Unnervingly quiet streets and the silence of buses and cars in lockdown left local historian Liz Woolley with the opportunity to focus on Oxford’s historical gems that can go unnoticed in the usual bustle of rush hour.

Hidden on street corners, in doorways and on rooftops lies centuries of history and Ms Woolley unravels these secret spots in the city centre in a short documentary film called Historic Oxford Under Lockdown.

Oxford Civic Society worked with Ms Woolley on the documentary.

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OCS chairman Ian Green said: “One morning in May, Liz (and a suitably distanced cameraman) explored Carfax, St Aldate’s, Cornmarket, St Giles, Broad Street and Holywell Street.

“She not only talks about the historic buildings but also identifies and explains some of the quirkier details you might never have noticed.”

Oxford Mail:

Starting in Carfax Ms Woolley explores the hidden history in the city centre from small engravings on buildings to a water fountain that is more than a century old.

In the documentary she highlights intricate details in Carfax that may go unnoticed. She said: “There are many pleasurable details to see here, have you ever noticed this fine brass bass relief above the gateway to what was the entrance to St Martin’s churchyard, it shows St Martin tearing his cloak to give part of it to a beggar.”

Oxford Mail:

She also reveals stories of the St Scholastica riots between town and gown which raged for three days.

She said the riots began at the Swindlestock Tavern on February 10, 1355 and claimed the lives of at least six students and an unknown number of townsman.

Ms Woolley believes the most important building on St Aldate's is the Town Hall. She explains that when it opened in 1897 it was described as ‘so funeral in aspect as to remind one of a dungeon’.

However, she also highlights the bizarre intricate details engraved on the building, such as Elephants and Beavers which are part of Oxford’s coat of arms.

Oxford Mail:

As she walks along Cornmarket Street she remarks that the road was originally known as North Gate Street, but corn was traded on this street from at least the early 16th century and it became pedestrianised after city buses and cars packed the street in the 20th century.

Encouraging people to look up on Cornmarket Street to notice the historical buildings that remain above the modern shop fronts, she guides us through the history that lies just above our eyeline.

This includes 17th century buildings and the Saxon tower of St Michael at North Gate, which is one of Oxford’s oldest buildings built around 1050 and it once was the entrance way into the city.

Ms Woolley describes St Giles as one of Oxford’s most elegant streets. She believes that if the street were freed of parked cars it could become a world-class urban space.

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Taking advantage of the lack of cars, the historian explores the space from the war memorial to the gothic martyr’s memorial and the pubs that lie between to uncover the stories which make up the city.

Describing Broad Street as elegant, Ms Woolley runs through the famous buildings and colleges including Blackwell’s Bookshop, which when this documentary was filmed in May looked empty and silent.

The Clarendon Building and the university’s History of Science museum are obvious historical buildings, but it is the history that you cannot see at first glance which interests Ms Woolley.

Filming the row of shops from Oxfam to numerous gift shops she informs viewers that these buildings can date back to the 17th century and their plots have deep basements and some even have Double basements.

She explained this was because they were built over what had been the city ditch and where at one point a steam used to flow.

One of the most surprising facts of Broad Street is it has a hidden statue on the rooftop of an art shop.

Ms Woolley said: “On the roof of Blackwell’s art and poster shop unnoticed by many people rushing past below is a statue of a nude man by Anthony Gormley.”

Oxford Mail:

A simple cross in the road surface at the western end of Broad Street marks the spot where the three Oxford martyrs Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley were burned. Now the surrounding road surface is covered in concrete leaving only the old cobbles to reveal the spot.

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As the documentary draws to a close Ms Woolley dwells on how much she enjoys the city of Oxford when it is free from traffic. She said: “Wouldn’t it be nice if Oxford could stay like this for a little longer perhaps.”

Mr Green said that Oxford Civic Society is now working on a second short film about the transport problems raised by lockdown.

The film is now available to watch on for free on both the OCS website and on YouTube. Watch the short documentary film at: oxcivicsoc.org.uk/historic-oxford-under-lockdown/