When William the Conqueror invaded England and won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Oxford Castle was chosen as the ideal motte-and-bailey castle by the Normans. Over time, the castle was transformed from a castle into a prison, and now it is a visitor attraction in order to tell its tale.
The castle played an important part in The Anarchy, a civil war in England and Normandy between 1135 and 1153. The conflict resulted in a breakdown in law and order. The war began due to a succession crisis (where two or more people claim the right of successor to a deceased or deposed monarch), because of the accidental drowning of William Adelin, son of Henry I. Failing to have his daughter, Empress Matilda, as successor – Henry I nephew, Stephen of Blois seized the throne after Henry I’s death and marked the beginning of the war. Henry’s daughter Matilda, opposed Stephen’s rule dividing Oxford’s influence. In 1142, Stephen directed a surprise raid on Oxford castle, trapping Matilda inside. However, Matilda managed to escape from King Stephen in the midst of a snow storm by braving a bid for freedom draped in a white cloak, camouflaged against the snow. She fled to Wallingford Castle and Oxford surrendered the next day. In 1153, the war came to an end in an agreement that saw Stephen remaining king until his death when Matilda’s son, Henry took over.
In the 14th century, the castle became more prominent for its use as a prison. Between 1642 and 1651 the English Civil War occurred and most of the castle was destroyed, the remains were then used as the local prison by the 18th century. HM Prison Oxford was built from 1785 and expanded in 1876, closing in 1996, becoming a hotel and visitor attraction. The prison is known for executing Mary Blandy in 1752. Mary Blandy was an eighteenth century English murderer who poisoned her father with arsenic.
Saxon St. Georges’ Tower
The Saxon St. Georges’ Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford, and it provides 360 degree views of the city. St. Georges’ Tower is four floors high and is one of the earliest stone towers in England. It was the tower of St. George’s in the castle chapel while also being a part of the castle fortifications. The tower was initially a watch tower, associated with Oxford’s Saxon west gate. During the Civil War, Parliamentary prisoners were held here in squalid conditions.
The crypt is the only surviving remains of what was once St. George’s Chapel, and is 900 years old. St. George’s Chapel is said to mark the beginning of Oxford’s high reputation amongst education. The chapel was a teaching base for Oxford students It is also said to be where Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the legends of King Arthur, including characters such as Merlin and Guinevere.
Debtors’ Tower and Prison D-Wing
The 18th century Debtors’ Tower was built in 1790 and was separate from the main prison, used for housing debtors. Debtors were people who owed money, they were kept in prison until the money was paid.
Prison D-Wing was part of the later prison, built in the 18th century.
Prison A-Wing was modelled on Pentonville prison, and was built in 1852. It has 150 cells each for one prisoner, however, when it was closed in 1996 each cell was holding three prisoners.
The 11th century motte-and-bailey castle is a sight to behold, take in the history by taking a walk around the castle mound.
Oxford Castle and Prison is easily accessible by both road and rail. The Castle is situated just a short five minute walk away from the train and coach station.
The train station has regular links to London and all other major UK cities.
Oxford is connected by road to London, the M25, and the Midlands by the M40. The Oxford ring road also provides access to Southampton, Portsmouth, and Bristol via the A34.
The coach has regular links to central London that takes just over an hour and a half, it also connects to Heathrow and Gatwick airport in under two hours.
There are also five park and ride car parks throughout Oxford, the closest being Seacourt and Redbridge.
Where to stay:
Malmaison Oxford – Next to Oxford castle, the Malmaison offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to stay in a unique hotel. The Malmaison gives you the opportunity to spend the night in an 18th century converted prison cell.
Courtyard by Marriott – The Courtyard has incredible views of the Oxford Castle, some rooms overlook the Saxon St. Georges’ Tower.
The Randolph Hotel – The Randolph Hotel is central in Oxford and is known for its elegance and traditional design.
Urban Living UK – Urban Living UK offers self-catering apartments throughout Oxford, some of which even overlook Oxford Castle.
- Adult – £13.45
- Child (5-15) – £9.25
- Child (under 5) – Free
- Student (with valid ID) – £12.45
- Senior – £12.45
- Carer – Free
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