CORNMARKET, OXFORD

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The Bocardo gaol


The Bocardo in 1770
The Bocardo and the North Gate of the city in 1770 by N. Calcott
Viewed from the north end of Cornmarket, with St Michael's Church on the left just to the south of the gate

Until 1771 the Bocardo was the Town Gaol, and the Castle the County Gaol.

By 1239 the Town Gaol stood at the North Gate of the city of Oxford. This gate spanned Cornmarket immediately to the north of the present St Michael’s Street and St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church. Hence Cornmarket was known as North Gate Street until 1536, when its name changed after a covered area was erected there to facilitate the selling of corn.

The first instance of the use of the name Bocardo is in 1391.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley were kept in the Bocardo before being burnt at the stake in 1555–6.

By the seventeenth century it extended over the North Gate itself.

The fate of the Bocardo was sealed by the Mileways Act of 1771, which stated:

In order to open the Street at the North End of the Corn Market
To take down the North Gate, and so much of the Prison called Bocardo, and such houses and other Buildings on both Sides of the said Street, near Saint Michael’s Church, and purchase such Ground as shall be necessary to widen the said Street.

The Bocardo was duly demolished in September 1771. It was replaced by a new City Gaol in Gloucester Green which survived until 1876. After that date the Castle Prison was used for both city and county.

  • For more details about the Bocardo, see Victoria County History of Oxfordshire, Vol. 4: City of Oxford: Prisons

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