The City of Oxford 1850-1914

Course summary

  • Mon 08 Jan 2018 to Mon 19 Mar 2018
  • 7:00-9:00pm 10 meetings
  • Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA
  • From £220.00
  • 10 CATS points
  • Course code O17P524LHW
  • +44(0)1865 280892
  • Applications being accepted

The City of Oxford 1850-1914


We will investigate the economic, social and cultural changes in Oxford in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, taking it from a city still dependent on its university for fame and fortune to one ready, finally, to participate in the industrial revolution.

In 1850 Oxford was a fairly small, inward-looking city, still largely contained within its medieval boundaries; by the eve of the First World War it had quadrupled in size and was poised to become one of the major manufacturing centres in southern England.

We will examine the social, cultural and economic changes that the city underwent in this 65-year period and set them in the context of national developments. How did the coming of the railway, university reforms, religious upheaval, a rise in real wages and increasing concern for public health and sanitation affect the provision of education, leisure and public services, employment opportunities and the rapid development of Oxfords suburbs? The history of the city itself is still often neglected, even by its own citizens, and our main focus will be on the 'town', rather than the 'gown'.

Programme details

Term Starts:   8th January      Half Term: 12th Feb

Week 1:  Introduction to the course. Historical background: Oxford in 1850. Survey of themes and sources.

Week 2:  Politics, city government and public services

Week 3:  Public health, housing, poor relief and charity

Week 4:  Commerce & industry

Week 5:  Development of the suburbs

Week 6:  Religion

Week 7:  Education

Week 8:  Leisure and entertainment

Week 9:  Walking tour of the city

Week 10: Conclusions

Background Reading:

Crossley, A. & Elrington, C.R., A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 4 - The City of Oxford (Victoria County History (VCH), 1979)

Fenby, C., The Other Oxford : the Life and Times of Frank Gray and his Father (Lund Humphries, 1970)

Graham, M. & Waters, L., Oxford Yesterday & Today (Sutton, 1997, reprinted 2002)

Graham, M., On Foot in Oxford. Twelve leaflets covering various areas of the city (Oxford City Libraries Local History Collection, 1974-1988)

Thompson, F.M.L., The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830-1900 (Fontana, 1988)

Thompson, P.R., The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (Paladin, 1977)

Tyack, G., Oxford: An Architectural Guide (OUP, 1998)

Oxfordshire Heritage Search (for images and archive material on buildings and people),

If you are planning to purchase books, remember that courses with too few students enrolled will be cancelled. The Department accepts no responsibility for books bought in anticipation of a course.

If you have enrolled on a course starting in the autumn, you can become a borrowing member of the Rewley House library from 1st September. If you are enrolled on a course starting in other terms, you can become a borrowing member once the previous term has ended.

Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List


Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to do so.


Course Fees: £220.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Ms Liz Woolley

A freelance local history tutor, researcher, writer, speaker and tour guide.

Course aims

To examine the social, cultural and economic history of Oxfords town (as opposed gown) in the Victorian and Edwardian periods and to set that history in the context of contemporary developments in English society nationally.

Course Objectives:

1. To study developments in housing, education, public services, transport, local government, industry, commerce, leisure and religion in Oxford during the period 1850 to 1914.

2. To examine how developments in Oxford related to changes in English society generally during this period.

3. To identify, evaluate, interpret and compare appropriate primary sources for Oxford for the period.

4. To help students who wish to, to identify and begin research projects of their own.

Teaching methods

A range of teaching and learning methods will be used, including short lectures and illustrated presentations from the tutor, reading and interpretation of documents in pairs or small groups, and class discussion. One of the ten sessions will be a guided walk around Oxford, looking at relevant buildings and at the topography of the city. Teaching materials will include copies of texts, maps and images. Students will be expected to read one or two recommended introductory texts before the start of the course and to prepare material from hand-outs for discussion in class. They will be encouraged to follow up their own particular interests by reading more widely, visiting relevant exhibitions and carrying out their own explorations of the city.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Have an informed awareness of Oxfords history from 1850 to 1914.

2. Be conscious of how Oxfords development during this period related to what was happening nationally.

3. Be able to identify, interpret, evaluate and discuss a range of primary source materials relating to Oxford for this period.

4. Have the confidence to engage in research on their own behalf and, if they wish, to have identified a suitable topic for further investigation.

Assessment methods

No special expertise or knowledge will be expected, just a willingness to join in class activities. Each week the tutor will provide a hand-out for the following week's session which will include suggested assignments related to the topic of the session. Each student will use these as the basis for four short (375-word) written assignments or for one more detailed (1,500-word) written assignment. Alternatively students may pursue a subject of their own choosing in consultation with the tutor.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)