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  • Writer's pictureOxford, what's your story

Treasure Hunting in Oxford

One of the great treasures of any city are the people who live in it. Oxford is rich, not simply because of its river and its rocks, but because of those who have shaped the city with their heads, their hands and their hearts.

Everywhere you go around Oxford you can find clues about the people who have been here before you: on plaques, road names, buildings. Before lock down I went on a treasure hunt around the city looking for clues about its story. I started my hunt amid the clothes rails of Marks and Spencers:

After you have listened to this, you should consider, 'Connect, Extend, Challenge'. How has what you learnt connected with what you knew before; how has what you've learnt extended what you knew; and what new questions do you have? Who in particular would you like to learn more about?

One person whose inscription we couldn't find is that of an Anglo Saxon Princess called Frideswide. She was declared patron saint of Oxford in the 15th century. She is particularly associated with Christ Church Cathedral as this is where the site of her priory was located.

Mrs Kuiper has made this short video outlining some of the main events in her life and the places in Oxford where you can find out more about her:

We're really grateful to Jackie Holderness who runs the Cathedral Education Department, for recording her book, 'The Princess who hid in a tree' especially for us. It is full of beautiful phrases and pictures which take us back into the Oxford of the past and bring some of its still familiar features to life.

Frideswide was an Anglo Saxon (remember the Anglo Saxon tower we learnt about last week). The language she would have spoken sounded very different to ours. This famous poem, Beowulf, was written after Frideswide was alive, but in a similar language to the one she spoke. It sounds very different to English, doesn't it? Language often changes more quickly than landscape.

Hi on beorg dydon beg ond siglu, eall swylce hyrsta, swylce on horde ær niðhedige men genumen hæfdon, forleton eorla gestreon eorðan healdan, gold on greote, þær hit nu gen lifað eldum swa unnyt swa hit æror wæs.

Here's a translation. Can you see how many words look the same as our English?

They placed in the barrow that precious booty

the rounds and the rings they had reft erewhile

hardy heroes, from hoard in cave -

trusting the ground with treasure of earls,

gold in the earth, where ever it lies

useless to man as of yore it was.

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