Saxon Tower of St Michael

In the same situation as my visit to Hexam Abbey, I was in Oxford visiting friends (actually some of the group as before too) and happened upon this gem in the middle of the city. My friends can now attest I am magnetically attracted to signs with “Saxon” written on them.

(Also to bookshops but that’s another problem entirely.)

The website for the tower suggests that this is the second-oldest building in Oxford, with a date of about 1040-50. So much of Oxford seems ancient anyway, especially since we’d been around a few colleges too, that to go inside something that much older than its surroundings was quite impressive.

So without further ado, let’s start the tooouuuuur …

You entered the tower, as opposed to the rest of the church, through the gift shop. Which is a hilariously blatant bit of fundraising, I love it. Sadly I didn’t buy anything there, though I really wanted some of the fake stained glass. Here’s the sign at the bottom of the spiralling tower steps, telling you what to expect as you climb:


Next, I climbed to the bit which various signs told me might be the nave? I don’t know churches; I really need to get this sorted if they will insist on being the only surviving Anglo-Saxon structures for me to “oooh” over. So looking out from that I got a picture of the gorgeous church. It gives you a good sense of how high up we already were!



That second picture shows you the material of the tower: rough stone. It has, of course, been repaired and restored over the years, as detailed by various signs on the way up. Below is some information (and a photo-of-a-photo) that I took of an Anglo-Saxon remnant in the wall just behind where I was stood for the above photo. You might have to squint at the photo to see the arched doorway referenced, sorry!


So fifteen minutes later when I had walked about ten steps (interest is not conducive to speed) I finally came upon the little display area, where they keep old documents and other artefacts. I tried my best to take legible photos of signs!


I love old keys, ok? Massive hulking 3D chunks of metal. Much cooler than the tiny things we open our doors with today, or the buttons we press to get into our cars. Although I do appreciate they are harder to actually use. Form over function, that’s me.

We also saw a chest like this with multiple locks and key-holders in one of the Oxford colleges – the name escapes me right now. The one that doubled as the Harry Potter infirmary?! I’d never really put any thought into how belongings and valuables were kept secure for large administrations before. Shame on me.


I’ll just give you the first bit of the sign there. This is from 1612, (top left corner) and it’s basically a record of some property transactions.

A Charter, which is an exemplification of a chancery decree. Endorsed (given at the request of Thomas Flexney Esq.,). It is on four sheets of parchment, sealed with the great seal in white wax. 

This next set is the earliest set on display, and I was very sad that I couldn’t read them. Ah well, at least we can see old handwriting …

Sign for exhibit Church Warden's Accounts

I don’t quite know where this next one fits: I think it might be a header to the church warden accounts but it looks later … anyway, here it is.


That’s actually come out much clearer than I thought it would, but I’ll give you the text as best I can anyway – modernised spelling:

“The [UNKNOWN-possibly books?] of the parish Church of St Michael at the North Gate of the City of Oxford, wherein are contained diverse gifts and legacies [UNKNOWN-possibly unto?] the said parish Church and Parishioners given & bequeathed.”

I left the display room after that. There was an entire silverware section I have no photos of, but time is precious and I am slow. On the way up I passed by numerous signs detailing the restoration process in the tower. It was an amazing tale, but I was running out of phone charge! Had to reserve it for the really interesting stuff like:


I do apologise for the blurry door. And the sign glare. The modern white sign) reads:

This is a door through which Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, known as the Oxford Martyrs, were led to the[sic] deaths. It was the entrance to their cell, originally located in the ‘Bocardo Prison’, which was constructed over the North Gate of the city and could be entered through this tower.”

These martyrs were Protestants who were executed by the order of Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary”. You can see a little more about them here and here (and, of course, on many other sites that you can probably find more quickly than me).

On the last stretch before coming out onto the roof, I saw the bells mentioned earlier: both the 19th century chiming mechanism (sadly broken at the time) and the huge bells 17th century bells themselves. Unfortunately they were too big for me to get an adequate photograph of them within the confines of the tower. They aren’t allowed to be rung any more, only chimed, as it is feared they might damage the tower.

And a quick view from the top!

Since I was limited for time by my travel arrangements (public transport, everybody … ) I sadly didn’t get a chance to look at any of these bits:

“After the tower, the earliest surviving parts of the church are the chancel, the eastern part of the south aisle (nearest the altar), and the south door, all dating from the 13th century.

The east window of the chancel contains four panels of high quality stained glass dating from the 13th century; it is some of the earliest stained glass in Oxford.”

Hopefully I’ll go back there at some point to stay there all day (ahem) to see my friends again.

Thanks for reading! Hope you found the photographs interesting!


Saxon Tower of St Michael

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