Carfax Tower

Oxford, England

Carfax Tower is all that remains of the official city church of Oxford from 1122 onwards.

Carfax Tower
- pettifoggist

Discover Carfax Tower

At the junction of St Aldate's, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, and the High Street in Oxford, England, Carfax is the central reference point for navigating the old city centre. Its name, derived from the French word carrefour, meaning crossroads, highlights its significance as a place of crossing pathways and cultures.

At this iconic crossroads rises the Carfax Tower, also known as St Martin's Tower, for its proximity to St. Martin's Church. Today, the tower is all that remains of this church, offering panoramic views of Oxford's famed "dreaming spires" skyline—for those willing to ascend its 99 steps at least!

Carfax Tower 7
- Holly Hayes

St. Martin’s Church and Carfax Tower

St. Martin’s Church was the official City Church of Oxford from 1122 to 1896. During this time it had many civic and religious functions. Behind the tower, a solitary tombstone commemorates William Henry Butler, a former Mayor of Oxford, who was laid to rest in 1865, alongside his wife and two infant daughters. Tragically when the church was demolished the graves were also lost, but the gravestone, believed to be crafted by John Gibbs of Oxford, remains. Over the years at least 20 Mayors of Oxford were buried here.

The tower was initially constructed as part of the church's refurbishment. However, the evolving landscape—and need to accommodate road traffic—led to the demolition of the central part of the church in 1896. Despite the demolition, Carfax Tower was left untouched, remaining a prominent Grade II listed landmark in the city today.

Carfax Tower 3
- Chris Rycroft

Throughout history Carfax Tower has witnessed many events, including the infamous St. Scholastica Day Riots of 1355. These riots were sparked by a dispute between students and a local tavern keeper at the Swindlestock Tavern, now the site occupied by Santander Bank on the southwest corner of Carfax. The riots resulted in many casualties and left a lasting impact on the city's governance.

Carfax Tower 8
- Nigel Swales

Living Near Carfax Tower: University Connections

Rising to a height of 74 feet (23 metres), Carfax Tower is the tallest structure in central Oxford. Beyond its association with St. Martin’s Church, the structure, owned by Oxford City Council, plays a role in University regulations. For instance, some students are required to live within a specified distance from the tower as per University guidelines. This is a rule enforced by the City Council.

Carfax Tower 6
- Paul Tomlin

Bells and Clock on Carfax Tower

On the eastern face of Carfax Tower is a striking clock installed in 1898 by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough and overseen by Sir TG Jackson. The clock is guarded by two "quarter boys" who regularly mark the passage of time with each quarter-hour chime. In 1938–39, the clock mechanism was updated to an electric one by Gents' of Leicester, ensuring its continued operation. Even today the tower has a ring of six bells, with five of them recast by Richard Keene of Woodstock in 1676, along with an additional bell cast two years later.

Carfax Tower 1
- ekenitr

Visiting Carfax Tower

Visiting Carfax Tower is a must when in Oxford. If you are willing to climb the 99 steps you will be rewarded with beautiful views out over the old town and beyond. The tower is open throughout the year. In March and October, visitors can explore the tower from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. In the summer (April to September) it opens longer—until 5:00 pm and in the winter (November to February) the tower closes earlier, at 3:00 pm. It's important to note that the last entrance to the tower is 15 minutes before closing. Admission prices are reasonable, with adult tickets priced at £3.00 and children's tickets at £2.00, making it an accessible and worthwhile experience for all ages.

Carfax Tower 5
- Jolyon Hunter

Things to do Near Carfax Tower

There are many things to do in Oxford, from historical and cultural experiences to eating and drinking your way around the city’s many cafes and markets! Near Carfax Tower, visitors can visit the Old Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in the world, housing millions of books and manuscripts. Strolling through the cobbled streets and short-cutting through the range of gardens you will discover hidden landmarks such as the circularly designed Radcliffe Camera, and the Sheldonian Theatre, a masterpiece of Christopher Wren.

Carfax Tower 4
- Jillian Kern

Discover More of Oxford with CityDays

If you're interested in visiting the Sheldonian, Carfax Tower, and other hidden gems in Oxford yourself, why not check out our outdoor treasure hunts in the area? There are two hunts to choose from: Scholars and Spires and Ancient Echoes each promising all the fun of an escape room with the historic facts and whimsical trivia of a walking tour. 

Both routes take you around Oxford on a curious journey that will take you into the city’s fascinating alleyways while learning more about Oxford’s turbulent history in a new and interactive way.

Take the stress out of planning your visit to Oxford and book your adventure today

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Carfax Tower Questions


What you need to know

Carfax Tower
Queen Street, Oxford OX1 1ET
51.751919, -1.258078
Tips before you visit

The tower has 99 steps up.