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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 4
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A Handy Guide to Oxford

by C. R. L. Fletcher

published by Oxford University Press
London & Humphrey Milford 1926

The text is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 6

 p78  Chapter V
New, Wadham, Keble, St. John's, Worcester

Most of you who can hobble about are already familiar with New College Garden, for it is now your garden, where you can bask and give each other your private opinions about the Kaiser for a whole summer's day. We will therefore begin our next excursion by entering New College through its garden, or back, gate. The garden is, I think, really the finest in Oxford, because it is so perfectly set off by the old city wall which runs on its north and east sides, and which in its northern course runs right through the college, dividing the old from the new quadrangles. No more perfect bit of 'old wall',  p80 bastions and all complete, exists in this kingdom. New College thus becomes part and parcel of the city as no other college building is. The garden quad, which we enter through the beautiful iron gates, was begun near the end of the seventeenth and finished early in the eighteenth century; it is well adapted to fit in with the great front quad, which we shall next enter. If you look carefully at the gravel in the midst of this little garden you will see an ineffaceable red stain, the traces of many a festive bonfire, a diversion for which, before the war, the young men at New College were famous. But now go through the archway into the great, or front, quad. This with two exceptions is the work of William of Wykeham, the founder of the college, the statesman-bishop of Edward III's later days. Wykeham had been bred an architect and had risen to be 'Clerk of the King's Works' before he became a bishop. He had far-reaching views on education, and began by founding the first great Public School of England at Winchester. Then in 1379 he bethought him that his seventy scholars of Winchester would need to complete their instruction at the University, and so, in 1386, his design was completed with the foundation of the magnificent college which you see before you. The only alterations in the front quad made since his time are the addition of a third story in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the substitution of oblong for pointed windows. Chapel and Hall, as they stand on the north side of this quad, are externally as they were in his day, and their elevation proves them to have been the work of a true master of architecture. The Warden's house, to the left of the great gateway  p82 as we look south, has been very slightly altered from the founder's time; its front door is in New College Lane just south of the entrance to the college.

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The City Wall

We enter the Chapel by a narrow archway in the north-west corner of the great quad; but before we enter let us go through another door right in front of us, and we shall find ourselves in a cloister which even a Magdalen man must admit to compare favourably with his own. I should tell you, by the way, that there is a rivalry, most friendly, but of long standing and deep root, between these two colleges. They are rivals in beauty of building and garden, in beauty of musical services in chapel, and for the last thirty years in athletic, and especially aquatic, prowess. If a Magdalen man wants to 'draw' a New College man he says, 'By the way, there is one very fine thing about your college, and that's the view of our tower from your garden.' To my mind the cloister of New gains immensely from not being a thoroughfare; it is a 'haunt of ancient peace'; the trees in the grass, the air of comparative neglect (which I am sure is assumed on purpose), the very absence of elaborate ornament, are all in its favour; and above it rises the great turreted tower on the city wall. It was this tower which King Charles used as a powder mill during the Civil War, and in the cloisters his 'high explosive shells', or rather the round cannon balls which were their primitive predecessors, were stored.

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The Cloisters, New College (c. 1386)

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New College Chapel

When you go into the Chapel I think you will be a little shocked at its rather glaring brightness; everything looks new and over-restored. It is of the same shape as the Chapels of Magdalen, All Souls, and Merton; and, being the earliest to be completed,  p84 it no doubt served as a model for all subsequent college chapels. You may indeed, if you please, call the Ante-chapel the 'transepts', and at Merton it is customary to call it so; in that case the Chapel itself is the 'choir' and there is no 'nave' at all. But do not look at the details of New College Chapel; consider and remember only its noble proportions and its elevation. The things which are best in it are the windows in the Ante-chapel. The tall ones to the north and south are of the founder's own time, and contain perhaps the finest fourteenth-century glass in England (notice in one of those on the north Adam delving and Eve spinning). Then the west window is a remarkable thing to find in a college chapel, for it is not stained but painted on the glass itself, after a design by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the eighteenth century; it represents the Nativity of our Lord and the Adoration of the Shepherds, and below are the several Cardinal Virtues, each represented by a beautiful emblematic female figure. The inside of the Chapel has suffered severe restoration at successive hands of some worse than indifferent architects, but they have not been able wholly to spoil it.

