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Colleges of Oxford University (Self Guided), Oxford

The University of Oxford is the oldest institution of its kind and one of the best in England. It represents a "federation", consisting of 38 self-governing Colleges and 6 Permanent Private Halls. Take this tour to find out the most beautiful and worth-seeing colleges in Oxford.
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Colleges of Oxford University Map

Guide Name: Colleges of Oxford University
Guide Location: England » Oxford (See other walking tours in Oxford)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: Linda
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Trinity College
  • Balliol College
  • Exeter College
  • Lincoln College
  • Corpus Christi College
  • Merton College
  • University College
  • Magdalen College
Trinity College

1) Trinity College (must see)

Oxford University started out as academic houses and monastery halls where theology was taught, but none of these survived the Reformation. Trinity College on Broad Street stands on the site of Durham College Monastery which was founded in 1268.

The only surviving part of the monastery is the east range of Durham Quad where the college library is housed. Sir Thomas Pope bought the buildings and the land in 1555 to create a college where (he hoped) future generations would pray for him, as he was childless and had no-one to remember him after he died. His remains are enshrined in the chapel beside the altar.

On top of the college’s West Tower stand four female statues representing Astronomy, Geometry, Medicine and Music. In 1688, a two storey building designed by Sir Christopher Wren was built on the Garden Quad to lodge students. The neoclassical chapel was designed by Henry Aldrich in 1694.

In 1883 the college was expanded and the Front Quad was built by Sir Thomas Jackson. In 1928 the Memorial Library was built in honor of members who died in the First World War. Further expansion took place in the nineteen sixties when several cottages and 17th century houses were bought and the Cumberbatch Building was put up in 1966.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Balliol College

2) Balliol College

Balliol College stands on Broad Street and was founded in 1263, making it the second oldest of Oxford University’s colleges.

It was founded by John de Balliol who was once the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire – but not at the time when Robin Hood and his Merry Men hung around Sherwood Forest! Nothing remains of the original building, the oldest parts date back to 1431 and are the north and west ranges of the Front Quad, although the Masters’ Dining Hall, the libraries and the Senior Common Room are perhaps a little older.

The buildings around the Garden Quad are newer: the south-west side was built in 1720, the Fisher Building in 1759, the west side in 1826, the Masters’ Lodgings in 1860 and the Junior Common Room in 1912. The chapel, which was designed by William Butterfield, was built in 1857.

Most of the colleges have deeply rooted traditions, but Balliol’s favorite one dates back to the nineteen sixties, when a student introduced a tortoise named Rosa to the college. Rosa lived there for 43 years; the person looking after her well-being at any given time was called the Comrade Tortoise and it was a coveted position. Rosa disappeared in 2004 but another tortoise has taken her place.

Every June Corpus Christi College organizes a tortoise race and students bring tortoises from home to participate. With Rosa, Balliol College won the race three or four times and they have high hopes for her replacement.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Exeter College

3) Exeter College (must see)

The main entrance to Exeter College is on Turl Street. This college is the 4th oldest of Oxford University, having been founded in 1314.

Its founder, Walter de Stapleton was the Bishop of Exeter and he wanted a small college that only taught future clergymen and until the 15th century there was room for only 15 students at a time.

The college grew further in the 16th century when a former graduate, Sir William Petre left funds for it in his will. The Front Quad, finished in 1710, was built on the site of the medieval buildings and only the 1432 Palmer’s Tower remains of the original college. At the base of the tower you will see a memorial to Members killed in the Second World War.

The quad also houses the Great Hall which was built in 1618 has a beautiful vaulted ceiling. The quad is somewhat overshadowed by the chapel, designed by Sir George Scott in 1860 and modeled on the Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

The Library in Fellows Garden was also designed by Sir George in the 13th century style. The Divinity School, Convocation House are on the left of the Garden, with Brasenose Lane on the right and the Mound at the end, from where you can enjoy views of Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College.

The Rector’s Lodging in Margary Quad was another work by Sir George, but the rest of the quad was finished in 1964, with the Thomas Wood Building constructed for the college’s 650th anniversary.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Lincoln College

4) Lincoln College

Of Oxford University’s 38 colleges, Lincoln College on Turl Street is perhaps one of the most intriguing.

It was founded in 1427 by the Bishop of Lincoln, Richard Fleming. It is built round three quadrangles: the Front Quad was built in the 15th century, the Chapel Quad in 1631 and the Grove Quad in the 19th century.

The Chapel, which was built in the Early Gothic style has enameled rather than stained glass windows. This is a difficult technique and the windows were created by Abraham Van Linge, who was a master at this craft.

The east end window depicts 12 Biblical scenes: the top 6 are from the New Testament, the bottom 6 from the Old. The north window shows the 12 Prophets, while the south window features the 12 Apostles.

The rood screen that separates the ante chapel and the main chapel is made of cedar. The ceiling is beautifully carved and on the front pews you can see figurines of Moses, Aaron and the saints Peter and Paul.

