Friday, 17 March 2017

Dorchester on Thames & Oxford

After a very nice afternoon touring around the English Civil War battlefields at Edgehill and Cropredy Bridge we headed for our base for the weekend at the ancient village of Dorchester on Thames

and precisely the Fleur de Lys, medieval coaching house and all the head bumping on very low beams that description implies.

That said the welcome, food and historical environs more than made up for the occasional bruised forehead.

As you will see there is plenty of history to see from just across the road with the tower of the Norman Abbey seen above the wall and hedge lining the road. I don't think Carolyn was too keen on the Sunday morning bells!

the George Hotel with all the centuries that building has seen go past the door

to the more distant past with Bronze Age and Iron Age earth works on the outskirts close to the River Thames, with the Iron Age hill fort atop the locally named 'Wittenham Clumps' later occupied by the Romans, with the name Dorchester giving the Roman connection away.

Ariel view of the archeaolgy on the outskirts of Dorchester with the edge of the village centre top where we began our walk  
I was really thrilled to check back through my last visit to Oxford on a business trip back in 2014 and specifically the Ashmolean Museum where I pictured amongst other things, the Wittenham Sword found in the River Thames close to where we were staying.

Wittenham Sword pictured on my trip back in 2014
It's great to see the items that have been recovered that link an area to the people that once lived in the place and the sword with the hill fort beyond the river where it was found tick all those boxes.

View of the Wittenham Clumps on the hills beyond the path towards the Iron Age ramparts/dyke, centre and the WWII anti-tank bunker far left.
On the Sunday morning we decided to take a walk out towards the Thames and the 'Clumps' and because we planned to visit other sites later that day before heading home, settled for getting close up views of them and the other sites rather than a full on expedition to the hill fort which on another day and particularly a sunny one would have been most appealing.

The ramparts of the dyke become more pronounce the closer you get
I mentioned in response to an earlier post about the fact that given the size of the UK a lot of history rubs shoulder to shoulder with different eras.

The walk out to the clumps was a classic example with an Iron Age hill fort, dyke and WWII pillbox all within walking distance and examples of defensive architecture across the centuries of warfare.

A reminder of the days when the country last faced the threat of invasion

The anti-tank gun embrasure looks large enough to take a six-pounder gun and very capable of covering the main road into the village over the Thames.

Machine-gun embrasures cover the flanks of the bunker on each side.

The dyke and ramparts in all its glory
Close up of the clumps with the Hill Fort on the right most top

Ariel View of Wittenham Clumps, Castle Hill

As you know while out walking I delight in not only looking at the history of an area but also the natural history and the change here from home was quite distinctive with the Red Kites that populate this area since the early eighties, quite different from the Common Buzzards that populate the skies of Devon.

With Spring in the air the first of the green shoots were appearing in fields and on branches and the Snowdrops were conspicuous in their abundance.

The snow drops were out in force during our visit and became a lasting memory of the trip
On the Saturday afternoon I took Carolyn for some retail therapy to balance out the history viewing, but we both share a passion for the past and Carolyn particularly with the late Medieval/Reformation period in English history.

I wanted particularly to visit places that I hadn't seen on my trip back in 2014 and so the other historical aspects of Oxford took precedence as well as the shopping, which I joined in on and managed to get some additions to the JJ's Research Library.

The Anglo-Saxon tower of St Michael at the North Gate in Oxford
Perhaps one of the oldest buildings in Oxford is the Anglo-Saxon tower of St Michael at the North Gate dating back to 1040 the last remnant of the original church built somewhere around 1000 and 1050.

The tower is open to the public and as well as offering a great view of the city of spires from its top also holds a relic from the violent days of the English Reformation and the turbulent years of 'Bloody' Queen Mary following the death of her father Henry VIII.

Oxford and its University had been front and centre in the former King's drive to change England to a Protestant country and the brains of the realm were set to propagating and supporting Henry as the defender of the faith and head of the new Church of England.

Following Henry's death in 1547, the crown went to his son Edward VI aged nine and even more inclined to the new church established by his father. 

Edward was a sickly lad dying at the age of fifteen in 1553, naming his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor. However Jane was soon deposed by Edward's elder sister Mary, a dedicated Catholic determined to reverse the process begun by her father and brother and so began a reign of terror as those who refused to submit to Mary's will often found themselves tied to a post with a worrying smell of something burning.

Three such resistors to the Queen's will were Arch-Bishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley, later to become known as the Oxford Martyrs after they were found guilty of heresy and burnt at the stake in 1555 with Cranmer suffering the same fate on the same spot in Oxford six months later.

Arch-Bishop Cranmer
The door is the one the three men passed through when they were led from their prison within the tower to meet their grizzly end.

The view over the city from the top of the tower
The burning of Cranmer  from John Foxe's book 1563
'X' marks the spot as the saying goes and this conspicuous cobbled patch in the middle of Broad Street indicates where the Oxford Martyrs met their deaths.

So did I mention something about retail therapy? Well I included myself in that part of our day out and was keen to check out the Foyle's of Oxford, Blackwell book shop, with an amazing stock of the kind of books I like to read, plus a very nice coffee shop to sit down in to peruse ones purchases whilst enjoying a hot beverage or two.

My little weekend treat from Blackwell Books
Following our refreshments we were off checking out the further delights of Oxford and its many historical treasures.

One large queue of people drew our attention as it snaked out of the entrance of one of the University college's, only to find that they were waiting for entrance to see the college dining hall used in the filming of Harry Potter and Hogwarts - really, really!!

Not quite Venice, but it certainly brought back memories
One of the many student accommodation buildings was once home to a very famous astronomer

There are plaques on walls all over the place in Oxford

We were never far from rivers on this little tour of ours and the Cherwell and Thames certainly helped make up for not being near the sea.

Fun in boats on the River Thames in Oxford
Next up in the final part of our Oxford weekend with a trip to one of Alfred's Burghs, a castle destroyed in the civil war and one of Dick Turpin's favourite haunts.


  1. I was in Oxford on Monday and Tuesday for the first time in nearly 30 years so seeing all your pictures was quite a coincidence. One thing I did find strange is that the second hand bookshops were disappointing. I think it may have something to do with high rents.

  2. Wonderful post JJ and took me back to my first visit to the area over 20 years ago.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me how many of your battlefield/history blogs revolve around a pub. Have you ever thought of gathering them together under a title such as " UK Pub Fights" or "Bar Room Brawls of Britain" ?

    Pretty pics as usual JJ.


  4. Dear JJ, thanks again for your wonderfull blog. ciao carlo

  5. Thanks for your comments chaps.
    I can't comment on the second hand bookshops, really only focusing on Blackwell's which had an eye catching advert on one of the tourist guides, so ended up getting my business.
    As for pubs, well I guess alongside churches and the odd castle they are some of the oldest buildings in the country and have often figured hugely in the local events and as well as offering great national beverages and a seeless link to the people of the past.