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Sir Joshua Reynolds's painted windows in New College Chapel
The Seven Cardinal Virtues

Far more satisfying and unspoiled is the great dining-hall, to reach which you ascend a steep flight of stairs at the north-east end of the great quad. The roof is new, but the panelling is of Henry VII's time and wonderfully effective; the walls and windows are of the founder's building, though the glass has been renewed. Through a narrow archway under the hall and a passage continued through the city wall you come upon the new buildings of the college, begun by a bad architect in 1873 and finished  p85 by a good one in 1898. They have no special interest for us except that, by sitting down to rest at the bottom of one of their staircases, you can get the best view of the old wall, as it runs through the college, and of its tower. You can then go out of the back gate and find yourself in the quaint and pretty street called 'Holywell'; look to your right, and you will realize that it leads by a curved corner into 'Long Wall', a street that runs past the deerpark wall of Magdalen to the High Street. But go up it to the left (westwards) and you will find yourself at the bottom of Broad Street, with the pretty old inn, 'The King's Arms', on one side and a monstrous modern erection on the other. This last is the Indian Institute and, from the weather-elephant upon its pinnacle, is vulgarly known as 'Jumbo's Joss-house'; the designer might have taken the trouble to study the proportions of that noble animal before he put it up.a I regret to say I have never been inside the Indian Institute, but I have no doubt that it contains objects of interest. Let us rather turn sharp to the right at the top of Holywell, and we shall shortly find ourselves opposite one of the most charming of Oxford Colleges, Wadham, on the eastern side of the street.

Nicholas Wadham and Dorothy his wife were childless wealthy landowners in Somerset, and Dorothy carried out the scheme of her husband, to found this college, after his death. It was built straight up from the ground in three years, and, exceptionally fine and costly stone having been used in its construction, we can see it to‑day practically in the state in which it was finished in 1613. It has had a very illustrious  p86 life for three centuries, and produced some very great men, Admiral Blakeb among the first. Its gateway-tower was the room in which the founders of the 'Royal Society', now the most illustrious association of scientific men in the world, first met, at the end of Oliver Cromwell's time, under to presidency of the then Warden of Wadham, Dr. Wilkins. In the eighteenth century Wadham shared with Merton and Lincoln the distinction (I do not say the credit) of being one of the few 'Whig' colleges in Oxford. A small addition to the building was made on the south (joining 'The King's Arms') in the early nineteenth century, but this quad, plain and almost ugly as it is, is so tucked away as to be almost invisible and unvisited. The Hall and the Chapel, which face us as we enter the front quad, are exceedingly beautiful specimens of the work of James I's times. But the glory of Wadham is its double garden; we shall not be allowed to enter the Warden's private garden, though it is the largest in Oxford; but we may go in through a little archway, in the north-east corner of the front quad, and walk out on to the grassplot of the college garden. When you have walked twenty or thirty yards, turn back and look at the buildings. You will say that they were not built at all, but simply grew out of the lawn by some miracle of nature without art; I have made the same reflection in looking at the Close and Cathedral of Salisbury. Yet the building accounts of Wadham are extant and in print. There are one or two most noble trees in this little garden, but a fine cedar, the noblest of all, was broken to bits and killed by a terrible snowstorm at the end of April 1908.

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Wadham Hall

 p88  As you go out of Wadham gate and turn to the north you may realize something of what the approaches to Oxford looked like seventy years ago, when it was 'gardens, gardens, all the way'. You pass, in fact, between the great 'Warden's garden' of Wadham and those of Trinity and St. John's. Flatten your nose for a moment on the iron gate of Trinity, the first of these two gardens on your left; we will inspect the interior of the college by and by. At the end of the northernmost of these gardens you suddenly find yourself in a totally different region; one of red and yellow brick and hideous architectural efforts at copying Italian designs. On your left is the quite simple and unobtrusive 'Forestry School', against which there is nothing to say (except to ask, what forestry has to do in a learned University), and a few yards further on there is Keble College on your left, and the University Museum, with its numerous annexes, on your right. Keble College, a home of valiant men who have flocked in crowds to the war, has some features distinguishing it from other colleges; the young men here are boarded at a fixed sum for the year; they take all their meals (not, as in other colleges, their dinner only) in hall; and they live in rooms which lie in long passages, not on staircases with two, or four, or at the most six, rooms to a stair. The lawn here is not on a level with the rest of the quad, but is sunk below it, and I never see it without a desire to fill it with water for bathing purposes in summer and skating purposes in winter. As for the buildings, they were perpetrated — there is no other word for it — by one Butterfield in 1871; perhaps their most abhorrent feature is the wavy  p89 lines of blue and white bricks which run all over the red. It looks like a railway-station at Birmingham.c

