Oxford, a city steeped in history and intellectual prowess, has more to offer than meets the eye!
Beyond its renowned university and stunning architecture, Oxford conceals a tapestry of intriguing anecdotes and delightful oddities. With a treasure trove of captivating facts and unique traditions. Below are just a few fascinating facets of this venerable city, where literary legends walked, tortoises race, and time itself takes on a distinctive cadence.
1. Oxford – More Published Writers Per Square Mile Than Anywhere Else In The World!
Nestled amid the picturesque spires and cobbled streets, Oxford reportedly houses more published writers per square mile than anywhere else on Earth. This enchanting city is a haven for bibliophiles, offering a treasure trove of literary events and bookish locations that cater to every reader’s whim. Renowned authors, from Lewis Carroll to Philip Pullman, have called Oxford home, infusing the city’s very essence into their works. It’s a place where imagination knows no bounds, and the legacy of its literary luminaries continues to inspire generations of writers and readers alike, creating a unique haven for wordsmiths from across the globe.
2. The First Ever Coffee House In England!
Where England’s Coffee Obsession Began – Oxford holds the distinction of hosting England’s inaugural coffee house, a pioneering establishment that would forever alter the country’s caffeine culture. The Grand Café, now an Oxford institution, stands on the hallowed grounds where, in 1650, the first-ever cups of coffee in England were served. This historic venue, adorned with opulent marble pillars and gilded charm, continues to embrace its illustrious legacy by offering an array of culinary delights, from lunches to cream teas, and high teas. As you enjoy the rich brews within these storied walls, you’re partaking in a tradition that has brewed for centuries, marking Oxford as the birthplace of England’s enduring love affair with coffee.
3. Four Minute Mile – Roger Bannister’s Milestone: Defying the Limit
The date was May 6, 1954, a pivotal moment in the world of sports. As the clock ticked to 6:03 pm at Oxford University’s Iffley Road track, history was about to be made. Six determined runners, including Roger Bannister, braved the challenge. Little did the spectators know that a little over seven minutes later, they would bear witness to a monumental feat.
Roger Bannister, a medical student at Oxford, would etch his name in the annals of athletic history by becoming the first man to conquer the elusive sub-four-minute mile. As the announcer, Norris McWhirter, of Guinness Book of Records fame, declared amidst the euphoric roar of the crowd, Bannister had achieved not just a new English record, but a track record, a new British Empire Commonwealth record, a European record, and a world record – all in the astonishing time of three minutes, 59.4 seconds.
4. Oxford’s Quirky Tortoise Race
Among the array of eccentric traditions in Oxford lies a truly unique sporting spectacle: the annual Tortoise Race held each May, pitting rival Oxford colleges against one another. This charming and bizarre event, dating back approximately four decades, has become a beloved part of the university’s culture. Some Oxford colleges proudly keep tortoises as their mascots, with students assuming the responsibility of their care.
The Tortoise Fair, hosted by Corpus Christi College, serves as the stage for this hotly contested race, a highlight of the university’s calendar. Notably, the rationale behind tortoises as the chosen competitors is due to their popularity as pets among Oxford colleges, with Christ Church, Corpus Christi, St Peter’s College, and Wadham all having their own tortoises. Yet, in the spirit of modern times, Magdalen College, concerned with animal welfare, appointed a human tortoise, Oscar d’Tortoise, to participate in the races, and even legislatively mandated his consumption of lettuce at general meetings. Oxford’s Tortoise Race is a testament to the city’s tradition of blending history and eccentricity.
5. Oxford Time: A Historical Quirk
In the heart of Oxford, time dances to its own unique rhythm. The city’s clock stands apart, ticking 5 minutes and 2 seconds behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) due to Oxford’s location, precisely 1 degree west of the prime meridian. Every evening at 9.05 pm, a revered tradition unfolds as Great Tom, the iconic bell at Christ Church College, chimes 101 times.
This ritual harks back to the college’s inception when each bell toll symbolised one of its original 101 students, signalling them to return before the gates closed. Following this enchanting nightly serenade, the bell gracefully resumes its silence until the following morning, harmoniously aligning itself with GMT once more, marking the hours with hourly strikes. Oxford’s time, a charming deviation from the ordinary, holds echoes of its rich history and academic heritage.
6. Breaking Academic Barriers – Oxford’s Triumph For Women’s Education
The University of Oxford, steeped in tradition, underwent a significant transformation in the late 19th and 20th centuries regarding gender inclusivity. Until 1878, women were, remarkably, forbidden from pursuing higher education here. It wasn’t until 1920 that they were permitted to earn degrees, marking a pivotal step toward gender equality. The journey continued as, in 1974, all colleges finally opened their doors to women, culminating in a more balanced student population today, where both male and female undergraduates contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Oxford’s academic landscape. This remarkable evolution underscores the university’s commitment to inclusivity and the invaluable role of women in academia.
