Magdalen Bridge, A420, High Street
The Cherwell is shown here on seven web pages:
Cherwell Mouth (from the Isis to below Magdalen Bridge)
Mesopotamia (from above Magdalen Bridge to the boat rollers)
Upper Cherwell (above the boat rollers to below Bardwell Road Punting station)
Bardwell Road to the Victoria Arms
Islip (Cherwell above the Victoria Arms)
Other pages of interest to punters are:
Bullstake Stream (Other side of the Isis (aka Thames) - for punters to explore)
To Old Navigation (Punt up above Osney Lock and then round to Oxford Castle)
There are also two round trips including going up the Oxford Canal and coming back down via Kings Lock and Godstow
Punt Hire. The pedestrian access is on the LEFT bank (Oxford side) above the bridge.
On the LEFT bank (banks are now named going upstream [click "About" in the three line menu above]) are the Botanical Gardens. The bridge is Magdalen Bridge and on the LEFT bank above it Magdalen College.
The Botanical Gardens
1632: from "THAME ISIS" by John Taylor, the Water Poet:
Close under Oxford one of England's eyes,
Chief of the chiefest Universities,
From Banbury desirous to add knowledge
To zeal, and to be taught in Magdalen College,
The River Cherwell doth to Isis run,
And bears her company to Abingdon,
The Botanical Gardens in 'Oxford' by Frederick Douglas How -
... the Botanical Gardens hard by Magdalen Bridge.
Their situation on the brink of the River Cherwell, and almost under the shadow of
Magdalen Tower, is what probably appeals most strongly to the ordinary
observer, while those who merely pass the gardens by will delight in the
gateway, the work of Inigo Jones, with its statues of Charles I and II.
Formal these gardens are of necessity, but there hangs about them a certain feeling of antiquity. They somehow seem to take their place among their old-world surroundings; and fitly so, for they are the oldest gardens of their kind in the country, having been originated by the Earl of Danby as an assistance to the study of medicine, nearly three hundred years ago.
1773: The Antient and Present State of the City of Oxford -
... coming to Brugset-Street, under the West End of St. Clement's Church,
we come to East Bridge, commonly called Maudlin-Bridge, because of the College of the same Name.
It is built of Stone, consisting of 20 Arches, and leadeth over the River Cbarwell near to St. Clement's,
Concerning its first Foundation I cannot absolutely pronounce, though we cursorily find mention of its Name in very ancient Autographs ; wherein, for the most Part, it is called Petty Pont, for Distinction Sake, from Grandpont or South Bridge.
The Foundation Charter of St. John's Hospital, now Magdalen College, remembers it and an Historian also, living in those Days, who, speaking of the Foundation of that Place, saith of King H[enry] I - he built an Hospital at Oxford, Anno 1233
non procul a Ponte,
we may conclude, that this Bridge was then in being ; and Mr. Winfore reports, who lived in the Time of Queen Eliz[abeth I] that it was but then built, and that, before, it was a Ferry, called Stone Ferry, and the like. We will suppose he meant it was rebuilt ; for as early as at the Reiteration of St. Frid. Priory, King H. I. in his Charter dated 1122, makes mention of it thus:
Item, desuper pontem Orientalem duos hidas Terrae cum pertinentiis
confirms to that Priory, among other Lands, 2 Hides of Land, with its Appurtenances, under the Bridge.
But this Bridge is far ancienter than the Norman Conquest ; and that it was standing in the Norman Conquest, as it does now, is sufficiently testified. King Ethelred, in his confirmatory Charter of St. Frid. Priory, 1004, after it had been miserably sacked by the Danes, in the Description of the Limits of the Lordships of Heddington, Cowley, 2 Bolles in Brug-eset, beyond St. Clement's Church, and near this Bridge, has these Words
yare iii hideland ymer into Coeule from Charwell-brigge & longe the Stream or yaz Vyche with Haklingcroff.
Charwell Bridge must be this, both because this passed over Charwell, and because there was no other Bridge over the Charwell then leading these Ways.
For the Reparation of this, and other Bridges about Oxford, great Privileges have been always allowed the Burgesses by Kings; who successively instituted a Man, to be always ready, when Need required, to mend it so far as they perambulated, and to receive those Gifts and Legacies left for this Purpose. The first of this Kind I meet with, is in the 15th [year] of Ed[ward] II  when Hugh Rose of Heddington, giving Sureties into the Mayor's Court, was elected Custos of this Bridge.
In the 32d of King Ed[ward] III  Nic Wadelyns, an Hermit, had the Custody of it ; who had a little Cabbin or Cell in the South Side of it, in a little Isle, and there lived sometimes as his Predecessors and Successors in that Office did. They were commonly called Heremitae apud Petty Pont.
