• Jonathan Dyer

Learning about Oxford


Just over an hour north of London, Oxford has been a centre of learning for almost a thousand years. Many influential people have been educated here; its list of graduates includes statespersons, writers, artists and leaders of industry.

While touring the city by bus and by foot, I learned a wide range of details which add depth and colour to the visual beauty of classic old buildings, immaculate gardens and charming old pubs and cafes. In the space of a few hours it’s possible to visit places that have shaped the lives of many famous people.

When J. R. R. Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, he would meet C. S. Lewis at The Eagle and Child pub and chat about The Chronicles of Narnia. Many scenes from Harry Potter movies have been filmed in Oxford, and several murder mysteries and detective shows are based in Oxfordshire, including Inspector Morse, Lewis, Endeavour and Midsomer Murders. In their early acting years, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor first performed together on stage here, and later funded a new theatre at Oxford Playhouse, thanks to their wealth generated in Hollywood.

The Oxford English Dictionary was painstakingly compiled here, taking a team of editors over seventy years to define more than 400,000 words; the most comprehensive record of the English language. Further back in history during the seventeenth century civil war, the monarchists were based in Oxford, thereby enhancing its importance to the royal family. Curiously, its modern survival may be thanks to Adolf Hitler, who reportedly aimed to live in nearby Blenheim Palace after the war. Whether this is true, or perhaps the Nazis respected this centre of learning; Oxford was not bombed in the war.

Oxford is no stranger to controversy either. After obtaining extraordinary wealth in Africa, Cecil Rhodes funded a scholarship that has benefited thousands of students for more than a century, including Bill Clinton and Bob Hawke. Today’s historians identify Rhodes as a colonist, and many students argue that his statue should be removed from Oriel College, as it could be perceived as a celebration of British Imperialism.

Over time, many factors affect what is preserved and what is no longer worth keeping; this helps me appreciate the efforts of those who support the preservation of history, regardless of politics and beliefs. The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology is a good example; it includes exhibits collected from around the world (my favourite is ancient Egypt). This institute is over 300 years old and provides the perfect space to relax; their rooftop restaurant serves a lovely pot of tea accompanied with scones, jam and cream – another English tradition I’m especially thankful for after a big day of exploring.


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