7. Oxford’s Olympic Legacy – 170 Medals!
Oxford University boasts a rich and enduring legacy at the Olympic Games, a tradition that traces its origins to the inaugural Games of the I Olympiad in 1896. The university takes immense pride in the remarkable achievements of its students, who have collectively garnered an impressive tally of 170 Olympic medals, representing numerous nations worldwide. These medals stand as a testament to the unwavering commitment, dedication, and sporting excellence that have long been synonymous with Oxford’s esteemed institution. They continue to inspire athletes and enthusiasts alike, reinforcing the university’s enduring connection with the global Olympic movement.
8. The Oxford Botanical Garden – The Oldest Botanic Garden in Great Britain
Nestled within the historic confines of Oxford, the Oxford Botanic Garden proudly holds the distinction of being Great Britain’s oldest botanic garden and a revered presence among the world’s earliest scientific gardens. Beyond its hallowed history, the garden plays a vital role in safeguarding the global flora, a mission of unprecedented significance as we face the looming threat of extinction for two out of every five plant species worldwide.
With a diverse living collection of approximately 5,000 distinct plant varieties, the Oxford Botanical Garden and Arboretum (OBGA) carries profound conservation value. As staunch adherents to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, OBGA collaborates with local and international partners to protect and preserve rare plant species, some of which exist nowhere else on Earth.
9. Blackwell’s – The World’s Largest Room Dedicated To The Sale Of Books
While the Blackwell family’s first bookshop made its debut in Oxford in 1846, the year 1879 is etched in history as the official founding date. It was on January 1st of that year when the iconic Blackwell’s bookshop, nestled on the bustling Broad Street in Oxford, opened its doors. Since that momentous day, it has been a continuous haven for book lovers.
Over the years, this bookshop has not only expanded in size but also in innovation. The introduction of the Norrington Room over five decades ago marked a remarkable milestone, securing a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest room dedicated to the sale of books. With its legendary basement boasting an astonishing three miles of shelving housing 150,000 books, it’s a paradise for anyone seeking the company of a good book.
10. Oxford: A Stint as England’s Capital
A captivating piece of Oxford’s history reveals that, albeit briefly, it held the distinguished title of England’s capital. In a significant turn of events during the English Civil War, Oxford, with its strong Royalist leanings, assumed this pivotal role in October 1642. It maintained its status as the capital for a remarkable three and a half years until the city yielded to the Parliamentarian forces, more commonly known as the Roundheads. This intriguing chapter in Oxford’s history reflects its enduring significance on the English landscape.
11. May Morning in Oxford – A Timeless Celebration of Spring
A cherished tradition dating back to the early 16th century, May Morning in Oxford remains a joyous ode to the arrival of spring. As the clock strikes 6 am on the 1st of May, the melodious voices of Magdalen College Choir echo from the apex of the Great Tower, harmoniously welcoming the rising sun.
This timeless ritual, performed for over five centuries, draws thousands to the bustling High Street below. The city’s diverse communities converge, forming a tapestry of shared delight as they partake in dancing, singing, and merry-making. At the tower’s base, crowds are captivated by the Choir’s angelic performance, while the echoes of revelry reverberate throughout the city centre. May Morning embodies Oxford’s enduring spirit, a testament to its ability to seamlessly intertwine tradition and festivity.
12. The Boat Race: Oxford’s Grand Rowing Tradition
In the world of rowing, the annual clash between Oxford and Cambridge stands as a pinnacle of tradition and sporting prowess. These iconic races, collectively known as ‘The Boat Race,’ commenced in 1829 and have been etched into the annals of history. Notably, 1927 marked a milestone as it heralded the inclusion of women’s races, adding another layer of intensity and competition to the spectacle.
The river Thames bears witness to this fierce rivalry, with Oxford and Cambridge crews battling fiercely for supremacy. Oxford, although trailing Cambridge by just two races in the overall head-to-head, has displayed remarkable prowess in recent times, securing victory in 10 of the last 15 races.
13. The Ashmoleon Museum – Britain’s first public museum
Founded in 1683 by the generous antiquary Elias Ashmole, the Ashmolean Museum stands as an enduring testament to Oxford’s rich history. It proudly holds the distinction of being Britain’s inaugural public museum and the world’s premier university museum. Over the centuries, the collection has expanded and transformed, but its fundamental mission has remained unchanged: to illuminate the tapestry of humanity across cultures and epochs. This noble objective, however, carries with it a sombre truth – a significant portion of the collection was acquired through the dynamics of colonial power. Nevertheless, the Ashmolean Museum today boasts a globally renowned assortment, from enigmatic Egyptian mummies to contemporary artistic creations, narrating the intricate stories of humanity spanning diverse cultures and epochs. The Ashmoleon Museum is one of four Oxford University Museums