Oxford is a city, and the county town of Oxfordshire, in South East England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through Oxford and meet south of the city centre. For a distance of some 10 miles (16 km) along the river, in the vicinity of Oxford, the Thames is known as the Isis.
Buildings in Oxford demonstrate an example of every English architectural period since the arrival of the Saxons, including the iconic, mid-18th century Radcliffe Camera. Oxford is known as the “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold in reference to the harmonious architecture of Oxford’s university buildings. The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The city centre
As well as being a major draw for tourists (9.1 million in 2008, similar in 2009), Oxford city centre has many shops, several theatres, and an ice rink. The historic buildings make this location a popular target for film and TV crews.
The city centre is relatively small, and is centred on Carfax, a cross-roads which forms the junction of Cornmarket Street (pedestrianised), Queen Street (semi-pedestrianised), St Aldate’sand The High. Cornmarket Street and Queen Street are home to Oxford’s various chain stores, as well as a small number of independent retailers, one of the longest established of which is Boswells, which was founded in 1738. St Aldate’s has few shops but has several local government buildings, including the Town Hall, the city police station and local council offices. The High (the word street is traditionally omitted) is the longest of the four streets and has a number of independent and high-end chain stores, but mostly University and College buildings.
There are two small shopping centres in the city centre: The Clarendon Centre and The Westgate Centre. The Westgate Centre is named for the original West Gate in the city wall, and is located at the west end of Queen Street. It is quite small and contains a number of chain stores and a supermarket. The Westgate Shopping Centre is to undergo a large and controversial refurbishment; the plans involve tripling the size of the centre to 750,000 sq ft (70,000 m2), a new 1,335 space underground car park and 90 new shops and bars, including a 230,000 sq ft (21,000 m2) John Lewis department store. There is to be a new and improved transport system, a complete refurbishment of the existing centre and the surrounding Bonn Square area. The development plans include a number of new homes, and completion is expected in 2011, although this is being delayed due to the current financial climate.
Blackwell’s Bookshop is a large bookshop which claims the largest single room devoted to book sales in the whole of Europe, the cavernous Norrington Room.