This castle was originally built of timber by Robert d’Oilly in about 1071 and was of a motte and bailey type. The motte was about 60 feet in height and possibly situated on an earlier Saxon site. All we see today, apart from the much later buildings, is the grass covered motte and to the south,
the remains of the later built, St. George’s Tower.
D’Oilly most probably came from the Calvados region of Normandy and took part in the Battle of Hastings. Like so many other of the Conqueror’s comrades in arms he was granted lands in payment and, in this case, extensive lands in Oxfordshire and was confirmed with an hereditary royal constableship for Oxford castle.
Because of the ferocious way the Conqueror took that part of the country and Oxford in particular, it was important to quickly build a secure castle to dominate the area,
utilising the stream of the River Thames to form a moat.
In 1074 St George’s Tower was erected and built of coral rag stone. As work continued over the following years, it became the highest of six towers, except for the keep, These towers were linked by a stone curtain wall. Humfrey, the mason who was in charge of building works in 1129, was paid 5 pence a day.
During the period of Anarchy, Empress Matilda in about 1141, sought the safety of the castle when King Stephen laid siege to it. Waiting for the winter to set in, Matilda made her daring escape at night, accompanied by three or four knights all dressed in white. Probably, they were let down by rope from St. George’s Tower and crossed the frozen Thames, thereby making their way in
the snow through Stephen’s lines to safety on foot.
By the 1350’s the castle was of little military value and fell into disrepair and at the time of the Civil War, Parliamentary troops destroyed much of the castle that was still standing. In the 18th century the keep was pulled down and the top of the motte landscaped. From that time on it has been used as a local prison.
It is now owned by Oxfordshire County Council and is open to the public.
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