Assessment: Oxford Citadel with youngsters


With tales of ghosts, an empress beneath siege, imprisoned 7-year-olds and an opportunity to throw fluffy rats at your loved ones, a go to to Oxford Citadel with youngsters is without doubt one of the most uncommon and entertaining days out within the metropolis.

View across the old motte, or mount, to St George's Tower and more of Oxford Castle and Prison on a sunny day - review of Oxford Castle with kids
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Oxford Citadel & Jail, to provide it its full identify, dates again to simply after the Norman Conquest – however the web site, which was used as a jail for hundreds of years, solely lastly stopped working as a jail in 1996. Since 2006, you possibly can discover inside, discovering a few of the oldest corners and essentially the most surprising tales.

You may even keep in a part of the outdated fort jail, now the Malmaison lodge, or just ebook in for a tour and a go searching, as we did. So should you’re exploring Oxford with youngsters, right here’s why the fort must be in your record.

Your go to begins with a guided tour, taking you to the highest of St George’s Tower – one of many oldest elements of the fort nonetheless standing, earlier than main you thru historical past in a few of the different outdated rooms.

My daughter walks towards the entrance of Oxford Castle and Prison by a sign reading Step inside and do 1000 years of time - my review of a visit to oxford Castle with kids

The tour takes round 50 minutes, after which you’re free to proceed exploring, revisiting the rooms from the tour (besides the tower), in addition to these which the guided part doesn’t go to, plus an exhibition that includes some interactive enjoyable.

It’s a good way to do it as your information – Eli, in our case – helped carry the stone tower to life with some thrilling tales, in addition to answering questions.

The primary cease is half-way up the tower – a pleasant break as you climb the 101 steps to the highest. A reasonably naked stone room, looking to the skyline of Oxford, there’s a extra dramatic historical past hidden right here than you would possibly count on.

Stone room with beamed ceiling in St George's Tower where the Empress Matilda once stayed - one of the stories to discover on a tour of Oxford Castle with kids

Again within the twelfth century, in the course of the interval referred to as the Anarchy, the Empress Matilda – daughter of Henry I – and her cousin, Stephen I have been at conflict, as each claimed the throne. Matilda had made her base in Oxford, staying in that exact same room within the fort, when Stephen besieged the constructing.

In response to legends, as his troops waited out the lengthy chilly winter, the Empress and her knights let themselves down out of the tower, and disguised beneath white sheets towards the snow, fled throughout the fields earlier than skating off alongside the frozen Thames.

Whether or not it’s true, or whether or not she sneaked out of a gate, she actually escaped to combat one other day. And why spoil a great story?

St George's flag flying above St George's Tower during a visit to Oxford Castle with kids, cloudy blue sky and Oxford skyline seen behind

The tower itself is without doubt one of the oldest buildings in Oxford, and one of many first elements constructed by Robert D’Oilly (or D’Oyly) in 1071 after William the Conqueror granted him the land and informed him to construct a fort to subdue the Saxons.

The views from the highest are quite totally different than the Saxon market city which the Normans would have seen, but it surely’s an amazing likelihood to look out over the dreaming spires.

By the way, should you don’t wish to climb the 101 steps to the highest, or can’t, there’s a video to look at on the bottom flooring. Beneath-fives aren’t allowed to aim the climb.

View through a stone window slit on St George's Tower to some of the prison buildings and towers of Oxford beyond during a visit to Oxford Castle with kids

Don’t be delay by the truth that the steps have been designed to kill invaders – barely uneven, they elevated the prospect of attackers falling into their very own swords, or the person behind them in a faintly deadly model of knocking over dominoes. They’re simple sufficient for teenagers to climb, so the largest hazard is the low ceilings!

From right here, the tour strikes on to a different of the oldest elements of the fort, the crypt beneath St George’s chapel, based after Robert D’Oilly had a nightmare of the Virgin Mary warning him about his sinful methods.

