Oxford was an important town even before the Universit came into existence; it is mentioned in the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” of 912 as “Oxenforde”, the ford where oxen, and so presumably men, could cross the river.
The University of Oxford may be said to date from when the first charter was granted by the Pope, but long before this date there had existed in the town a number of religious communities and these were the real beginning of the University.
The college corporate institutions with special rules and privileges came into being during the Middle Ages, but at only graduates were full members of them and it was not the 16th century that all undergraduates were admitted to them.
The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries saw many quarrels between the students and the townsfolk culminating in the riot on St. Scholastica’s Day. Subsequently the King gave his support to the University which gained considerable influence over the town and its trade. In 1672 the Test Act required all students subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England a requirement which was not abolished for another two hundred years.
The ground on which Oxford is built is actually a peninsula; bounded on the west and south by the Thames – or Isis, as called here – and on the east by a tributary, the Cherwell. Punting on the Cherwell is favoured by those whose tastes in boat are for relaxation rather than for strenuous exercise, but on the Isis it is rowing which holds pride of place. This sport is taken very seriously by many undergraduates and there is great rival between college crews. The height of a rowing man’s ambition to gain his “blue”, that is to row against Cambridge in the annual contest on the Thames from Putney to Mortlake.
Academic life in Oxford is full and varied. Some of the occasions are solemn, some exciting, and a few unashamedly frivolous. The three principal annual events are Commemoration, Congregation and Convocation. The first is mainly concerned with the conferring of Honorary Degrees, the ceremony commemorating the opening of the Sheldonian Theatre in 1669. Associated with it are the celebrations of the Encaenia. Meetings of Congregation and Convocation are conducted with all the splendour and ceremony which tradition demands.
Every college of the University has its own Library, and many of them are very large ahd comprehensive. The principal museums of Oxford are the Ashmolean and the University Museum.
Oxford is not only one of the two oldest university cities of Great Britain, but a thriving industrial town as well. Its history can be traced as far back as the eighth century, when the earliest monastic foundation was already in existence. Oxford is also famous for its architecture.
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