Oxford History: The High


Magpie Lane (formerly Grove Street)

Magpie Lane in 2005

Grove Street

Magpie Lane runs south from the High Street to Merton Street, becoming wider at the far end. It is bounded to the east by the Quod Restaurant and to the west by the side of the Oriel College Rhodes Building and then part of the college itself. It straddled the parishes of St Mary-the-Virgin to the south and St John-the-Baptist to the north.

This lane has had a number of different names. It had a bad reputation in the thirteenth century, when it was known as Gropecunt Lane. It was named Magpie Lane in the seventeenth century after the sign of a magpie on an alehouse in the lane, but by the late nineteenth century, it was known as Grove Street, as shown on the postcard of the early 1920s on the right above, probably because it leads down to Merton College Grove. By the late 1920s, however, the name of Magpie Lane was reinstated.

Magpie Lane in the 1840s



Left: Engraving by Orlando Jewitt
showing Magipe Lane in the 1840s,
looking north, with the spire of
St Mary-the-Virgin Church in the
background .

On the right is a square block with a
St Andrew's Cross, presumably
marking the parish boundary between
St Mary-the-Virgin and St John the
Baptist Church




The east side of Magpie Lane north of Kybald Street (formerly Grove Place) has nine houses (numbered 1–9). The next four houses between Kybald Street and Merton Street (10, 11, 12, and 13 Magpie Lane) were demolished in the 1960s by Corpus Christi College to make way for modern student accommodation.

The pictures shown below of the nine surviving houses and the Corpus building on the east side of Magpie Lane were taken in May 2006.

1 and 2 Magpie Lane
1 and 2 Magpie Lane

3 Magpie Lane
3 Magpie Lane

4 Magpie Lane
4 Magpie Lane

5 Magpie Lane
5 Magpie Lane

6, 7, 8, and 9 Magpie Lane6, 7, 8, and 9 Magpie Lane from south

6-9 Magpie Lane down to Merton College 6, 7, 8, and 9 Magpie Lane looking towards Merton Street

College buildings replacing 10-13 Magpie Lane Corpus Christi College accommodation replaces 10, 11, 12, and 13 Magpie Lane

The following businesses are listed under Magpie Lane in Pigot’s Directory for 1823/4:

  • Book Binders J. L. WHEELER
  • Gun & Pistol makers James FORREST
  • Whitesmiths, &c Charles STEVENS

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 19 October, 2020

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