The earliest known record of Boars Hill (or Boreshill) is from the 12th century. The greater part of Boars Hill was historically a manor of the parish of Cumnor until the 19th century when the parish of Wootton was formed.
Until the late 19th century the hill was almost bare and had fine views - northwards to the city of Oxford, southwards to the Downs and westwards to the upper Thames valley. At that time many houses were built on Boars Hill, and the new residents planted trees and erected fences and walls; within a few decades they had hidden the celebrated views from all but a few places.
Boars Hill does not have its own Church of England parish church. As it straddles two parishes the respective parts of Boars Hill are served by St. Peters, Wootton and St. Leonard's, Sunningwell.
St. Thomas More Roman Catholic chapel in Boars Hill is part of the Roman Catholic parish of North Hinksey.
The first poet to leave a record of a visit to the hill was Arthur Hugh Clough. In his diary for 1841, edited by Anthony Kenny, he describes how a walk across the hill inspired the ninth of his 'Blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realized'; however, he was concerned over his family's financial straits and his impending final exams, and he found the barrenness of the scene under a grey February sky depressing.
When Matthew Arnold came up to Oxford later in 1841, Clough introduced him to Boars Hill, which later provided the inspiration and setting for two of his best-known poems, The Scholar Gipsy (1853) and Thyrsis (1866), the latter written in memory of Clough. The famous phrase in the latter "the dreaming spires" encouraged people to visit the hill and settle there.
Three prominent poets lived on the hill, the first being Margaret Louisa Woods in the 1880s. She was followed by Robert Bridges and John Masefield, successive Poets Laureate. For a couple of years after World War I, they were joined by three of the war poets: Robert Graves - Masefield's tenant - and Edmund Blunden, both future Oxford Professors of Poetry (as Arnold had been) and (for a few months) Robert Nichols. Bridges' daughter, the poet Elizabeth Daryush, continued to live on the hill until her death in 1977. Robert Bridges lived at Chilswell House, which was purchased circa 1963 by the Carmelite order for use as a priory and retreat.
The hill was also the home of Gilbert Murray, famous for his verse translations of classical Greek drama, and later the classicist Leighton Durham Reynolds, Emeritus Professor of Classical Languages and Literature, until his death in 1999.
Other notable residents were the sculptor Oscar Nemon who fled from Nazi rule in Vienna in 1938 and the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans who lived on Boars Hill from 1894 until his death in 1941. His house, 'Youlbury', notable for its Minoan decoration, has since been burnt down (as were those of Margaret Woods, Robert Bridges and Gilbert Murray). Herbert Edward Douglas Blakiston, for many years President of Trinity College, Oxford, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, lived in Boar's hill from his retirement in 1938 until his death in 1942.
At Powder Hill House, on the Powder Hill Estate in Boar's Hill lived Professor Daniel Patrick O'Connell from 1972 when he came to Oxford University from Adelaide, South Australia, as Professor of International Law until his premature death in 1979. His family lived on at that address for around ten more years before dispersing, mainly back to South Australia.
Jonny Greenwood, of British band Radiohead, lives in Boars Hill.
Arthur Evans had Jarn Mound built (by hand), built to create a viewpoint from which to see the famous vistas that had been hidden by development. The surrounding trees have continued to grow taller, and the views are again obscured. Evans left most of his estate to the Boy Scouts and Youlbury Camp is still available for their use.
Several sites on Boars Hill, including Jarn Mound, Matthew Arnold Field and land on the north side of the hill with views of the "dreaming spires" of Oxford, are now owned by the Oxford Preservation Trust.
From 1933 to 1975 Boars Hill was the home of Ripon Hall. The site is now known as Foxcombe Hall, and is the regional headquarters of the Open University.
From 1955 to the mid-1970s, Boar's Hill was home to Plater College.
From 1976 to 1996, Warnborough College, occupied the former Plater College facilities, the Bishop's palace of the Diocese of Oxford, and Yatscombe Hall, having moved from Warnborough Road in North Oxford. The college attracted controversy due to alleged links to Oxford University and was eventually sued with the site repossessed.
Soon after the repossession squatters moved in and the site of the former Bishop's palace and Yatscombe Hall has been subject to numerous planning disputes ever since. Yatscombe Hall was destroyed by fire in December 2003 and all the buildings on the site were demolished and a retirement village was planned. However eventually a development of a four large country homes was built on the site by Millgate Homes.
Boars Hill is twice mentioned in the 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966).
First, Cousin Jasper advises the young Charles Ryder upon his coming up to Oxford to "...Keep clear of Boar's Hill."
In contrast, Sebastian Flyte describes a model student at Oxford as one who "smokes a great pipe and plays hockey and goes out to tea on Boar's Hill and to lectures at Keble..."