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Oxford to Cambridge

The Oxford to Cambridge Arc

Gough Map on Dr John Dunn. A network of roads can be inferred from the Gough Map (created between 1390-1410), the first true road map of Britain.

The network developed around river crossings, initially fords in many places (as place-names often indicate), and later the medieval bridges. Rivers do not change and neither has our road system, which is still dependent on the same river crossings. The road system has been supplemented in the last 75 years or so by motorways and by-passes, but the original network remains largely in place, quite literally as the archaeology under our feet and wheels.

The Gough Map shows distances along red lines which indicate routes or roads, and there are lines of settlements that indicate the same.

The later road maps and itineraries by Ogilby, Moll, Cary, Paterson and others from the 17th to early 19th century correspond with Gough in that most settlements indicated on the Gough Map appear on the later maps.

I plan to explore this correspondence between the medieval network and the roads and trackways of our own time, initially by focusing on the routes connecting Oxford and Cambridge, which is being supplemented by modern alternatives to this day.

An Oxford to Cambridge route can be discerned on the Gough Map. Not surprisingly, the Gough route includes important bridge crossings by name and others by implication of where the route goes.

The bridge crossings on the route that are named on the Gough Map are Buckingham, Stoney Stratford and Bedford.

This recognisable route (indicated by arrow 1 on the map below), was followed, albeit with some differentiating deviations, by the following principal Oxford to Cambridge map makers:

1 John Ogilby, Britannia Atlas, 1675.

1a Owen Bowen revisions to Ogilby 1720

1b Senex revisions to Ogilby 1780

2 Herman Moll, England and Wales, 1710

3 John Cary, New Itinerary, 1815 & 1819

4 Daniel Paterson, Paterson’s Roads, 18th Edition, 1826.

A secondary route was offered as an alternative by Moll, Cary and Patterson which broadly followed the escarpment of the Chiltern Hills, along the Icknield Way. (Indicated by the arrow 2 on the map.) The variants around this option will be examined later in the project.

I will follow these routes and others by map and on the ground by cycling and motorcycling along the roads to unearth the archaeology of this ancient Gough Map and the later accretions that followed in its path.

Below are the Gough map settlements mapped against the 17th and 18th century roads mapped and described principally by Ogilby, Moll, Cary and Paterson. 1) The Oxford to Cambridge arc through Buckingham, Stoney Stratford and Bedford is clearly distinguishable. 2) Other Gough settlements are clearly connected by the ancient Icknield Way. 3) Later turnpike developments opened a route cutting between the previous two.

(Section of a map from Linda Godden, The Gough Map and Medieval Roads, 2019) (My annotations.)

© John Dunn.

Early road book on Dr John Dunn. An established route

The foundation of Cambridge Universtity in 1209 was related intimately to developments at Oxford University, which was founded between 1096 and 1167. The two universities were well established by the time of the Gough Map’s creation between 1355 and 1366.

Cambridge University seems to have developed in numbers, and therefore the requirement for colleges, as a result of rivalry between students and towns people in Oxford. The first college at Cambridge was actually founded by Walter deMerton – who founded Merton College at Oxford. It seems that this college at Cambridge, called Pythagoras Hall, was created as Walter anticipated students from Oxford moving elsewhere because of the trouble between students and others in Oxford.

Cambridge had a relationship to Ely Cathedral as a centre of learning. The Oxford refugees must have been aware of this.

The interchange between the two universities must have generated a need for regular travel between the two cities, sufficient for Ogilby to have given it a specific route in his Britannia Atlas, 1675.

Ogilby probably drew upon the Gough Map heritage or, at the very least, the established common knowledge of bridged river crossings in his preparation of the Oxford to Cambridge route.

© John Dunn.

Miller and Carter on Dr John Dunn. Leaving Oxford

‘Louse Hall So called by the Scholars’

Let us commence our various routes from Oxford to Cambridge in the company of Ogilby, Moll, Cary and Patterson and see what alternative itineraries arise.

Starting northwards from St Giles in Oxford, the divergence in the ways ahead is as clear as it has always been from time immemorial.

To the left is the road to Chipping Norton, Stratford upon Avon and beyond to Birmingham. Turnpiked in 1719, it was later designated as the A34 and now the A4144.

The road that concerns us however is the one that forks right, heading towards Banburyand beyond to Warwick and Coventry. The Oxford end was turnpiked in 1755 by the Kidlington and Deddingdton Turnpike Trust, later to be designated as the A423 and now the A4165.

