March 2020 meeting: Historic maps of Oxford

On 9 March, Nick Millea, Bodleian Map Librarian, presented a fascinating selection of old and new maps of Oxford. They will be collected and described in the British Historic Towns Atlas Volume VII: Oxford, to be published in autumn 2020.

The famous early map by Ralph Agas (1578) gives a detailed ‘bird’s flight’ view of the city from the north. The original is darkened and worn, but the Bodleian also has Robert Whittlesey’s clear re-engraving made in 1728. On Agas’s map, the city centre still includes many gardens, and there is open country north of Broad Street.

David Loggan’s beautiful map of 1675 shows the city centre more crowded. Every building is depicted, again viewed from the north. Loggan included minute details, such as a (still existing) kink in the wall of Trinity College.

The noted antiquary Anthony Wood had in his collection an anonymous (and unexplained) map of ‘Oxforde as it now lyeth / Fortified by his Ma[jes]ties forces an. 1644’. It shows the Thames running southwards to ‘Abbington’, but flips the north and south of the city. Wood annotated it as ‘made very false’.

The Atlas will include specially prepared new maps, showing for example the halls which preceded the colleges, medieval inns, the (very complicated) city parish boundaries, watercourses, turnpike roads around Oxford, and the growth of the suburbs.

Answering questions after his talk, Nick Millea confirmed the existence of a very detailed map of Oxford prepared secretly by the General Staff of the Soviet military. Mysteriously, it identifies a sub-post office in Marston, and University College, but no other colleges or university buildings.

Before welcoming the speaker, Richard Dudding reported to members that the Berkshire Family Historian has recommended the Club’s latest book, Radley Manor and Village, as a ‘must for anyone with interests in Radley or indeed in manorial history generally’.

Sadly, but inevitably in the light of the advice about avoiding gatherings, the Club has cancelled the speaker meetings booked for 14 April and 11 May.