1444: W. Wicham, in his Will, left 6s. 8d. for the repair of the bridge.
1501: Dr. Rimbault -
In the year of our Lord God, 1501, the most Christian King, Henry VII,
gave to St. Mary Magdalen College the advowsons of the Churches of Slymbridge, county Gloucester,
and Fyndon, county Sussex, together with one acre of land in each parish.
In gratitude for this benefaction the college was accustomed, during the lifetime of their Royal benefactor, to celebrate a service in honour of the Holy Trinity, with the Collect still used on Trinity Sunday, and the prayer,
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, we are taught by thy holy Word,
that the hearts of Kings are in thy rule and governance,
and that thou dost dispose and turn them as it seemeth best to thy godly wisdom: we humbly beseech thee so to dispose and govern the heart of Henry, thy servant, our King, and Governour, that, in all his thoughts, words, and works, he may ever seek thy honour and glory, and study to preserve thy people committed to his charge, in wealth, peace, and godliness: Grant this, O merciful Father, for thy dear Son's sake.
and after the death of the King to commemorate him in the usual manner. The Commemoration Service, ordered in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, is still performed on the first of May, and the Latin hymn in honour of the Holy Trinity, which continues to be sung on the tower at sunrising, has evidently reference to the original service.
The 17th century Hymnus Eucharisticus -
Te Deum Patrem colimus,
Te Laudibus prosequimus,
qui corpus cibo reficis,
coelesti mentem gratia.
Te adoramus, O Jesu,
Te, Fili unigenite,
Te, qui non dedignatus es
subire claustra Virginis.
Actus in crucem, factus est
irato Deo victima
per te, Salvator unice
vitae spes nobis rediit.
Tibi, aeterne Spiritus
cuius afflatu peperit
infantem Deum Maria,
Triune Deus, hominum
salutis auctor optime,
immensum hoc mysterium
orante lingua canimus.
1791: Samuel Ireland writes -
AN ancient custom is still observed in [Magdalen]
On May-day morning the choristers sing a Latin hymn, precisely as the clock strikes five ; and the bridge and neighbourhood, should the morning prove fair, are generally thronged with the listening crowd.
A lamb used formerly to be roasted whole on the leads of the tower, for breakfast; but in this age of refinement, a dinner is substituted, at which the lamb is not forgotten.
1890: May Morning on Magdalen Tower Holman Hunt -
May Morning on Magdalen Tower, Holman Hunt, 1890
T H Warren, President of Magdalen -
MAY-DAY ON MAGDALEN TOWER
WRITTEN FOR MR HUNT'S PICTURE
Morn of the year, of day and May the prime!
How fitly do we scale the deep dark stair,
Into the brightness of the matin air,
To praise with chanted hymn and echoing chime,
Dear Lord of Light, thy lowlihead sublime
That stooped erewhile our life's frail weed to wear!
Sun, clouds, and hills, all thing Thou framest so fair,
With us are glad and gay, greeting the time.
The college of the lily leaves her sleep;
The grey tower rocks and trembles into sound,
Dawn-smitten Memnon of a happier hour;
Through faint-hued fields the silver waters creep;
Day grows, birds pipe, and robed anew and crowned
Green spring trips forth to set the world aflower.
On May Day the Magdalen College choir still sing at dawn from the tower. This remnant of medieval devotion has become a very different matter in modern times. It is not wise to have a boat on the river during that event. There is a risk of serious injury and damage. Certainly punts cannot be hired at that time. It is not unknown for the modern pilgrims to show their devotion by risking life and limb [and boats] by trying to jump off the bridge onto boats beneath.
By the 16th century the causeway and bridge was of stone, 1500 ft long with 20
arches and deep cutwaters.
1772 - 1778: A new design by John Gwynn completely replaced the bridge with a bridge with semicircular arches.
The foundation stone was laid on March 26 1773. Architect: John Gwynn, Builder: John Randall.
1791: And here is the new bridge a year or so later, drawn by Samuel Ireland -
1791, Magdalen Bridge, Samuel Ireland.
THE annexed view of Magdalen bridge,
though not properly an appendage of the
Thames, has still so much merit in its design, as to render it no unfit object to place
at the head of this section : it was begun in
the year 1772, by Mr. John Gwynn, who
was a native of this city ; whose work, tho' by no means a perfect model of beauty, will
still be thought to add more credit to the
architect, in point of taste and design, than
to those who had the conservancy of the river
over which it passes.
