Oxford Castle and Prison - Image courtesy of Meraj Chhaya

Visiting Oxford > What to See > Historical Places

Oxford Castle & Prison

Oxford Castle is a partly ruined Norman medieval castle on the centre of Oxford. The castle then became a prison which closed in 1996.

What's the History of Oxford Castle?

Oxford Castle was originally a wooden motte and bailey castle. The wood was replaced by stone around the late 12th or early 13th century. Although Oxford Castle played a crucial role in the conflict of the Anarchy (a civil war in England and Normandy between 1138 and 1153), its military value decreased in the 14th century and the place became a prison and county administration building. The castle as we see it today bears the scars of the English Civil War (in the 18th century). 

Who Built Oxford Castle?

It’s believed that Oxford Castle was built by the Norman baron Robert D’Oyly the elder between the years 1071 to 1073. D’Oyly had accompanied William the Conqueror on his invasion of England. After their victory, William granted him extensive lands in Oxfordshire. The castle was built to dominate the town, which had suffered considerable damage during William’s campaign. D’Oyly soon became the foremost landowner in Oxfordshire and was given a hereditary royal constableship for Oxford Castle.

The Original Motte and Bailey Castle

The original wooden castle was a large motte and bailey, situated on a raised area of ground. The motte was originally about 60 feet (18 m) high and was made from layers of gravel strengthened with clay facing. This structure was replaced by stone in the late 12th or early 13th century. St George’s Tower, built of coral rag stone, was the tallest of the castle’s towers. Some believe it’s Saxon in origin, as it doesn’t seem to belong within the outer defences of an earth-and-timber castle.

How do you Visit Oxford Castle?

Oxford Castle & Prison is open to the public every day of the week. There is an optional 101 step climb with a fantastic panoramic view of the city, a candle-lit crypt, 18th century prison cells, and several events throughout the year.

It’s generally recommended to book a ticket in advance, which you can do though their website. They offer regular guided tours and children can visit for free. 

Oxford's Carfax Tower

Carfax Tower

Carfax Tower, in Oxford, is a 23-meter-high bell tower that used to belong to a 12th-century church. Here’s how to visit it (and why!).

Mob Quad, Merton College. Image courtesy of Caro Wallis

Mob Quad in Merton College

Mob Quad in Merton College is probably the oldest quadrangle in Oxford. The quad is so old, it actually doesn’t have any chimneys! (they weren’t in widespread use in England

Christ Church Cathedral - Oxford. Image courtesy of Randy Connolly

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral is perhaps the most stunning college chapel in Oxford. It was built as a place of worship in the late 12th century. Though one of England’s smallest

Antiques on High - Oxford Museums, Art Galleries and Antiques Shops

Antiques on High

Antiques on High is an antiques and art shop from Oxford founded in 1997 and open seven days a week. It has won several awards.

Aidan Meller Gallery - Oxford Museums and Art Galleries

Aidan Meller Gallery

Aidan Meller Gallery is one of Oxford’s longest-established specialist art galleries. They showcase modern, contemporary and old masters.

Oxford Christ Church College, Canterbury Quadrangle. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson

Christ Church Picture Gallery

Christ Church Picture Gallery is an art museum holding an important collection of about 300 Old Master paintings and almost 2,000 drawings and is one of the most important private

Oxford For Introverts: Quietest Places To Relax or Study

Wellington Square

Wellington Square is nestled within the heart of the historic city of Oxford. This park, unfamiliar to many, is actually a little gem!

Oxford Parks and Meadows: Oxford Canal - A Breath-taking Walk

Oxford Canal

Oxford Canal is a breath-taking option if you’re looking for an enjoyable walk close to the city. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

Brasenose Woods in Oxford

Brasenose Wood

Brasenose Wood is a woodland park featuring quiet walking paths and diverse flora. It’s also part of a larger nature reserve in Oxford.

Westgate Oxford

Westgate Oxford

Westgate Oxford has more than 100 stores featuring prestigious luxury brands and beloved high-street choices.

Barefoot Jericho - Cakes in Oxford

Barefoot Jericho

Barefoot offers homemade cakes, pastries and bread, delicious coffee for eat-in or takeaway in the neighbourhood of Jericho, in Oxford.

Shops to See in Oxford: The Cake Shop - Cakes for Any Occasion

The Cake Shop

The Cake Shop offers ready-made designs and bespoke masterpieces and has been trading since 1986 in Oxford’s Covered Market.