Oxford CastleEdit profile
Oxford Castle, located in Oxford city centre, was built by a Norman baron, Robert D'Oyly, in 1071 (shortly after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066). It was originally an earth mound with a wooden keep on the top, which was later replaced with a stone keep and later a fifty foot wall with towers was built around the structure. In 1120 Robert's younger brother, Nigel D'Oyly, was Lord of Oxford Castle. It is 12 miles northwest of Wallingford Castle, also usually credited to Robert D'Oyly. It was the home of Empress Matilda in 1141 when Robert D'Oyly the younger declared his support for her over King Stephen. The castle was besieged by the king for three months. She escaped from the castle by being lowered over the walls, supposedly dressed in white to act as a camouflage in the snow. She passed through the enemy lines and across the Castle Mill Stream. The site became the seat of the county government and courts although the castle had fallen into disrepair by the 14th century. The county gaol gradually grew to take over most of the site. In 1888 it became HM Prison Oxford ( Oxford Prison). The prison was closed in 1996 and the site reverted to Oxfordshire County Council. It has since been redeveloped as a shopping and heritage complex, with guided tours of the historic buildings, open courtyards for markets and theatrical performances. The scheme also includes a hotel in the Malmaison chain, Malmaison Oxford, occupying a large part of the former prison block, with converted jail cells as guest rooms. This is the first time in the UK that a prison has been turned into a hotel. The redeveloped site also includes apartments, bars, restaurants, events venues, and the award winning visitor attraction " Oxford Castle–Unlocked".
The prison was featured in a scene in the 1969 version of The Italian Job , the movie A Fish Called Wanda and the television series Inspector Morse . It has also been used as a film set on several other occasions, with stars such as Gerard Depardieu, Glenn Close, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt filming there. The ITV1 prison drama series Bad Girls features the Oxford prison. The exterior shots in Series 1–3 of the show were shot at the prison, and the set used for the show is a replica of the wing set-up at Oxford. For series 4–8, a replica set of the prison was built to look similar to Oxford. However, a number of exterior shots were re-used in the later series, which were very obviously different from the new set. This was due to the prison in Oxford being reconstructed to become a new hotel complex.
Completed in 2006, this £21 million project was the result of close consultations between ADP, Oxfordshire City Council and the commercial developer. It involved the conversion of the listed former Oxford Prison buildings to form an 86-bedroom hotel, Heritage Centre, restaurants and shops. The scheme includes a variety of apartments above new retail units in a vibrant mixed-use environment.
Having decided to redevelop the site, the Council and developer, working closely with ADP, began the difficult process of imagining beyond the cold dark cells to the potential inherent in this austere but remarkable site.
ADP were committed from the outset to working with the site’s distinct features and long history, rather than against it; imposing an inappropriate scheme that ignored or overrode the individuality of Oxford Castle. These are key tenets of exemplar conservation architecture, and successful urban regeneration.
The redevelopment of the site emerged as one of mixed-use, mingling residential and commercial areas to create a vibrant new interpretation of Oxford Castle. At it’s heart would be the gaol, refurbished into an exciting, unique hotel. This shift in use nevertheless retains the residential nature of the original building, where the shutting of prison doors in one becomes the mode of privacy in another.
The recipient of over 14 awards including an RIBA Award, the Oxford Castle Heritage Project is an exemplar urban regeneration project. It marks the latest development of a site that has undergone many changes in nearly one thousand years of history, showing a continuity of use as a centre of local, regional and national authority.
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