Magpie Lane, Oxford



Magpie Lane is a narrow historic lane in central
Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the ...
, England. It leads south from the
High Street High Street is a common street name for the primary business street of a city, town, or village, especially in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. It implies that it is the focal point for business, especially shopping. It is also a metonym ...
where it is at its narrowest, now completely pedestrianised as a pavement, and north from the cobbled Merton Street. To the west is Oriel College (including the Rhodes building of 1910 at the northern end) and to the east is
University College In a number of countries, a university college is a college institution that provides tertiary education but does not have full or independent university status. A university college is often part of a larger university. The precise usage varie ...
, two of the oldest Oxford colleges. On the northeast corner there is a 1902 house, now the Quod restaurant. A small
cul-de-sac A dead end, also known as a cul-de-sac (, from French for 'bag-bottom'), no through road or no exit road, is a street with only one inlet or outlet. The term "dead end" is understood in all varieties of English, but the official terminology ...
street, Kybald Street, leads off Magpie Lane at the southern end to the east, giving access to the rear of University College and Kybald Twychen, owned by Corpus Christi College. South from Merton Street, the lane continues as Grove Walk (a.k.a. Merton Grove or Grove Passage) between
Merton College Merton College (in full: The House or College of Scholars of Merton in the University of Oxford) is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its foundation can be traced back to the 1260s when Walter de Merton, c ...
to the east and Corpus Christi College to the west, giving pedestrian access via railinged gates to Dead Man's Walk, Merton Field, and Christ Church Meadows. The building in the south-western corner of Merton College is also called Grove. The name perhaps has been derived from this area having been used as an orchard.


In the 13th century, Magpie Lane was known as
Gropecunt Lane Gropecunt Lane () was a street name found in English towns and cities during the Middle Ages, believed to be a reference to the prostitution centred on those areas; it was normal practice for a medieval street name to reflect the street's fun ...
or Grope Lane, as it was an area where prostitutes plied their trade.
John Speed John Speed (1551 or 1552 – 28 July 1629) was an English cartographer, chronologer and historian of Cheshire origins.S. Bendall, 'Speed, John (1551/2–1629), historian and cartographer', ''Oxford Dictionary of National Biography'' (OUP 2004/2 ...
's map of 1605 lists it as such. In the 17th century, it was named Magpie Lane because of an alehouse in the lane that used a
magpie Magpies are birds of the Corvidae family. Like other members of their family, they are widely considered to be intelligent creatures. The Eurasian magpie, for instance, is thought to rank among the world's most intelligent creatures, and is o ...
as a sign. By the late 19th century, the lane was known as Grove Street but in 1927 the name was changed back to Magpie Lane. The houses between Kybald Street and Merton Street were demolished in the 1960s by Corpus Christi College to provide space for more modern student accommodation.

See also

* Magpie Lane, an Oxford-based folk music group


Streets in Oxford Oriel College, Oxford University College, Oxford {{Oxfordshire-geo-stub