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Jacobean Windows, St. John's College

Opposite to Keble is the University Museum. I suppose that Natural History Museums are the same in most places, and contain the same sort of specimens, stuffed and unstuffed. Here we have the remains of the dodo, the bones of several extinct monsters, and many spiders and other insects in many bottles. In one part of the building there is a curious collection, given by General Pitt-Rivers and called after him, of the tools and weapons of savage and primitive man. Attached to the Museum are Medical Schools and dissecting rooms. A little further north, we come to the Park or 'Parks'. It is believed that the name originated from the fact that, in the Civil War, artillery was parked in what was then open field. It was only made into a real 'Park', in the modern sense of the term, in 1870. In the centre of it is the fine University Cricket Ground, and much football is played in the winter on many of its spaces. At this moment it is the chief parade and exercise ground of the various regiments and camps of instruction which are quartered here. The south-west gate of the Park is opposite the entrance to Keble Road which will lead us to St. Giles's Church at the north end of the stately and broad St. Giles's Street. Here the two great roads divide, the north road to Banbury and Birmingham, and the north-west road to Woodstock, Worcester, and Mid-Wales. Look well at the beautiful grey houses which border St. Giles's on both sides until you come on its eastern side to St. John's College; we come first to its excellent new, and then to its still more excellent fifteenth-century, front. It is dedicated to  p90 John the Baptist, not to John the author of the Fourth Gospel; and was founded in the reign of Queen Mary, the persecutor of Protestants, by a Lord Mayor of London. But the present front belongs to an earlier foundation, an offshoot of Rewley Abbey, and the hall and chapel were both built for this foundation; over the gateway stands the great mediaeval monk, St. Bernard, to whom it was first dedicated. All the lands of the earlier foundation were seized by Henry VIII and went to found Christ Church, but the old buildings were acquired for the new college of St. John's in 1555. As New College does with Winchester, so St. John's keeps a close connexion with the School of the Merchant Taylors of London, for the founder himself belonged to that company. Opposite the west front, and shielding it as it were from the street, is a kind of terraced walk with guardian elm trees. The college was for a long time very poor and, being devoted rather to the Roman Catholic faith than to Elizabeth's new settlement of the Church, many of its members got into trouble with the authorities. But its real re-founder and its great hero was Archbishop Laud of Charles I's reign. We have already met Laud as a great benefactor to the Bodleian Library; he became President of St. John's in 1611. It was Laud who began to build the second quad, which we enter through an archway from the first, in 1631. Poor and mean in its interior, if you go through it into the garden you will acknowledge that its east front is one of the most beautiful things in Oxford. Along the upper story of this low east front runs the great library; it is full of relics of this good, but not  p92 overwise, archbishop, whose head the Parliament cut off, because they believed that he was secretly a Catholic, in 1645. The garden itself is very beautiful, and any one who cares about rare flowers and fine horticulture may be advised to inspect the beds in it. Here, and here alone in Oxford, the ancient sport of archery is practised during the summer term. The most interesting picture in the Hall is that of Henry Hudson the explorer, who discovered Hudson's Bay. The interior of the Chapel has undergone restoration after restoration.

