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. 

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