The City

Oxford has always been one of the two chief general academic centres of Albion - even if it had, until the transfer of the Invisible College there, not been so important in the Scientific arts. Now with the destruction of London it is also the administrative heart of the Kingdom. With so many magical and mundane changes, the city is almost unrecognisable.

Living in Oxford

Oxford is a hugely overcrowded city; even the wealthy live in narrow townhouses or on estates a fraction of the size of those their parents once enjoyed in London. The Colleges still find room to house all of their students and fellows around their quads but there is almost no other accommodation in the centre. Against this, the centre of Oxford is now an immensely prestigious place to live, and the demand for accommodation there immense. Undergraduates now make a considerable amount of money from accepting lodgers in their rooms, mostly minor nobles but the larger and more prestigious rooms are often used exclusively by patrons as important as the Ambassadors of other European states (the students being paid enough to find less desirable lodgings elsewhere). This renders the room ballots held by the Colleges enormously important events, since entitlement to a good room can win a student enough money to purchase a Barony!


Despite its importance Oxford is a small island, at no point is the seashore more than four miles from the traditional centre of the island at Carfax Tower. Nonetheless more than 150,000 people make their home on the island, their homes ranging from the palace of the King to narrow townhouses of the merchants through to the single wobbling tenth-story room shared by a dozen servants and labourers. Wealth, or class as it is generally more genteelly referred to, determines where on the island a person lives.

The Centre

When Oxford was first raised by the mighty combined magics of those heroes of the Civil War, Sir Theodocius Dawkins, Rabbi Lanik and the Lord-General de Vries, their first concern was the town as it existed at that time and of the Colleges of learning that formed its core. The city-walls formed the circle of the spell and so the area within them was raised higher than the surrounding land. The colleges and markets of the centre are therefore set upon a low hill, not as high as the land at Headington, but well clear of the old flood plain in the north.

As the city’s importance has waxed, so too have the wealth and importance of the Colleges, reflected in twenty years of competitive building. Every College now sports an impressive stone frontage; the old wooden halls have mostly been torn down and replaced with graceful marbled dormitories and great halls, and the quads are immaculately laid out in the latest styles. Christchurch has jealously guarded its possession of the Oxford Cathedral, but the Colleges have collectively raised a fine new church on the High Street, only a little smaller than Westminster that now lies below the waves. Already ceremonies are held within it though it is still shrouded in scaffolding and covered everyday but the Sabbaths by stonemasons. The administration of the Church remains centred in Canterbury and York but the influence of the Bishop of Oxford is considerable, and it is not uncommon for the holder of that title to act as the King’s own chaplain.

The Colleges have also cooperated within the University to build a new combined library, the Bodleian, which the deep pockets of the University has generously endowed with books and so has grown steadily in the last thirty years. The Invisible College, which has never joined the University, however has ensured - with careful hoarding and rumoured bribery - that its collection of literature on Natural Philosophy is no better than adequate. The Bodleian Library has a policy of purchasing every book published in Albion, and of archiving the more reputable newspapers.

As homeless refugees streamed into the city, followed eventually by the more noble and richer but no less desperate numbers of the Court and merchant houses of London, the Colleges jealously guarded their rights to the high ground within the city-walls. Even now the Invisible College and Oxford Castle remain the only major buildings not owned by the University or the Colleges within a mile of the centre. The Invisible College materialised on land still claimed by Christchurch College in 1608 and the two institutions have been enemies ever since. They continue their feud by a hundred means, officially in the law courts of the realm and academic debates of the University, and unofficially through regular fights between undergraduates and the annual boat races. Other colleges have long-standing rivalries but only that between Invisible and Christchurch regularly ends in knives, Sorcery and bloodshed.

Even Parliament must meet in a building at least nominally rented from the University. The University had needed a building for its secular ceremonies, such as matriculation, for at least a century and a plot of land by what was then the north moat and is now Broad Street had been laid aside for such a purpose for at least sixty. But it was not until a motion reached the Commons proposing to requisition the land for a chamber tired of meeting in coffee houses and ale houses, at the pleasure of Kings and rectors and even commoners, that the University suddenly found a sense of urgency. An open competition for designs was held with only a month to submit designs, which was eventually one by an undergraduate of Wadham College called Wren. The building was finished within the year, though the offending motion had been quietly killed by the Colleges’ allies in the Lords. Even now Parliament must adjourn its deliberations for the ceremonies of the University.

Oxford Castle was slipping into disuse before the flooding, little more than the county jail and hanging-ground. Now its defences are reinforced, its walls twice their old height and thickness and reinforced by a dozen different supernatural wards and guardians. The Castle is now the headquarters of the Earl of Essex’s Dragoons, and the King’s Own Horticulturalists and the Venerable Order each maintain an extensive suite of offices within the keep. A large parade ground has been carved out to the west of the Castle, and stables and feeding grounds to the south.


