Oxford/Cambridge/City of London Archivists’ Meeting
4th July 2017, St. John’s College, Oxford
Five Centuries of Oxford College Architecture
10.30 Arrive; coffee
11.00 Session 1
Chair: Michael Riordan
Julian Reid (Corpus/Merton), ‘The best-laid plans: designing a Tudor college’
Robin Darwall-Smith (All Souls/Jesus/Univ.), ‘Benefactions, fund-raising, Civil War and
Commonwealth: University College tries to build a quadrangle’
12.00 Tour of St. John’s College
1.00 Sandwich lunch
2.00 Session 2
Chair: Robin Darwall-Smith
Judith Curthoys (Christ Church), ‘The great rebuilding: Christ Church ups its game’
Oliver Mahony (LMH/St Hilda’s) and Anne Manuel (Somerville), ‘The “Wrennaissance” – colleges for women at Oxford’
3.30 Session 3
Chair: Judith Curthoys
Richard Allen (St. Peter’s), ‘St Peter’s Unbuilt’
Michael Riordan (Queen’s/St. John’s), ‘The Beehive: conservatism and radicalism in post-war St. John’s’
4.30 Closing remarks
Chair: Anna Sander
5.00 Formal finish, followed by informal adjournment to the Lamb & Flag
* * *
Thanks to Mike for organising an excellent day, St John’s College for generously hosting us, the speakers who among them represent 12 colleges as present employers and even more in their previous experience, and our visitors from London and the Other Place.
I was asked to mention themes connecting the papers throughout the day – there have been plenty, and several have already been noted by the speakers. We’ve been taken all over Oxford and through the ages from C16-21, from cockloft to cellar by way of the piano nobile, through all levels of architecture and college society. We’ve seen a gamut of budgets, ambitions, intentions and degrees of success. There have been contrasts between monastic and secular foundations, and those built for men and women. There have been considerable insights into the history of fundraising – and coping with benefactions. We have heard about new buildings on old premises, old buildings repurposed, ancient buildings hidden behind modern faces, and old buildings swept away altogether to make way for new ones. And some that have remained only dreamed-of spires.
I have particularly appreciated the unusually wide range of record formats we’ve seen today from all periods: accounts, plans, sketches, drawings, architectural models, letters, minutes, stained glass, photographs, receipts, stone carvings, woodwork, sculpture and skeletons. And of course, in many cases the buildings themselves.
Through every college’s history of wizard wheezes and financial flops, I think the day showed that across time and despite wide differences in other factors, the main influences on college building projects have been politics internal and external, money and the lack of it, and perhaps most of all, personalities.