Take a journey through 1,000 years of time to discover how the Oxford Castle & Prison site began its history as a simple tower and chapel to developing into a modern day prison.
St. George’s Tower, its Saxon chapel and a small mill could all be found by the West Gate of Oxenaforda (now known as Oxford). The tower is made out of coral rag, a rubbly limestone consisting of ancient coral reef material.
During the 1070’s
A Norman motte-and-bailey castle was built, with a surrounding moat and a 12-metre-high mound. The majority of the structures were constructed using timber, therefore all the walls, towers and the great hall built inside the bailey were wooden. During this time, St. George’s Chapel was rebuilt and the West Gate was moved to accommodate the new castle complex.
By the 1250’s
The wooden structures were replaced with stone for added defence. The mound had an additional 6 metres of height added to it and a well chamber built inside. Barbicans (a fortified gateway) were added to the castles main entrance and its West Gate. The extra defensive measures were in response to ‘The Anarchy’ a civil war which lasted throughout the 1140’s. It is during this time we see the castle also used as a place to keep and punish people.
By 1578, the castle had slightly reduced in size. The barbican by the West Gate had been demolished and silting had begun to fill in and reduce the moat surrounding the castle. St. George’s Chapel remained to be used as a local gaol and the castle mill is expanded as prisoners are used to supply water for the site.
Over time the stone walls had started to become ruinous and degrade. St. Georges Chapel’s use as a gaol meant that restructuring occurred to make way for a better use as a gaol. Housing and communities have started to grow on the outskirts of the castle.
During the 1640’s
In 1642 the English civil war broke out with the Royalists making Oxford their capital. This meant that the castle’s weakened defences were re-fortified, replacing the stonework with more modern bastions.
The Third English Civil War had begun, whereby a number of walls and towers were demolished during attacks on Oxford.
During the 1770’s
The northern castle ramparts were destroyed to make way for New Road. Oxford Gaol was expanded with new buildings, however, St. George’s Tower, the chapel and the mill all remained.
1780’s and 1790’s
A House of Corrections was built along with 2 prison wings, this meant that St. Georges Chapel was demolished for the creation of the prison’s ‘D’ wing. A new parameter wall was constructed and an entrance facing New Road was erected. All together, this made the site become a well rounded and secure prison.
By the 1870’s
Over the course of 90 years the prison complex saw construction of the Old County Hall courtrooms, a new prison ‘A’ wing and an established women’s prison. Interconnecting buildings and a chapel were also built to make the site more seamless.
The Oxford Castle Quarter saw unprecedented architectural growth. In the late 1960’s Macclesfield House (an education centre) was built to the west of the castle mound, in the 1970’s the County Hall was moved to a larger building. In 1996, HM Oxford Prison closed its doors for a final time. From 2004 to today the Oxford Castle Quarter is home to the Malmaison Hotel, various restaurants and bars, apartments and our historical visitor attraction: Oxford Castle & Prison.