Our guide Eli in costume during our guided tour of the crypt as part of a visit to Oxford Castle with kids

And whereas the chapel was later destroyed, the crypt and its carved stone columns survived, ultimately excavated by an 18th century jail governor, who held the novel beliefs that prisoners ought to use their time in jail productively to turn out to be higher members of society in future – and occurred to be a little bit of an beginner archaeologist on the facet.

That’s not the one story related to the crypt: as a cool underground area, it was best for storing our bodies and it’s mentioned at this time that the realm is haunted – one nook particularly which frequently appears colder. The ghosts weren’t making an look, and even dropping the temperature after we have been there although.

View of one of the old carved columns in the 900-year-old crypt, one of the oldest parts of Oxford Castle for families to visit

Proper from its earliest days, the fort was in all probability used as a jail – firstly, rebellious Saxons, and earlier than too lengthy, any college students who have been caught misbehaving (which provided that they have been typically 14-year-old boys with no mother and father readily available, numerous beer and swords, was continuously).

By the sixteenth century, in Elizabeth’s England, it was Catholics who typically discovered themselves in entrance of a decide – together with an notorious bookseller referred to as Rowland Jenkes, who was sentenced to time within the pillory, nailed to the wooden by his ears… and who referred to as down a curse upon all these within the courtroom because of this.

Virtually right away, males began to drop useless (though apparently no girls, kids or servants) – some believed it was black magic, others that it was God’s divine punishment, whereas trendy historians assume a very virulent bout of typhus is likely to be responsible.

Both method, it’s gone down in historical past because the Black Assizes… and should you’re courageous sufficient, you possibly can take your individual possibilities within the pillory. Though no-one will get nailed by the ears today, the worst you’ve received to endure is your loved ones throwing fluffy rats at you. (Maybe that’s simply my household!)

By the Civil Struggle, Charles I had made Oxford his capital, and whereas he selected the extra luxurious lodging of Christ Church faculty over the fort, it grew to become briefly one of the necessary within the nation – and with one of many worst reputations for jail situations.

When Parliament triumphed, they razed a lot of the fort to the bottom: solely the tower was saved as there was a helpful mill on the backside, the mound (or outdated motte) because the earth was too hard-packed to destroy, and the crypt because it was lengthy buried.

From this level on, the fort was firmly a jail quite than a fortress, and the tour introduces you to some of the extra shocking tales – resembling middle-class Mary Blandy, charged with the homicide of her father to marry the dashing Captain Cranbourn.

It turned out the Captain already had one spouse in Scotland so her father had cancelled their deliberate marriage ceremony; Mary’s defence was that her former fiance had despatched her a love tonic to melt her father’s coronary heart in direction of their match, however after giving him the white powder, her father sickened and died.

An post-mortem revealed arsenic poisoning – and the letters which Mary insisted proved her innocence had been burned. The jury weren’t satisfied… and she or he paid the worth.

View along a corridor with flaking paint and old prison doors during a visit to Oxford Castle with kids

Or how about one of many jail’s youngest inmates? Julia Ann Crumpling ‘borrowed’ her neighbour’s toy pram, however forgot to provide it again. Because the theft had been reported, there was nothing for it however to condemn her to time inside – seven days arduous labour.

The quick sentence wasn’t out of mercy for her youth both, however to spare her father the disgrace of getting a jailbird daughter!

My daughter walks through the exhibition on some of the earliest history at Oxford Castle during a day out with kids

Launched, on the proviso that she was despatched to high school, Julia by no means did reoffend, one thing which might have satisfied the Victorians that the pointless punishments they inflicted on prisoners really labored.

Within the exhibition, there’s an opportunity to check out examples of arduous labour your self. One punishment was shifting cannonballs from one facet of the yard to the opposite – after which again once more – time and again. One of many unique balls is on show, however there’s a 22kg weight to attempt to carry if you wish to expertise what it might have been like.

Or there’s the crank, a deal with which prisoners needed to flip 1000’s of occasions a day, and the capstan – which you’ll be able to see in St George’s Tower – the place prisoners turned an enormous wheel to pump water up right into a tank on the higher flooring of the tower. Which was then all launched again right down to the river.

