History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Late Saxon St George's Tower
Queen Maud's Escape
The most dramatic moment in the military history of Oxford Castle came in 1142, at the height of the Civil War between King Stephen and Queen Maud. Maud's army was besieged within the castle, and it seemed that surrender must be imminent. But in a scene that would grace a cinema drama, Maud was lowered over the castle walls in the dead of night, and wrapped in a white cloak as camouflage against the swirling snow, she crept through the king's army camp and across the frozen Thames to safety.
The only other siege in the castle's long history came in 1216, when King John's rebellious barons held the castle against the king. King John forced to defenders to surrender, but his death later that year rendered the triumph meaningless.
After the Civil War the castle, like many town castles around England, was converted for use as a prison, a purpose it served until 1966. Oxford gained a fearsome reputation as a brutal gaol, particularly under the rule of Marshall William Smith, a 17th century Prison Keeper. Like many similar prison sites, Oxford Castle is reputed to be haunted, and the castle hosts regular ghost hunts and haunted evening tours. You can learn about some of the real people held in the castle prison, including a notorious highwayman named Isaac Darkin, and Anne Green, who was hanged in 1650, but somehow survived the ordeal.
One of the best surviving features from this period is an 18th century Debtor's Tower. Parts of the extensive Victorian prison have now been converted into a luxury hotel, and other parts of the prison complex house cafes and restaurants. The historic core of the castle has been preserved and restored, however. Visitors can descend to the crypt and climb a winding path to the top of the Norman castle motte. You can also climb to the top of St George's Tower for excellent views over the city.
The castle doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves; perhaps it is overwhelmed by the surrounding colleges. But it really is worth a visit. You can view the castle motte from the nearby road, but to see the Saxon tower and the prison, you'll need to by a ticket at the Oxford Castle Unlocked visitor centre off New Road.
- 11th century castle motte
- Late Saxon stone tower
- Norman chapel crypt
- 17th-19th century prison
- Section of the Saxon city walls
About Oxford Castle
Address: 44-46 Oxford Castle, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, OX1 1AY
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: Visitor entry off New Road.
Website: Oxford Castle
Phone: 01865 260 666
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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