The iconic meadow-side scene of ‘dreaming spires’ and ancient stone university buildings is widely famous. It could be regarded as Oxford’s oldest monument, it has been the city landmark for more than a thousand years. Recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 it was then known as Portmaneit (burgess island) and since 1285 it has been referred to as Port Meadow. The meadow, of 300acres, is conjoined with Wolvercote Common, Wolvercote Green and Binsey Green and amounts to around 500 acres of meadowland in all.
During 17th to 19th centuries the Meadow was used for horse racing. Six horses would race around the meadow (5 miles) taking less than ten minutes. Another old tradition was the ‘Smock-race’ when the women-folk ran for a prize in petticoats and men would be racing in breeches without wearing their shirts. During the Civil War in 1644 more than 3000 horses were drawn up on the Meadow to allow the Royalists to vacate the town and escape from the Parliamentarians. In the First World War of 1914-18, Port Meadow was adopted as a temporary aerodrome.
These meadows, now formally open to the general public under the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, have been a source of recreation to the Townsfolk for more centuries than the memory of time and without doubt they represent Oxford’s major landmark. The history of ‘town and gown’ has not always been a smooth relationship with many an argument between the old Corporation and the University concerning governance. Absolute exclusivity of the town Freemen’s ‘rights’ over the meadowlands has no doubt been another source of some considerable jealousy.Port-Meadow