Central Oxford in 1578

Central Oxford in 1578

Images 1, 2 and 4

Title: Detail from Oxonia antiqua instaurata sive urbis & academiae Oxoniensis topografica delineato olim a Radulpho Agas impressa. A.D. 1578 nunc denuo aeri incisa A.D. MDCCXXVIII. ..

Details. Producter: Ralph Agas (1545-1621) (original engraving); Augustine Ryther (drawing); Robert Whittesley  (engraved facsimile). Date: 1728. Scale c1:2,500. Source: Bodleian Library, shelfmark Gough Maps Oxfordshire 2

Description: This map of Oxford is a facsimile, produced in 1728, of an original, drawn by Ralph Agas in 1578 and surviving only in a badly damaged and discoloured copy. The full facsimile is available here. In contrast to modern cartography, south is above and north below. Rather than depicting the buildings in plan, this map uses axonometric projection.

Image 3

John Bereblock, 'Schola Theologica', from Bodleian Library, MS13a


Image 1 reveals the disposition of central Oxford throughout the sixteenth century. The area between St Mary's Church and the Divinity School remains populated by modest houses, which will be swept away 150 years later to create Radcliffe Square.  The Divinity School and Duke Humphrey's Library, which will form the nucleus of the Bodleian Library, are adjoined to the west by another structure (which included the staircase for reaching the library) and to these west by a range of buidlings entitled 'Universitie Schooles'.

The margin of the full facsimile map (available here) is ringed with images depicting the major academic buildings in Oxford at this time, which are absent from the 1578 original. They reproduce the oldest surviving series of drawings depicting Oxford, penned by John Bereblock, Fellow of Exeter College, for presentation to Queen Elizabeth I on her first official visit to Oxford in 1566, and given to the Library in 1630 by John Moore.

The Schola Theologica (Image 2) is depicted as a free-standing building in the lower right margin of the map.  Comparison with the original drawing by Bereblock (Image 3) reveals the derivation of this image. 

The Schola Publica (Image 4) corresponds to the 'Universitie Schooles' within the map.  Within the map, this range of buildings runs from a line tangent to the northern face of the Divinity School south to Brasenose Lane. In the marginal image, its length has been shortened to fit the space available.  This was a two-story structure, with lecture rooms placed one on top of another: this is essentially the configuration originally envisaged for the Schools Quadrangle, until Bodley added a third floor to absorb espansion of the library.  Pairs of lecture rooms were accessed by a single doorway and interior staircase, in the fashion familiar from Oxford collegiate buildings of the same period. The name of the current 'Examination Schools' derives, via the 'Schools Quadrangle', from this building.