Don’t take the piss on Broad Street.

Broad Street, Oxford

Once again we are at a crossroads and it’s decision time. For me, there are two options to go straight ahead to fairs, a famous Museum and a famous street or to turn right onto Broad Street and learn about one of the UK’s largest libraries, oldest museum and some great practical jokes… To the right and Broad Street, it is!

Broad Street, Oxford

Broad Street plays itself as a strange contrast, broad in name and size and crammed with so much information I was almost daunted by the task of writing about it this morning.

As you come onto the Street too your left are two colleges, Balliol and Trinity, with sandy coloured stone, with beautiful gardens, which are well worth a look.

Balliol College, Oxford

Whilst the college buildings themselves would not look out of place in a Harry Potter book. To your right, you have multicoloured shops, light pink and blue that are somehow not out of place, and are full of history.

Broad Street, Oxford.

The shops are the site of the old castle wall, which was eventually torn down, but if you go behind 6 Broad Street there is an old bastion from the wall. On the same side is the very first Oxfam shop, marked with a classic blue plaque. If you’re not too careful you might not look down and see a cross marked into the floor. This is where Protestants and Catholic’s were burnt after spending time in St Michaels Church on Cornmarket. They say on misty mornings in summer you can smell the burning of the townspeople, or my hunch is that it could be the local bakery. I will do some ghost stories in the future.

Broad Street, Oxford
X marks the burning cross.

Balliol (1263) and Trinity (1555) on our left are two old, rich and established colleges. 6 prime ministers, 5 noble laureates, a big bumbling Boris and a Dawkins talking about an evolution tree. As you may tell, I write this as Christmas closes in and couldn’t resist a stab at a Christmas carol.

There is quite a rivalry between the colleges, with plenty of pranks, the best I heard was students from Trinity, sending letters with glass containers to new students at Balliol. The letter requested that medical tests were required and that they were to give the urine samples to their tutors by no later than 5 pm Wednesday. 57 were returned. This culminated in the Trinity pranksters unfurling a banner in Balliol say, “We are Balliol. Please don’t take the piss.”

As we continue, the street widens, at Christmas, there are fantastic weekend markets with local or regionally produced food. Supposedly underneath our feet is a room of the Bodleian Library that is for student research and reading. The Bodleian Library is a book depository system. Supposedly every book that is published is meant to be sent to the library where it is catalogued and made ready for students to access. I’ve had friends who have claimed there are tunnels under the city, filled with books, that stretch for miles. That to get around some of these tunnels you are given a bike and sent in a direction to collect. I’m even aware of a friend being given access to the library, where he discovered a never before seen piece of poetry by Keates. We will come back to the Bodleian at a later date.

The street was the original outer part of the city, which was not only known for burning and hanging people but also selling horses. The original name of the street was horse mongers, and that is where the White Horse pub, on the left in part gets its name.

The white horse, Uffington.

The White Horse is also linked to the area due to the white horse being linked to the Vale of the White Horse. An area of government administration that is linked to the famous White Horse in Uffington. A 3000-year-old image, carved into the side of a hill, where a settlement and fortifications once stood.

Back into Broad Street, and to the opposite side of the pub is the oldest museum in Europe, if not possibly the world. It is now known as the Science museum and contains many items dating back to antiquity, but one item, in particular, stands out for me, and that’s Einstein’s blackboard, which was saved by some tutors after Einstein had some lectures in the city.

Einstein's blackboard.

The museum was known as the Ashmolean, which moved to a much larger building near to the crossroads at the beginning of this tour. We will also visit the museums at a later date. As you move back into the street, there is the Sheldonian Theatre 🎭 designed by Christopher Wren.

Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford

A famous architect from Britain who attended Oxford University, designed 52 churches, including St Paul’s in London. The royal observatory and the Sheldonian Theatre. This theatre has had a fascinating start but also reached a peak with becoming England’s Parliament, albeit for a week. Charles the first was not having the best of times in London and Parliament, he needed money for war and Parliament would not give it to him. So he closed Parliament for 11 years making him very unpopular. When fighting between England and Scotland started, he recalled Parliament asking for more money for an army. They again refused and he closed parliament. Soon after this Parliament built an army as did the King and the two sides went to war, with the King moving to Oxford, which was considered a royalist centre. He established the Sheldonian as his Parliament.

The rest of the tale of King Charles will come at a later date. However, if you leave the Sheldonian and cross the road, you will see Blackwells, and as you go inside, it quickly becomes apparent this building is a bit of a tardis. As you go downstairs you will see pictures on the wall, showing the history of Oxford in including some dogs dressed as soldiers. There are some that are King Charles’ Spaniels, linking it to the English Civil War. As you go into the basement, you open up into a huge room, supposedly in the Guinness Book of Records, for being the largest room with books to be sold. If stacked together in a line, they would reach 3 miles in length.

On that large note, I will leave you for another week, hope you enjoyed and feel free to like and to follow.

With special thanks to Spiralling_Oxford on Instagram for her pictures.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.