The treadwheel may very well be straight out of a contemporary gymnasium although, a tool the place you tread on the steps endlessly turning the wheel however getting nowhere – not 1,000,000 miles away from a contemporary step machine.

Though you possibly can at the very least get off these while you’re drained: apparently some prisoners climbed the equal of Mount Kilimanjaro day by day.

Situations had improved by the twentieth century (though not as a lot as maybe they need to) and the ultimate a part of the exhibition provides extra particulars about trendy legislation and punishment, in addition to a few of the extra infamous prisoners – be careful for the leap scare at first of the video should you enterprise into the cell designed for Donald Neilson, referred to as the Black Panther!

After tales of royalty, rats and radical reformers, all bundled right into a whirlwind gallop via over 1000 years of historical past, there’s only one factor left to do earlier than you allow (other than making an attempt to withstand shopping for a fluffy rat/picket sword within the present store) – climb the mound.

A part of the unique motte and bailey fort constructed again in 1071, the grassy hill was too powerful for the Parliamentarians to destroy after they emerged victorious after the civil conflict, so it sits a stone’s throw from St George’s tower to today.

A curving path results in flat space on the prime for extra views over to Oxford and again down onto the outdated jail.

If you’d like one remaining style of jail life, head into the Malmaison lodge to take a look at the cell they’ve left intact (should you’re forking out, it’s an amazing place for lunch too) – or the fort quarter has a string of eating places of its personal, plus you possibly can escape to central Oxford and the Westgate centre a brief stroll away.

Which provides you likelihood to mirror on this extremely entertaining journey via historical past as you go – and for my 11-year-old to depend her fortunate stars that she doesn’t stay in a time when you might be jailed for borrowing a toy pram.

Visiting Oxford Citadel with youngsters: Have to know

Tickets price from £15.50 for traditional entry, should you ebook as much as two days prematurely, and £9.95 for youngsters. You can too purchase flexi-tickets for £17.50. Beneath-fives are free however want a ticket.

You can too purchase tickets with free cancellation by way of tiqets – get a reduction should you ebook via my hyperlink utilizing the code MUMMYTRAVELS6.

Excursions run day by day from 10am, though timings could change across the college holidays. Every tour has a most of 20 individuals and run each 20 minutes on Fridays and weekends till 5pm, each half-hour from Monday to Thursday till 4.30pm.

You might want to prebook a timed entry slot for the guided tour, as there’s no entry in any other case, though you possibly can proceed exploring afterwards (except the tower). You’re requested to reach 10 minutes earlier than your tour begins.

There are additionally additional actions and occasions going down in the course of the yr, resembling Knight College in the course of the summer time holidays, birds of prey dealing with and flying classes on choose dates.

Small tent with flags showing shields and knight's helmets as part of the special Knight School activities for kids during the summer holidays at Oxford Castle

If you wish to climb the mound, anybody reserving tickets to the fort is given a code to the gate included in your ticket. If you happen to don’t wish to do the total fort tour however fancy climbing the mound, you are able to do so for a small payment (which fits in direction of preserving the construction).

Some areas of the fort aren’t accessible to wheelchairs, and prams/pushchairs aren’t allowed due to the slim corridors, so these must be left with employees within the present store.

There are 101 steps in St George’s Tower: under-fives aren’t allowed to climb the tower, but it surely’s doable for older youngsters. Anybody who can’t (or doesn’t need) to climb can keep downstairs and watch a video with a digital view – an grownup should stick with kids.

Video screen at Oxford Castle & Prison for those not climbing St George's Tower, plus the marks on the wooden floor from Victorian hard labour

There’s no parking at Oxford Citadel, though you’re only some minutes stroll from the Westgate Centre, which has paid parking within the purchasing centre automotive park. In any other case, there are 5 Park and Rides round Oxford: Seacourt Park and Journey is closest.

There are numerous locations to eat and drink within the Oxford Citadel Quarter or Oxford city centre is strolling distance away.

Disclosure: This put up comprises affiliate hyperlinks – any purchases you make are unaffected however I could obtain a small fee

Photographs copyright MummyTravels

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