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Martyrs & Military Memorials in Oxford

Home > Oxford > Architecture | Memorials | Remembrance Day | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published October 31st 2013
A memorial-themed walk around Oxford
Oxford offers a plethora of old buildings and monuments to visit, but sometimes this can feel more overwhelming than inspiring. It can help to know some of the stories behind the stones, to have a theme for your visit.

Home of the Oxford Movement, which championed a form of High Anglicanism, Oxford has witnessed the suffering and resurgence of both Catholics and Protestants. Nowadays the city boasts a rich cluster of Catholic and Anglican churches and chapels, but the memorials throughout the town point towards more turbulent times. In the university church, of St Mary the Virgin, there is a plaque recording the names of both Catholic and Protestant martyrs, showing the different waves which came through the town. Outside Balliol College, on Broad Street, a cobbled cross lies in the middle of the road. This marks the point where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, was burned at the stake on 21st March 1556, following in the footsteps of Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.

cranmer, balliol, oxford, martyr
The spot where Thomas Cranmer was martyred


Around the corner is the Martyrs Memorial, completed in 1843 and commemorating Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley. This monument sits in the middle of the road by the church of St Mary Magdalen, itself a popular High Anglican church.

martyrs, memorial, oxford, cranmer, latimer, ridley
Martyrs' Memorial, St Giles', Oxford


As well as the religious martyrs, Oxford hosts a number of war memorials. The colleges have private ones commemorating the college members who died fighting, whatever their side.

At the other end of St Giles' from the Martyrs Memorial is the main War Memorial. On Remembrance Sunday this stretch of road is shut for a commemoration ceremony and the laying of wreaths.

war, memorial, oxford, WWI, WWII, military
Oxford War Memorial


A local Catholic church, St Aloysius, has even been known to stall its Sunday service so that worshippers can go to both ceremonies, and to break with Catholic tradition by including prayers to the monarch on this day of national mourning and remembrance.

Back in town, in the pedestrianised Bonn Square, is the Tirah memorial. This commemorates the soldiers of the second battalion Oxfordshire light infantry to died in 1897-8 during the Tirah Expedition. This is a much less well-known event, but it demonstrates the enduring legacy of the loss. Unveiled in 1900, it is Oxford's first war memorial and is notable for the speed with which it was erected.

war, memorial, oxford, tirah, expedition
Oxford Tirah Expedition monument


Remembering those who have trodden Oxford's paths before you, or remembering in solidarity with its residents - a tour of these monuments provides one way into thinking about the city and visiting its finest areas.
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Why? A way to enjoy and make sense of the buildings and monuments in Oxford city centre
Where: Oxford City Centre
Cost: free
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