1555-56 saw three protestant bishops Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer burned as martyrs in Broad Street at a time when men fought to return to Catholicism during the reign of Queen Mary, following King Henry VIII and his well-charted breaking with the Catholics and Rome. A gateway marking that event had been suggested in 1773 by Edward Tatham (later Rector of Lincoln College) but by the 1830s Oxford still had no memorial to the martyrs. In 1838, with the Oxford Movement encouraging Anglo-Catholicism, anti-Tractarians called a meeting and recommended the erection of a memorial as a “tribute of respect and veneration to self-denying Christian faith and constancy”.
The original proposal for a memorial church did not happen and by 1840 an architectural competition was launched for a Memorial Cross on the present site, mirroring the ‘Eleanor’ crosses of Edward I, together with a north aisle at the adjoining St Mary Magdalen Church as a backdrop to the memorial. Seven architects took part and it was a young George Gilbert Scott who won with his gothick designs being seen as closer to God. By May 1841 the foundation stone of the present Memorial was laid, and the work to the north aisle began.