It is a spacious stone bridge, five hundred and twenty-six feet in length, consisting of eleven arches, five of which are without the necessary accompanyment, water; under the other six run two shallow branches of the river Cherwell: it certainly forms a noble entrance to the city from the London road, and may possibly be of some utility at a future period, when taste and good sense may take into confideration, should the thing be practicable, the uniting of two streams, which connected would constitute one river that will do honour to the university.
1812? Percy Byshe Shelley, 1792-1822, from Literary Anecdotes by Hogg -
ONE Sunday we had been reading Plato together so diligently, that the usual hour of exercise passed away unperceived:
we sallied forth hastily to take the air for half an hour before dinner.
In the middle of Magdalen Bridge we met a woman with a child in her arms. Shelley was more attentive at that instant to our conduct in a life that was past, or to come, than to a decorous regulation of the present according to the established usages of society, in that fleeting moment of eternal duration styled the nineteenth century. With abrupt dexterity he caught hold of the child.
The mother, who might well fear that it was about to be thrown over the parapet of the bridge into the sedgy waters below, held it fast by its long train.
"Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, Madam?" he asked, in a piercing voice, and with a wistful look.
The mother made no answer, but perceiving that Shelley's object was not murderous, but altogether harmless, she dismissed her apprehension, and relaxed her hold.
"Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, Madam?' he repeated, with unabated earnestness.
"He cannot speak, Sir" said the mother seriously. "Worse and worse", cried Shelley, with an air of deep disappointment, shaking his long hair most pathetically about his young face; "but surely the babe can speak if he will, for he is only a few weeks old. He may fancy perhaps that he cannot, but it is only a silly whim; he cannot have forgotten entirely the use of speech in so short a time; the thing is absolutely impossible."
"It is not for me to dispute with you, Gentlemen", the woman meekly replied, her eye glancing at our academical garb; "but I can safely declare that I never heard him speak, nor any child, indeed, of his age."
It was a fine placid boy; so far from being disturbed by the interruption, he looked up and smiled. Shelley pressed his fat cheeks with his fingers, we commended his healthy appearance and his equanimity, and the mother was permitted to proceed, probably to her satisfaction, for she would doubtless prefer a less speculative nurse. Shelley sighed deeply as we walked on.
"How provokingly close are those new-born babes!" he ejaculated; "but it is not the less certain, notwithstanding the cunning attempts to conceal the truth, that all knowledge is reminiscence: the doctrine is far more ancient than the times of Plato, and as old as the venerable allegory that the Muses are the daughters of Memory" ...
Commenting on the above story of Shelley, Andrew Lang, wrote in 1906 -
Not less Shelleyan was the adventure on Magdalen Bridge, the beautiful bridge of our illustration, from which Oxford, with the sunset behind it, looks like a fairy city of the Arabian Nights - a town of palaces and princesses, rather than of proctors.
See the 1906 picture from Andrew Lang's book, below
1815: A treatise on Bridge Architecture, Thomas Pope -
THE BRIDGE OF ST. MARY MAGDALEN, OVER THE ISIS[sic actually Cherwell ] AT OXFORD
is one of the handsomest structures of the kind in England. It is built of Heddington stone, of uncommon whiteness. The balustrades are of the same material as the Bridge, exquisitely wrought and corresponding with the elegance which distinguishes Oxford from almost every other city. A beautiful model of this Bridge, in ivory, is deposited in the picture-gallery of the University.
1819: Magdalen Bridge "in its old state" -
1819, Magdalen Bridge in its old state.
1837: Memorials of Oxford by James Ingram -
1837, Magdalen Bridge.
1839, Magdalen Bridge.
1883: Magdalen Bridge was widened by twenty feet whist retaining the original design.
The record of the rebuilding of Magdalen Bridge is preserved on the foundation stone to be found on the arch on the down-river side of the bridge, best viewed from the car-park of the Bursary of Magdalen College near the entrance to the Botanic Garden:
The foundation stone of the old part of this bridge was laid on March 26 1773.
Architect: John Gwynn,
Builder: John Randall.
The bridge was widened twenty feet on the south-west side
and both parapets were rebuilt
by the Oxford Local Board 1882-3.
Chairman: Rev. J.R.Magrath DD, Provost of Queen's College.
Engineer: W. H. White, M. Inst CE;
Contractor: George Moss, Liverpool.
Magdalen Bridge Widening, 1883, Taunt
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT13356
1885: Magdalen College, The Royal River -
Magdalen College, 1885, The Royal River.
1906: Magdalen Bridge in Oxford by Andrew Lang
1922: Magdalen Bridge, Francis Frith -
1922: Magdalen College, Francis Frith -
1934: Magdalen Bridge -
Magdalen Bridge, 1934
Note the state in 1934 of the bank from which this view is taken. It is now full of trees, which make the punter's life interesting on the approach to Magdalen Bridge from downstream.
