The City of Oxford 1850-1914

Oxford Town Hall (1897) radiator cover

Ten classes, Wednesday mornings, 10:30am to 12:30pm, 25 September to 4 December 2024 [with 30 October off for half term], at the Museum of Oxford, Town Hall, St Aldates.

Cost: £195 per student. To book a place, e-mail

Course summary: In 1850 Oxford was a fairly small, inward-looking city, still largely contained within its medieval boundaries; by the eve of the First World War it had quadrupled in size and was poised to become one of the major manufacturing centres in southern England. We will examine the social, cultural and economic changes that Oxford underwent in this 65-year period, taking it from a city still dependent on its university for fame and fortune to one ready, finally, to participate in the industrial revolution. How did the coming of the railway, university reforms, religious upheaval, a rise in real wages and increasing concern for public health and sanitation affect the provision of education, leisure and public services, employment opportunities and the rapid development of Oxford’s suburbs? And how did what was happening in Oxford compare with what was happening nationwide? The history of the city itself is still often neglected, even by its own citizens, and our main focus will be on the “town”, rather than the “gown”.

Course objectives:

  1. To study developments in housing, education, public services, transport, local government, industry, commerce, leisure and religion in Oxford during the period 1850 to 1914.
  2. To examine how developments in Oxford related to changes in English society generally during this period.
  3. To identify, evaluate, interpret and compare appropriate primary sources for Oxford for the period.
  4. To help students who wish to, to identify and begin research projects of their own.

Teaching and learning methods: Short lectures and illustrated presentations from the tutor Liz Woolley, reading and interpretation of documents in pairs or small groups, and class discussion. One of the ten sessions will be a guided walk around Oxford, looking at relevant buildings and at the topography of the city. Teaching materials will include copies of texts, maps and images. Students will be encouraged to read one or two recommended introductory books before the start of the course, and each week to read hand-outs for discussion in class the following week. They will also be encouraged to follow up their own particular interests by reading more widely, visiting relevant exhibitions and carrying out their own explorations of the city. No special expertise or knowledge is needed, just a willingness to join in class activities.

For further information and to book a place, e-mail

“I’ve really enjoyed the course. I’ve learnt so much about what is all around us, and I’m looking at everything in the city in a different way.”  Brenda Stones, November 2023.

“It’s been fascinating to learn how much change happened in Oxford during the period 1850-1914 and to understand the reasons for it. With your wonderful presentation and knowledge, it has been a real pleasure to attend. Everyone in the group was so interesting and I think we all learned a lot from each other.”  Carol Allen, April 2023.

“I thoroughly enjoyed every session. Quite apart from your meticulous organisation and evident depth of knowledge, you bring your subject alive and involve the diverse members of the group with great skill.”  Mike Thirlwall, November 2022.

“Thank you for leading the course so well. It covered topics I had given very little thought to, and I am now seeing things around the city with very different eyes. Your lists of sources, books, articles and websites are going to keep me occupied for a long long time.” Jack Kettle, March 2022.

“A very informative course which exceeded my expectations and has given me a good understanding of this period in Oxford’s history. Your passion for the subject was clear and your knowledge seemed encyclopaedic! Your handouts were very comprehensive and included lots of potential sources of information.” Julian Lawton Smith, March 2016.

“This is the fourth OUDCE course I’ve done, and it was the best!”  Brian Lowe, Oxford Blue Badge Guide, March 2012.

“This is the ninth course I’ve done with OUDCE and I’m so impressed by the content you’ve prepared and by your thoroughly hands-on lecturing approach. Great stuff!”  Barbara Thomas, March 2011.


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