Reviewed by Anthony & Karen Curson
Oxford castle is situated in the centre of Oxford, a stone’s throw from the main shopping area and car parks. The majority of the castle was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces after the civil war in the 17th century but the original Norman mound, St George’s Tower and crypt remain, a prison complex was added to it over the next several centuries and it remained an operational prison until the 1990s about 10 years later it was opened to the public as a museum.
The tours are every 20 minutes and each is guided by an actor in costume from various points in the castles history, be it a character from the Norman era or a prison reformer from the 19th century. Our guide was the character of a lady from the civil war period whose husband was imprisoned for being on the wrong side!, she took us up the steep steps of St George’s Tower stopping on several levels to tell us interesting facts about the history of the castle and the horrific conditions that the prisoners over the centuries lived and died in.
Next we went into the spooky crypt where we were told some more facts about the room and told some ghostly tales of phantoms that have been seen in the dark.
The tour finishes in the claustrophobic prison complex area, our guide took our mug shots (which were available to purchase if we wanted) and then we were free to walk around the prison museum which detailed the different forms of punishment given to prisoners, and records of wrongdoers and their sentences. By modern standards a lot of these seem to be unnecessarily harsh, for example, the youngest prisoner reported was a 7 year old girl who was sent to the prison for 7 days for stealing a pram from somebody’s garden.
Overall the tour and walk round the prison was about an hour.
What we liked:
- Our Tour guide, very informative and funny without it being too serious.
- Walking up the castle mound and the view from the top.
- “Matilda’s room” halfway up the tower a small chamber that had in turn been home to the Empress Matilda and much later held 60+ prisoners (with no toilets).
- The view from the top of St George’s Tower, a breath-taking panorama of the Cathedral city.
What (the girls) didn’t like:
- The spooky crypt, we personally loved it as we are interested in the paranormal but our daughters (7 &9) weren’t so keen of the idea of the apparition known as “Brother Bernard” possibly poking them in the back!
The castle is open daily from 10.00am – 4.20pm, if you purchase tickets in advance (phone or internet) you get better rates than if you walk in. Save 15% by booking online:
Adult tickets: £9.95 (£8.45 online)
Children (age 5-15): £6.95 (£5.90 online)
Under 5s are free
Family tickets and OAP/student concessions are available
We really enjoyed our visit, we found it to be just the right amount of time, the prices were not unreasonable and the staff were very pleasant and informative.
We give Oxford Castle Unlocked 4 out of 5, a good venue for a couple of hours but not enough to make a day of it.
For more information or to book tickets online visit www.oxfordcastleunlocked.co.uk.
44-46 Oxford Castle, Oxford, OX1 1AY | 01865 260666