From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Port Meadow

51° 46′ 12″ N 1° 17′ 2.4″ W
Pre 1086

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Port Meadow is a large meadow of open common land beside the River Thames to the north and west of Oxford, Oxfordshire.

The meadow is an ancient area of grazing land, still used for horses and cattle, and supposedly has never been ploughed, in the last 4,000 years. It is thought that in return for helping to defend the kingdom against the marauding Danes, the Freemen of Oxford were given the 300 acres of pasture next to the River Thames by Alfred the Great. The Freemen's collective right to graze their animals free of charge is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and has been exercised ever since.

At the eastern edge of Port Meadow, just north of the entrance from Aristotle Lane, is Burgess Field, a reclaimed landfill site and home to a nature reserve, managed by Oxford City Council. It covers an area of about 21 acres and a circular path around the edge of the reserve takes you through some small copses.

The River Thames also known as the Isis, in Oxford, flows past this large grazing meadow. This is where the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson better known as Lewis Carroll rowed up the river on 4 July 1862, with the Reverend Robinson Duckworth and three young girls called Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell. While journeying slowly from Folly Bridge to near Godstow, Dodgson began at their request to make up a story that later was expanded into Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Because the meadow appears never to have been ploughed, it contains well-preserved archaeological remains, some of which survive as residual earthworks. Of particular note are several Bronze Age round barrows, an area of Iron Age settlement, and the foundations of 17th-century fortifications from the Parliamentary siege of Oxford during the English Civil War.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the meadow was used for horse racing, and low stone bridges laid over washes and ditches for this purpose still survive.

During the First World War part of Port Meadow was used to train the Royal Flying Corps and turned into a military aerodrome. Fifteen air crew and pilots were killed flying from Port Meadow or close by. In 1940, during the Second World War, a camp was set up on the meadow for military personnel evacuated from Dunkirk.