The Library is in the converted All Saints Church, whose spire is one of the “dreaming spires” of Oxford. In the bell tower the full peal of 8 bells are still regularly rung.

The college has a bar beneath the Great Hall. It is called Deep Hall and is one of the oldest parts of the college. The bar gives on to the Master Common Room and Junior Common Room wine cellars, which stretch far under the Grove Quad.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Corpus Christi College

5) Corpus Christi College

Corpus Christi College on Merton Street is one of Oxford University’s smaller colleges, but it also one of the most renowned.

The college was founded by the Richard Foxe, the Bishop of Winchester in 1517. The library was built at the same time and was the best and most extensive for the epoch, with over 80000 books in English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Corpus Christi College is of course best known for the role its scholars played in the translation of the King James Bible. Commissioned by the Crown, they formed two of the six companies who translated the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek to English.

At Corpus Christi, theologians were in charge of translating 11 books of the Prophets – From Isaiah to Malachi, and the 4 Gospels, Acts and Revelation in the New Testament. The project took 11 years and the Bible was printed in 1611.

On the Main Quad you will find the tower, the dining hall and the Chapel. The sundial topped by a pelican was placed in the center of the quad in 1581 by Charles Turnbull. The pelican is part of the college’s coat of arms and is said to be an allegory of Christ, in that according to legend a pelican tears at its own breast to feed its young, while Christ offered up his body to save humanity.

A second quad was built in the 18th century, with the Fellows Building being a fine example of the Neo-classical style. This quad overlooks Christ Church Meadow.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Merton College

6) Merton College (must see)

Merton College was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Lord Chancellor to King Henry III and later to King Edward I.

Of the Front Quad the Hall and the Chapel were finished in 1297, but today only the chapel remains of the original buildings. It was built in early English Gothic style, with an enormous east window. The South Transept was finished in the 14th century and the North Transept and the Tower were finished in the mid 15th century.

Following the dissolution of monasteries in 1548, the college bought Saint Alban Hall from the Littlemore Convent, although it remained a separate institution until 1881.

During the English Civil War the college was used as Royalist headquarters with much of Charles I’s court lodging here. Foreign guests were also lodged, including Queen Henrietta Maria of France. She stayed in a room above the arch between the Fellows and the Front Quads, in what is now called the Queen’s Room.

The college continued to buy up other properties on Merton Street as and when possible. It acquired the former Parish Church of St John and three adjoining houses that now form the north range of the Front Quad.

Merton College once owned all the land from where Christ Church now stands on the south-east part of the city to the land to the east of the college, which is now a garden. Corpus Christi stands on the land at the west end, which they lease from Merton.
Sight description based on wikipedia
University College

7) University College (must see)

Many of Oxford University’s colleges like to claim to be the oldest, but in truth the prize goes to University College, whose main entrance is on the High Street.

According to legend, King Alfred (of the burnt cakes fame) founded the college in 872; in reality, the first foundations were laid in 1249, funded by money left for this purpose by William of Durham.

Sadly, very little remains of the medieval buildings; they were replaced in the 17th century, with the foundations of the Main Quad being laid in 1634. The English Civil War interrupted work and the quad was finished in 1676.

The Radcliffe Quad was built in 1719, the New Building in 1842 and the Library in 1861. In 1892 a small domed room was built by Basil Chambers to house the Shelley Memorial. The statue of the great poet lying dead on an Italian beach was commissioned by Lady Shelley and sculpted by Edward Ford.

The room was once filled with water and goldfish for a joke and the Rector had to have railings put around the statue to stop students from painting Shelley’s private parts in bright colors. The solution for removing the paint was causing the marble to dissolve.

The college is separated by the cobble-stoned Logic Lane, which has a short covered bridge over the High Street entrance. On the eastern side of the lane you will find the students’ lodgings and on the western side the Library, the Hall, the Chapel and the college’s two quads.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Magdalen College

8) Magdalen College (must see)

The most beautiful of all Oxford University’s colleges is undeniably Magdalen College, which was founded in 1458 by William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester.

This lovely college stands on the River Cherwell, surrounded by beautiful grounds, such as the Meadow, Fellows Garden and the Grove where deer graze during the winter and spring. The famous Addison’s Walk links the Meadow to Fellows Garden which in turn is linked to the college by a bridge.

Magdalen Tower is a well-known landmark and since the reign of King Henry VII the college choir sings at the top of the tower at 6am every May Day. The Great Quad was built in 1474, but the north side is relatively new, having been rebuilt in 1822.

The Great Tower was built by William Orchard in 1509 and the Hall and the Chapel were built around the same time. The New Building was constructed in 1733. St John’s Quad with the outdoor pulpit and the Grammar Hall are connected to the Great Quad by the Gothic style Founders Tower.

In the south-west corner of the college you will find St Swithin’s and Longwall Quads which were built in the 19th and 20th centuries. The newest part of the college, the Grove Buildings were put up in 1990.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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