All our principal map and itinerary makers set out this way and no doubt the creator of the Gough map did too. Not surprisingly, a bridged river crossing was the immediate target of them all; specifically Gosford Bridge on the Bicester road which would carry them over the River Cherwell as its concrete successor still does so to this day.

About this first leg of the journey, the Victoria County History comments:

In the 17th century and perhaps earlier the Bicester road left the Banbury road at the two mile tree, apparently at Jordan Hill near the Cutteslowe boundary, and ran north-east across Water Eaton marsh, partly on the line of the modern Water Eaton Lane, to Gosford village and so to the bridge. The road was turnpiked with the Banbury road in 1755, butin 1780 was replaced by a new turnpike which left the Banbury road c. 1½ mile farther north and ran east to join the old route, then known as Small Marsh Road, at Gosford. By 1881 only 'faint traces' of the pitching of the earlier route across Water Eaton marsh remained, and by 1983 even the footpath which had replaced the road had disappeared.

Despite the comment in the Victoria County History, traces of the old road, a footpath and track, still show on the latest Ordnance Survey Map, which run from Jordans Hill to the bottom of Water Eaton Lane and so to Gosford Bridge.

Toll House, Jordan Hill, Oxford

The above information makes sense today in that a surviving toll house (pictured above), now addressed as 566 Banbury Road, stands at Jordan Hill (SP 50352 10769) near the earlier junction with the Bicester Road to Gosford Bridge, no doubt extracting a toll from travellers who might otherwise have preferred the free but unmaintained option along the old road.

Ogilby and Moll would have used the older route that was later turnpiked, whereas our other companions, travelling after the turnpike modification, would have followed the later route, no doubt paying their tolls at Jordan Hill on the way. However, their routes converged again at one point before reaching Gosford Bridge.

In his Britannia Atlas, Ogilby makes a specific reference to ‘Louse Hall So called by the Scholars’. This building still stands and is listed as an historic building on the Historic England website It is built on the site of Gosford hospital which was founded by the Nuns of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in c1140-1180. In 1279 the Knights Hospitallers took over the running of the hospital until 1547. It then became a poorhouse and was known as the Louse Hall. Until recently the King’s Arms, the building now functions as a restaurant known as the Miller and Carter Steak House.

The point is that this building is on the spot (SP 50253 13492) where the old road, now Water Eaton Lane, met the newer turnpike to Bicester. In short it was on Ogilby’s route as well as on the turnpike and was very definitely seen by all our map and itinerary makers, and quite possibly even used as accommodation by the creator of the Gough Map too.

© John Dunn.

Ogilby Gosford Bridge The Buckingham and Bedford Route to Cambridge (The Oxford to Cambridge Project.)

Gosford Bridge

All four of my principle map makers presented routes which progressed from Oxford to Gosford Bridge. Ogilby took care to describe this as a ‘stone bridge over the Charwell Flu’, giving an indication as to its importance as a crossing point on the River Cherwell by the 1600s. However, travellers from Oxford to Buckingham have crossed the river at this ancient fording point from time immemorial, including, no doubt, the creator of the Gough map.

Gosford Bridge is described in the Victoria County History as follows:

A third main road, leading to Bicester and so to Cambridge, branches from the Banbury road to cross the Cherwell at Gosford bridge, which had replaced an earlier ford by c. 1250; the bridge was rebuilt in the later15th century, and was of stone by 1675. Its repair was the responsibility of the inhabitants of Gosford and Hampton Poyle until it was taken over by the turnpike trustees in 1755. It became a county bridge on the expiry of the turnpike trust in 1872; it was repaired in 1880 and reconstructed in 1917 and 1938.

The Gosford turnpike gate stood South of the Cherwell on Bicester Road, in Gosford, just East of Kidlington. (SP 5030 1359)

The Old Tollhouse at Gosford still stands

In nearby St Mary’s Church, Garsington is a plaque ‘to the memory of HenryW. M. Singleton’ a Commoner of Trinity College Oxford. The burial register states he was killed at the turnpike gate at Gosford. He and a fellow student raced on horseback after dark along the turnpike after going to the races at Bicester and his horse ran into the toll-bar, throwing him insensible, whereupon he died two hours later. The gate keeper had not lit the light. There was a long enquiry which was detailed in the Annual Register 1846, ending thus:

The Jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death;” they were also unanimously of opinion that much blame attached to the gate-keeper for not lighting the lamp.

© John Dunn.

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