John Betjeman at Magdalen College, quarrelled with his tutor C.S.Lewis, and then failed a necessary examination. (Frank Delaney says Oxford failed Betjeman) -
Failed in Divinity! O, towers and spires!
Could no one help? Was nothing to be done?
No. No one. Mercilessly calm,
The Cherwell carried under Magdalen Bridge
Its leisured puntfuls of the fortunate
Who next term and the next would still come back.
Could no one help? I'd seen myself a don,
Reading old poets in the library,
Attending chapel in an M.A. gown,
And sipping vintage port by candlelight.
In a poem to his friend Edward James (who was at Oxford with him) John Betjeman wrote -
But in the end they sent me down
From that sweet hothouse world of bells
And crumbling walls of golden brown
And dotty peers and incense smells
And dinners at the George and hock
And Wytham woods and Godstow lock.
1938: An Oxford University Chest, by John Betjeman -
... And as the dews of the summer night fall,
let us drive down Headington Hill where there are still trees and parkland.
And here we sink into Oxford.
Notice the decent old almshouses on your left as you approach Magdalen Bridge. The sun by now will be behind the towers and spires, making them a black silhouette, familiar on a thousand picture postcards, book covers, wring-paper heads. I prefer them with the sun setting on them and will go to the western side of Oxford.
But before we go, look back at Magdalen Bridge. There in the gathering dusk is the road from Maidenhead and Henley and behind us the road by which we came. Between the two runs the Cowley Road and the sky is [red] above it but not with sunset. The glow comes from the new town of East Oxford which has sprung up round the Morris works. Multiple stores, arcades, cinemas, neon lights, buses, a life of its own make East Oxford as big and important a town as this once mediaeval city we are about to enter.
The famous battles of town and gown (town v. university) are not dead. They may not be carried on as they were in the past with staves and fists and arrows; the battle is done with bricks, red bricks. The red brick houses of the town have advanced right up to Magdalen Bridge, balked there by the meadows of the Cherwell they have encircled the town on other sides and crept right into the main streets of the University itself.
John Galsworthy: Over the River -
The bridge lights
threw splashes on the Cherwell's inky stream,
the loom of Magdalen lay solid on
the dark, and away towards the Christchurch meadows, a few lamps shone.
Whence they had come the broad, half-lighted strip of street ran between glimpsed grey frontages and doorways.
And the little river over which they were at a standstill seemed to flow with secrecy.
"'The Char' they call it, don't they?"
"In the summer I shall have a punt, Clare.
The upper river's even better than this."
"Will you teach me to punt?"
1822: In the Oxford Visiter[sic] -
Magdalen Bridge 1822
Magdalen Bridge Punting Station.
Punt Hire in Oxford.
The punt hiring station is on the LEFT bank, immediately above the bridge,
(remember left and LEFT bank references are now as going upstream [Click 'About' above] )
the current here tends to take the unwary by surprise, so that the first few yards covered by those who have just hired a punt can be the most difficult they will encounter. The punt station slipway has an ice cream stall. In your own small boat a polite request to be allowed to stop to buy an ice cream may meet with success, but doing so may be another matter.
1922: C S Lewis, Saturday 3rd June -
Jenkin asked me to come on the river so walked to Magdalen Bridge
and thence up the Cher in his canoe.
River pretty empty and delightfully cool with a soft evening light.
1922: C S Lewis, Thursday, 10th August
At about 2 o'clock, Smudge, Andree, W, and I set out with tea
baskets etc. and proceeded to Magdalen Bridge.
In spite of Smudge's advice I insisted on taking a canoe, which was very foolish of me.
For four of us it was too cramped and the state of the river after the recent rains made it rather dangerous. At the rollers the landing stage was completely under water and in many places the current defied my poor skill in steering. I paddled alone all the time with occasional emergency help from Smudge. W. in the bow, wedged tightly into a small space with legs apart and a fly button showing, dressed in a suit of P's, was rather a funny sight. It was a beautiful afternoon. We landed in a meadow on the RIGHT bank just above the Parks, and had tea in the hay. Plenty of ragging. Back to Magdalen Bridge about seven, where the man said he was very glad to see us again!
See also C S Lewis' trip to Ferry Hinksey quoted in the Bullstake Stream section
Immediately above the bridge the main stream is
on the RIGHT bank (right going upstream).
But first there is another (not recommended) stream. The shallow and almost blocked sidestream immediately under Magdalen College wall passes the college;
and goes under a bridge -