Oxford in the early 18th century was an English provincial market town with a difference.
The presence of the colleges (which collectively formed the University of Oxford), caused the population to vary widely across the year with dons and students only resident during term time. This had a profound effect on the economy of the town, which relied on the university for business and employment, but suffered as a result during vacations.
Along with poverty, disease was an ongoing problem due to the low lying nature of the land, lack of sanitary provision and the large number of water courses converging in the town.
By the 1720s Oxford had begun to spread out from being a medieval walled town, guarded by the West, North, East and South Gates. Development to the north came first with the development of St John’s College for example, but the town was still compact and relatively small.
Traces of the medieval wall can be seen in various places. The church halls at Wesley Memorial are built upon part of it including a defensive bastion. The gates have gone but their names are retained in use through St Michael’s in the Northgate on Cornmarket and the Westgate Shopping Centre.
Despite road widening schemes and much infill, many of the buildings and views around the city today would still be familiar to the Wesley brothers.