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The Quadrangle, St. John's College (c. 1630)

Leaving St. John's College and proceeding a few paces south, we shall find ourselves looking at the 'Martyrs' Memorial', erected, as I told you, on a spot on which the three great bishops were not burned alive. And here we may cross the wide street and, shutting our eyes to the Randolph Hotel and the main commercial street of Oxford on our left, look at the imposing buildings on our right, at the corner of St. Giles's and that Beaumont Street where King Henry I's 'palace' once stood. The church in the middle of this end of St. Giles's is St. Mary Magdalen, vulgarly called 'The Archipelago, because it has so many aisles'. And the imposing buildings just mentioned are the Taylorian Institute (for the teaching of Modern Languages), the New Ashmolean Museum, and the Picture Gallery. In the Taylorian is a good library of foreign literature; in the Ashmolean a most valuable collection of Egyptian and classical antiquities. In the picture gallery there are some exceedingly fine drawings and studies by the greatest Italian masters, and by the finest English landscape painters. Both  p94 Ashmolean and Picture Gallery are well worth a visit, and it would be a pity, when these are done, not to close our day's excursion with a look at Worcester College which lies at the bottom of dismal Beaumont Street.

Worcester stands on the site of the much older foundation of Gloucester Hall, a house for Benedictine monks, which, when Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries in England, was, after some dispute, refounded as a college by White, the founder of St. John's, with its old name of Gloucester Hall officially changed to 'St. John Baptist's Hall', but was more commonly called 'Gloucester College'. This did not flourish, and for some years in the late seventeenth century it is said there were no students at all; various experiments to people it were tried and failed, but in the last year of Queen Anne (1714) the benefaction of a Worcestershire squire, over which there had been much dispute, was finally got hold of to refound the dwindled society as 'Worcester College'. The buildings were begun in 1720, and it was at first proposed to sweep away all the charming remains of the old monkish house in the present quad. But fortunately there was only money enough to build, in eighteenth-century style, the chapel, the hall and the library, together with the present east front, and to adorn them inside. They were curiously but not beautifully decorated with paint and gilding at an even later date. The result is that Worcester Chapel suggests rather a fashionable London church of sixty years ago than a college building. One great service, however, the sober front of the college has rendered to Oxford; there is a very large  p96 and very plain-faced clock over the gateway, and, as most people go to the railway station by way of Beaumont Street, this clock does excellent service to those restless people who always fear missing their trains.

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Eighteenth-century Buildings, Worcester

But if once you step inside the entrance of the college the scene changes; on your right you have the eighteenth-century work at its best — far better even than at Queen's or Magdalen, for it is clad all over in delicious creepers — and on your left the real remains of the old monastic buildings, perhaps of late thirteenth, at latest of fourteenth-century work. This side of the quad is still called 'The Cottages', and their backs, as seen from the glorious garden, which you enter by a little door at their south corner, show gable piled upon gable in the roughest yet most charming profusion. The inside of the undergraduates' rooms in these buildings is 'real old' also; the floors are uneven, the windows lean and the ceilings are low. Traditionally of the same date is 'Pump Quad' (you search in vain for the pump), a massive, rather grim little building at the south-east corner. Behind the main quad, and to the west, lies the large garden laid out in the early nineteenth century, which was the golden age of Worcester. It runs to a meadow, which slopes down to the Oxford canal; and how beautiful the site must have been before the railway came, and the squalid streets followed in its wake! In the garden there is a deep pond on which are swans. As I think we have now seen enough of antiquities for one day, we may vary the scene and rest our tired legs by taking a motor-omnibus from the gate of Worcester up Beaumont  p97 Street to Carfax. The route lies through the Cornmarket, the busiest street in the city; and from Carfax it will not be too far to walk down the High Street to the Hospital.

Thayer's Notes:

a The building is currently (2007) home to the History Faculty, which once maintained a page on it with a couple of photographs, although the elephant could not be made out — gone, with so much else, from the shrinking Web; a better page, with the elephant in her full glory, can be found in Stephanie Jenkins' site on Broad Street.

b The war hero Robert Blake (1599‑1657), properly General at Sea; for his career see David Plant's British Civil Wars site.

c I like to keep an open mind, but am forced to agree; since Dr. Fletcher has refrained from giving us a photograph of Keble College. Some of you, given the right software, will be able to see for yourself in this interactive panorama of the front of the main building; but in that same Virtual Tour of Oxford many other parts of the building are shown that are attractive and even beautiful.

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