Oxford in 1578

Oxford in 1578


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

Producer: Ralph Agas (1545-1621), a land surveyor, drew this aerial view in 1578; Augustine Ryther engraved it in 1588 on four folio plates.  The original map was already a rarity by the eighteenth century, when a facsimile was engraved by Robert Whittesley and published in 1728.  Because the Bodleian copy of the 1588 original (one of only two know copies) is badly discoloured, attention is here focussed on the 1728 facsimile.

Map Data: Scale c1:2,500. 

Publisher Details: [S.l.] : R. Whittlesey 

Publication Date: 1728 

Source: Bodleian Library, shelfmark Gough Maps Oxfordshire 2

Description: In contrast to modern cartography, south is above and north below. Rather than depicting the buildings in plan, this map uses axonometric projection.


Enlarging the image reveals the pre-modern disposition of central Oxford. 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 medieval buildings of Exeter College, subsequently destroyed to make room for Selden End, and to the west by a range of buidlings entitled 'Universitie Schooles'.  The city wall still runs down the side of what is now Broad Street.

The Schola Theologica is separately depicted in the lower right margin of the map as a free-standing building, in a manner clearly dervided from Bereblock's drawing twelve years before Agas's.

The Schola Publica, depicted in the margin, corresponds to the 'Universitie Schooles' within the map.  Within the map, this range of buildings runs from the northern face of the Divinity School 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, in the manner originally envisaged for the Schools Quadrangle, until Bodley's third level was added  Pairs of lecture rooms are accessed by a single doorway and interior staircase, in the fashion familiar from Oxford collegiate buildings of the same period.

Credits: Howard Hotson (October 2016)