THE diggers and cranes surrounding the huge hole in the ground that will become the new Westgate Shopping Centre can make it hard to imagine the grey-robed monks who once calmly strolled through gardens there in the Middle Ages.

And you would be forgiven for not realising the original Oxford Castle – now reduced to just St George’s Tower and the mound (or ‘motte’) – once covered two-and-a-half acres of land over what is now New Road and Nuffield College.

But a small group of archaeologists and historians are hoping to shed light on these locations once again, in what they hope will be the most accurate atlas so far of Oxford throughout the ages.

As part of a series by the Historic Towns Trust, staff from the Bodleian Library and Oxford Archaeology have been drafted in to create a new collection of historic maps of the city.

They will chart its remarkable story from the medieval period to 1876, when one of the first maps of Oxford was made by the Ordinance Survey (OS).

The collection is being spearheaded by Alan Crossley, the man behind the encyclopaedic and now widely-cited Victoria History of the County of Oxford.

The work comes as several redevelopments across the city are providing opportunities to examine medieval and Saxon remains, providing new and vital clues about its origins.

Julian Munby, head of buildings archaeology at Oxford Archaeology and one of the project’s contributors, said: “We live in exciting times, because at the moment the story is continually changing based on what we keep digging up.

“And, as we have seen with the recent archaeological exhibitions at the Westgate site, people are really interested in finding out more about their city.”

To whet the public’s appetite, the team has published An Historical Map of Oxford, the main map set to appear in the full atlas.

A digitised, remastered version of the first OS map, it highlights medieval buildings in orange, with later buildings in pink and industrial or other buildings in grey.

“Along with Cambridge, Oxford has more historical buildings in its centre – and in a higher concentration – than many other cities like York and Norwich,” said Mr Munby.

“In terms of European cities, it is one of the top destinations and on the same scale as Venice or Florence.”

The Oxford Historic Towns Atlas will be part of a series that stretches back to 1963, first started as a European project to create maps that would allow the growth of cities to be compared.

Banbury and Reading were part of a first volume in 1969, with Cambridge following in 1975 and later atlases covering Windsor, Eton and York.

Mr Munby said: “The York atlas was published recently and is fantastic. We hope Oxford’s will be just as good.”

It is hoped the book will be released in 2017, but fundraising for the project is still ongoing.

Money is partly being raised through the first map published, which is on sale for £8.99.

It will be followed by the full atlas, which will feature several other maps.

“Oxford is a really interesting place,” Mr Munby added.

“So we hope people who live here will enjoy finding out more about it.”