Further Explorations of Oxford on Foot


Aside from its colleges and museums, the compact old city of Oxford offers a multitude of historic buildings, churches and other attractions best seen by walking around. For this page we will take a virtual walk around the old city, leaving out the colleges and museums that are covered on other pages and focusing instead on other things. Starting on Broad Street near the Sheldonian Theatre we will wander south through the Old Bodleian Library to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin; east on High Street to the River Cherwell, and back west along Holywell Street. After looking at the nearby Bridge of Sighs, we will notice Balliol College as we walk further west on Broad Street. At the Cornmarket we will detour one block south to snap a photo of the Carfax Tower, then north to the Martyrs' Memorial at the foot of Beaumont Street. Finally we will venture a bit futher west to the Oxford Canal to enjoy the serenity and admire the colorful canal boats there.


Sheldonian Theatre, Bodleian Library and Vicinity


On the south side of Broad Street we approach the Museum of the History of Science (right), in a building completed in 1683. Just beyond it is the Sheldonian Theatre, and still further is the Clarendon Building.

Clarendon Building

The Clarendon Building (now providing office space to Bodleian Library staff) was completed in 1715 to house the Oxford University Press (which is long since relocated to larger and more modern facilities).

Sheldonian Theatre

The Sheldonian Theatre, completed in 1669, was one of the first buildings designed by Christopher Wren. It was commissioned by Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, to provide a venue for university graduation ceremonies. It is still used for some university ceremonies, as well as for lectures and music concerts. Thomas Hardy referred to the theatre and its octagonal lantern (seen in top left photo) in Jude the Obscure (in which it was relocated to the fictional city of Christminster): "... he went up to an octagonal chamber in the lantern of a singularly built theatre that was set amidst this quaint and singular city. It had windows all round, from which an outlook over the whole town and its edifices could be gained ...".


The Bodleian Libary, founded in 1320, is the main reference library of the University of Oxford. It didn't acquire its present name until 1602, when it was named after a prominent and wealthy scholar, Thomas Bodley. It occupies a cluster of buildings just off Broad Street, as well as other buildings in Oxford and overflow facilities in other locales. Among its treasures are four original manuscript copies of the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible ca. 1455, and a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, printed in 1623. At the entrance to the Divinity School (part of the library), below right, stands a statue of the Earl of Pembroke, Chancellor of the University, 1617-1630.

Bodleian Libary
Bodleian Libary

Bodleian Libary
statue of John Radcliffe

The Radcliffe Camera, a domed rotunda, is also part of the Bodleian Library, and is seen at front and rear, above. It was commissioned by James Gibbs as a memorial to physician John Radcliffe (1650-1714).


St. Mary the Virgin Church

St. Mary the Virgin Church

Dating from the early 14th century, St. Mary the Virgin Church is the official church of the University. It also has the regrettable distinction of being where three Protestant martyrs were found guilty of heresy in 1555-6, and then burned at the stake on Broad Street. For our purposes one of its main distinctions is its tower, which can be climbed to gain a commanding view of Oxford (see photos taken from there on the Colleges web page).

church interior

Here the nave is viewed from the gallery, looking eastward toward the chancel.

spiral staircase

Access to the viewing area in the upper tower is gained by climbing this rather constricted circular stairway.


Further East

punts and punters

A bit further east is the River Cherwell, and the Magdalen Bridge, which carries High Street across it. This is a point of embarcation for punting --the sport of propelling colorful flat-bottomed boats (punts) with poles.


The churchyard and cemetery of St. Mary and John Church is purposefully allowed to go somewhat natural to provide habitat and refuge for native meadow plants, birds and wildlife.

Bridge of Sighs

Returning to the main part of the old city we find the Bridge of Sighs, a covered bridge connecting two parts of Hertford College by crossing New College Lane. It is named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, but its architecture much more closely resembles Venice's Rialto Bridge. It is a relatively new addition to the old city of Oxford -- construction was completed in 1914, from a design by Sir Thomas Jackson.


Along Holywell Street and Broad Street

New College

Along the south side of Holywell Street are buildings of New College (above), and Bath Place (below left). On the north side are a collection of homes and buildings of highly varied periods and styles, including this vintage stone-fronted home (lower right).

Bath Place
stone house

Balliol College
Balliol College

Back on Broad Street again, we note architectural detail at the front of Balliol College, founded in 1263 by John I. de Balliol.


Carfax Tower, and Martyrs' Memorial

Carfax Tower

Carfax Tower is all that remains of the 13th century St Martin's Church. For many centuries it was the official City Church of Oxford. No building in the central part of Oxford is permitted to be constucted higher than it.

Martyrs' Memorial

The Martyrs' Memorial commemorates three Protestants that were condemned as heretics and burned at the stake on Broad Street in 1555 (Bishops Latimer and Ridley) and 1556 (Archbishop Cranmer).


Along the Oxford Canal


Just a bit west from the center of Oxford is the Oxford canal, with numerous canal boats lining the sides. Walking along it is a serene experience compared to the bustle of central Oxford just a few blocks away.

canal boat
canal boat

canal boat
canal boat

canal boat with flower garden

Some boats are fancy; others not. Some are dilapidated, but many others are immaculately maintained and even accompanied by flower gardens.