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Heard the one about the earl who stole a unicorn's horn?
EVER wondered why there’s a bronze dog statue on Oxford’s High Street with a clock in its mouth?
Or why the statue of the god Mercury in Tom Quad at Christ Church is a replacement?
Historian and author Paul Sullivan has taken time to stop and find out more about the city’s hidden history and anecdotes.
And his findings have been revealed in his ninth book The Secret History of Oxford which promises an off-beaten track tour of the city.
It includes information about some of the city’s odd history that may be relatively unknown to residents and visitors – such as the fact that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, stole a piece of New College’s unicorn horn.
The horn – one of two Narwhal whale tusks at the college – is not on public view, but visitors can request to see it.
One, which was gifted to the college in 1456, has the tip missing thanks to the Earl of Leicester, and the other was given to the college in 1965.
Mr Sullivan, 51, told the Oxford Mail: “The starting point of the book was really the idea that the city of Oxford is a fundamentally eccentric place.
“It is full of secrets to be solved. ”
The Forest Hill resident spent six months researching the book, walking through the city several times with his photographer Jan Sullivan. Mr Sullivan, who has been writing history books for 20 years and also works as a corporate copywriter for OPP in Summertown, said: “All the central locations are there. Places like Christ Church, High Street, the Ashmolean.
“It was an enjoyable book to research over a six-month period.”
He added: “Christ Church is one of the places that is referenced in the book.
“There is a good story about the Mercury fountain as the statue was pinched a couple of times in the nineteenth century.”
The current statue is a replacement.
- Facts and anecdotes in the book include:
- William Davenant, the son of 17th century Oxford mayor John Davenant, claimed to be William Shakespeare’s illegitimate son.
- Keble became the first college to issue stamps for delivering messages in 1871.
- Queen Elizabeth I told young scholars on a visit to Oxford University in 1566 that they were ‘saucy boys who needed much more whipping than they got from their tutors’.
- A Fellow at Christ Church was a bear.
- Oxford Castle has England's most frequently sighted ghost – Empress Matilda who was holed up there in 1141 beseiged by her cousin King Stephen until she managed to escape across the frozen river.
Mr Sullivan said he found some of the information on the controversial Antony Gormley nude man statue above Blackwells in Broad Street from the Oxford Mail.
He said the large bronze dog above Payne and Son jeweller and silversmith shop in High Street in is an example of a monument that has a hidden history and the shop staff weren’t even aware of it.
He said: “I have walked past it many times and eventually I went in to ask the shop why it was there.
“Nobody knew. I did a bit of research and the shop originally was a watch maker.
“It was a watch dog – a dog with a watch in his mouth.”
s The Secret History of Oxford costs £9.99 and is in book stores now.