The highest ground on Oxford island is Headington Hill (once named after the village of Headington) and at the time of the floods a heavily forested backwater. For those who had fled to Oxford with water lapping at their feet the idea of living on high-ground was extremely attractive. Conveniently the land wasn’t owned by any of the Colleges and could actually be purchased (for astronomical sums). The land at the top of Hill was swiftly appropriated by the wealthiest of nobles, with the merchants of Albion gradually buying up the lower land in St Clements. The East India Company, NEC and MISC all have large buildings just below the Crest of the Hill. Headington thus became the most prestigious quarter of the city outside of the centre.

The largest estate is that of the King, although it receives a raised eyebrow from foreign visitors (and ruder mockery from the Spanish) since it is unimposing compared to even minor domains on the continent. It is nonetheless an immaculately landscaped example of the Albion country gardens, cunningly laid out to appear larger than it truly is. At the centre of the estate is the King’s Palace, the largest building in Oxford (by area covered; some of the Meadow’s slum warrens are certainly higher and possibly larger by volume). The King regularly holds Court here with the greatest of Albion’s nobles gathered to discuss the matters of the realm. The King is a somewhat irregular attendee, but his Court sees more of him than does his Parliament!

The lesser estates of the highest-ranking Peers circle around the Royal palace, the larger estates and more powerful Dukes closer to the palace, followed by concentric circles of diminishing rank and wealth as one moves away from that centre of power.

The Meadows

The mellow name of this area is in rather brutal contrast to the reality. Ragged wooden structures tower ten or more stories into the sky, visibly shaking in even a gentle breeze. When a storm rolls in from the sea few venture out into the narrow alleys that snake between the buildings without good cause, as debris rains down from above. In most years at least one building collapses with a thunderous noise heard all over the island and a plume of grey smoke, crushing several hundred paupers in the ruins.

The Meadows began as a refugee camp outside the northern gates of the city, upon the old flood plains to the north. It is still the lowest lying inhabited land of the city, occasionally flooded in spring tides and the worst of storms. It began as a collection of shelters thrown up by those too poor to afford the spiralling costs of lodging in the inns and then private homes and finally Colleges of Oxford, who were then joined by those too unimportant to displace those who had already found more comfortable accommodation. The Meadows grew every day during the Civil War as the poor fled their flooded homes or scrambled to avoid marauding soldiers. Five years after the flooding and fighting had begun it was a permanent addition to the city. The buildings were still temporary structures thrown up from whatever had washed ashore or been stolen from other building sites in the city, but now they towered several stories high above narrow streets.

The Meadows is the poorest quarter of Oxford and no-one who can afford to live elsewhere dwells there. It is the home of Oxford’s bands of cutthroats and thieves, and also the training grounds of the city’s exceptional cat burglars. Any man or woman who can with confidence climb eight stories or leap between those shaking high rooftops is difficult to dissuade with high walls and locked windows.

The Abingdon Road

Once the town of Abingdon was a prosperous and important county town to the south of Oxford, but that was before the arrival of the demonic army of Moloch. The forces of Albion fought there and defeated him, aided by a host of Angels, the magickal weapons of Sir Alexander Cross and Edward de Vries, and by the explosive devices of the mad inventor Franzberg. Unfortunately the battle left the surrounding land a blasted wasteland, infertile and strangely tainted.

When the waters rose the barrens were covered and those who lived nearby were only too happy to see the land gone. Unfortunately the rising waters failed to wash the devilish stain away. Soon fishermen began to tell tales about those who had ventured out to Abingdon to fish and failed to return, of strange lights that glowed beneath the surface and of impossibly large shadows that crept about beneath the waves.

The truth of these monsters has never been firmly established but the land on the south of the Island of Oxford has never been as valuable as might be expected. However, tainted as it by rumours of sorcery, it has become home to those magic users – mostly Alchemists, Witches and Sorcerers - not attached to one of the Colleges or without a wealthy noble patron.

Sparkling Day

The first Sparkling Day was held on Mid-Summers Day 1606 at Cain’s College, to celebrate the defeat of the demon Moloch and his army and to thank the spirits of that College for their aid in the battle. Since that first occasion it has become an annual event held on the last day of Trinity term. It is a day dedicated to celebrating the fabric of the College; every student spends the day polishing and oiling the suits of armour that line the halls, cleaning the gargoyles and scrubbing the floors until they shine. The culmination of the day is a race between the prettiest man and woman of the freshers (selected by raucous acclamation) who must race from one end of the college to the other, kissing every statue on the route. The College's wine cellars are generally considerably less well-stocked by the end of the day.

Gradually the other Colleges copied Cain’s festival, and now each College celebrates the day in its own way. (All-Souls for example selects one of its fellows by lot, who must then chase a duck and kiss it!) In fact the festival is now a city-wide event, and an unofficial public holiday. The morning is used to clean and decorate either ones home or workplace and then the afternoon and evening is spent celebrating. The aftermath of Sparkling Day is then a metropolitan hangover and often critical sermons from the city’s churches and synagogues.

oxford.txt · Last modified: 2007/10/03 06:36 by helen