Oxford is a city in the South East region of England and the county town of Oxfordshire. With a population of 159,994 it is the 52nd largest city in the United Kingdom, and one of the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse. The city is situated 57 miles (92 km) from London, 69 miles (111 km) from Bristol, 65 miles (105 km) from both Southampton and Birmingham and 25 miles (40 km) from Reading.
The city is known worldwide as the home of the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Buildings in Oxford demonstrate notable examples of every English architectural period since the late Saxon period. Oxford is known as the “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold. Oxford has a broad economic base. Its industries include motor manufacturing, education, publishing and a large number of information technology and science-based businesses, some being academic offshoots.
As well as being a major draw for tourists (9.1 million in 2008, similar in 2009), Oxford city centre has many shops, several theatres and an ice rink. The historic buildings make this location a popular target for film and TV crews.
The city centre is relatively small, and is centred on Carfax, a cross-roads which forms the junction of Cornmarket Street (pedestrianised), Queen Street (semi-pedestrianised), St Aldate’s and the High. Cornmarket Street and Queen Street are home to Oxford’s various chain stores, as well as a small number of independent retailers, one of the longest established of which is Boswell’s, which was founded in 1738. St Aldate’s has few shops but has several local government buildings, including the town hall, the city police station and local council offices. The High (the word street is traditionally omitted) is the longest of the four streets and has a number of independent and high-end chain stores, but mostly university and college buildings.
There are two small shopping centres in the city centre: The Clarendon Centre and the Westgate Centre. The Westgate Centre is named for the original West Gate in the city wall, and is located at the west end of Queen Street. It is quite small and contains a number of chain stores and a supermarket. The Westgate Shopping Centre is to undergo a large and controversial refurbishment; the plans involve tripling the size of the centre to 750,000 sq ft (70,000 m2), a new 1,335 space underground car park and 90 new shops and bars, including a 230,000 sq ft (21,000 m2) John Lewis department store. There is to be a new and improved transport system, a complete refurbishment of the existing centre and the surrounding Bonn Square area. The development plans include a number of new homes, and completion is expected in 2011, although this is being delayed due to the current financial climate.
Blackwell’s Bookshop is a large bookshop which claims the largest single room devoted to book sales in the whole of Europe, the cavernous Norrington Room (10,000 sq ft).