When William the Conqueror invaded England and won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Oxford Castle was marked by the Norman's as the ideal place for a motte-and-bailey castle. This task was entrusted to Robert D'Oilly, a distinguished soldier and member of William's inner circle. In 1071, in the west suburb of Saxon Oxford, D'Oilly began to build a castle which would leave the natives in no doubt about who was in charge.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Researchers have confirmed that Oxford Castle is the site where Geoffrey of Monmouth penned the famous Historia Regum Britanniae, regarded as the origin of the Legends of King Arthur. The only remnants of the chapel now lie in the ancient chapel’s crypt, where Geoffrey of Monmouth would have walked whilst penning his notable tome.
Arrested in 1726 for stealing a horse in Chipping Norton. Sentenced to hang, Bess used her wits to find a loop hole in the law to escape her fate.
Beginning his career at Oxford Prison as the Clerk of Works in 1785, Daniel Harris was quickly promoted to Governor the following year. He swiftly began his reformation of the prison conditions and put the prisoners to work, hiring the convicts out to complete public works as part of the prisoners’ rehabilitation. Daniel Harris possessed a number of skills as a builder, carpenter, draughtsman and architect. One of his greatest passions was archaeology, and subsequently, he was the first person to carry out serious excavations at Oxford Castle, during which he discovered a vaulted well chamber concealed within the mound and St. George’s Crypt.
In August 1751 a young woman from Henley stood accused of the murder of her own father. Oxfordshire society was scandalised, for Mary came from respectable middle-class stock. As such she was permitted privileges in gaol, although her ankles remained discreetly manacled. The cause of her father’s death quickly got out on the local grapevine. He had been poisoned with arsenic. Rashly, he had advertised his fortune in the hope of attracting a husband for Mary. A Scottish army officer, Captain Cranstoun, had courted the young woman and won her heart, but had then fallen out of favour and been banished from the Blandy household.
Could such a well-mannered, pretty young woman really have been capable of the grisly act of murder? Maybe, the gossips said, it had all been Captain Cranstoun’s idea.
Imprisoned for stealing, Elisabeth Boswell was not only the first female prisoner to escape, she was also the only person to escape twice. The trouble was, she never seemed to make it very far. After her first escape in 1776, she was recovered a mere 100 yards from goal in the local watering hole.
Her second escape attempt came in 1778 when she faked illness and found herself in the “sick apartment” next to a gang of condemned highwaymen. Boswell broke free and helped release Robert Thacker and John Jones in the early evening.
A debonair highway man and showman to the end! He attended his own execution dressed in his finest suit and didn’t even wait for the hangman to finish the job. 18th century Rock ‘n’ Roll!
A prison warder from the late 1870s. Barker believed prisoners should be punished for their crimes. Cold and humourless he supports the 'silent system' of punishment, with hours of hard labour.