City Wall Inspection 2011
The tradition of inspecting the City Walls
Up to about the 12th century, the City Walls were the responsibility of the Mayor and Citizens of Oxford and, on the King’s demand, had to be put in a state of good repair, such demands being made at varying intervals according to what was deemed to be necessary in the interests of national security. The money to repair the walls was raised by a tax on most of the goods coming into Oxford for sale.
On 30 June 1379, King Richard II gave leave to William of Wykeham, the Founder of New College, to acquire certain plots of land on the north-east of the City which were uninhabited - a place of gravel and sand pits where robbers lurked. William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, built New College in such a position that the City Walls could not be inspected from inside without going on to New College ground. A condition of the Royal Grant, therefore, was that the College should keep the City Walls in repair and make two posterns, one at each end of the property, that the Mayor might pass through every three years to view the Walls. For this purpose, the Founder made a gate which opened into Queen’s Lane, called the “Non licet Gate”.
There is every reason to suppose that the triennial inspection of the City Walls was carried out right up to the 20th century. The custom appears to have lapsed during the 1914-18 war, but was revived in 1957, inspired by the then Warden of New College, Mr A H Smith, who expressed a wish that the inspection should be resumed before he retired.
Council assembles at the Town Hall for robing at 10.30 am and the Council, preceded by the City Mace, processes at 10.45 am, to the non licet gate of New College via High Street and Queen’s Lane.
At 11.00 am, Council arrives at the non licet gate, which is closed. The second Sergeant of Mace knocks three raps, and the gate is opened from within by the Head Porter.
The Mace-bearer requests permission for the Lord Mayor and City Council to enter and inspect the City Walls. The gate is then closed, whilst the Head Porter requests permission from the Warden.
Permission having been granted, the procession enters and is greeted by the Warden (Sir Curtis Price) and Fellows of the College, who are immediately within the gate.
Council, led by the Warden and Fellows, proceeds to the Garden of the College, where the Inspection of the City Walls takes place.
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