the magnificent front whereof is extended to 382 feet in length. On the same side is the. Town Hall, where the Town and County Sessions, and the Assizes, are held; which was rebuilt at the expence of TftoMAs Rowney, Esq. late Representative in Parliament, and High Steward of the City.
The principal Bridges are, 1. Magdalen-Bridge, built by Mr. Gwynn, over the Cherwell, being