Sometime around 1133, a noble lady named Dame Ediva approached King Henry I and said a voice told her to go “where a light from heaven touched the ground” and establish an abbey there. The light touched the ground across the river from the Port Meadow, a large area of common land. The king indeed helped, and the abbey was founded.
The location flourished after it became the burial place of Rosamund Clifford, also known as the “Fair Rosamund,” a longtime mistress of Henry II during the 1170s. The king would often spend time with her at a nearby hunting lodge he had constructed in Woodstock.
It’s also been theorized that once Henry disconnected himself from Rosamund, she actually retired to the abbey to live out the rest of her days. The circumstances surrounding her later years is still shrouded in mystery. Rosamund died in 1176—it’s believed she was only 30 at the time. When she was buried at the nunnery, it received large endowments from Henry and was able to expand and construct new buildings.
In 1529, during the Dissolution of Monasteries under Henry VIII, the abbey ceased to exist and its buildings were gradually destroyed. In 1599, there was a report by a traveler who claimed he saw the grave of Rosamund. However, no evidence of the grave has been discovered.
Today, an abandoned chapel and two walls are all that remain of the once-wealthy Godstow Abbey. The former abbey’s hospice has been transformed into a pub named the Trout Inn. Another point of interest nearby is the plaque on Godstow Road commemorating one of the first air crashes in England. In 1912, a military monoplane crashed in the Port Meadow, killing two pilots.
Know Before You Go
If you're going by car, park at the Trout Inn on Godstow road, then cross two small bridges over the Thames. If you're using public transport, take #6 to the end stop (Wolvercote, Home Close), and walk about 10 minutes from there along Godstow Road.
The monoplane crash sign is on the street wall just before the bridge if traveling from Wolvercote, over the Mill Stream. It's the first bridge on your way from Wolvercote.