Brasenose College, Oxford

Brasenose College, originally Brazen Nose College (in full: The King's Hall and College of Brasenose, often referred to by the abbreviation BNC), is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. As of 2006, it has an estimated financial endowment of £98m. Brasenose is home to the oldest boat club in the world, Brasenose College Boat Club.


The College was founded in 1509 by a lawyer, Sir Richard Sutton, of Prestbury, Cheshire, and the Bishop of Lincoln, William Smyth. A foundation stone was laid in this year, although it was not until 1512 that a royal charter was obtained from Henry VIII. Smyth provided the money for the college's foundation, and Sutton acquired the property. The college still maintains traditional ties to its official Visitor, the Bishop of Lincoln. It was built on the site of several of the medieval Oxford Halls, which were institutions which originally existed just as lodging houses, but which had grown to become a seats of learning. Brasenose Hall, Little University Hall and St Mary's Entry were amongst the Halls taken over by Brasenose College during its establishment.

For the first few hundred years of its existence, many members of the college originated from Lancashire and Cheshire, the same areas of England which Smyth and Sutton hailed from. Like any Oxford college during that period, Brasenose was essentially a religious foundation in Tudor times. The daily routine for students included mass at dawn, a paltry breakfast followed by study and lectures until dinner at 11am, more study until supper and prayers at 5pm, and finally tuition and disputation before sleep at 10pm. Food was basic, heating inadequate, sanitation rudimentary and life was generally pious and spartan for many.

Among the earliest to endow the new College (or Hall) was John Elton, an early Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, and later Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, who donated funds on 20 May 1529 towards the tuition of any Elton family member who wished to attend the new Brasenose Hall. Other notable early benefactors include Alexander Nowell, Joyce Frankland, Elizabeth Morley and Sarah Seymour, Duchess of Somerset.

The name "Brasenose" is thought to originate from a brazen (bronze) door knocker in the shape of a nose; the nose-shaped door knocker which hangs above the high table of the main hall of Brasenose College is thought to be the original door knocker belonging to Brasenose Hall. In the 1330s, a group of students left Oxford for Stamford in Lincolnshire led by a student from Brasenose Hall, and are thought to have taken the door knocker with them. Another brass knocker in the shape of a nose was fixed to the college gate in the early 16th century, and this has remained above the main entrance ever since. However, in 1890, a house in Stamford named "Brazenose" bearing a 12th-century door knocker in the shape of a nose was put on sale. The house was purchased by the college for the sake of the door knocker, which was removed and placed in the hall, believed to have been returned to its rightful home. The house, and remains of the Hall, are now part of the estate of Stamford School. Interest in the college's history by its members is still strong, and in 2006, Brasenose students made a pilgrimage to Lincoln and Stamford.

An alternative theory is that the name is a corruption of brasenhuis (brewhouse), but this is not widely accepted, although the college did have its own brewhouse up until 1889. Brasenose College uses the "nose" as an informal symbol.

Location and buildings

Brasenose faces the west side of Radcliffe Square opposite the Radcliffe Camera in the centre of Oxford. The north side is defined by Brasenose Lane, while the south side reaches the High Street. To the west is Lincoln College. At its south-east end, the college is separated from the University Church by St Mary's Passage. The main entrance of the College can be found on Radcliffe Square. Although not located on Turl Street the college has links with the three Turl Street colleges (Lincoln, Jesus, and Exeter).The College is also physically linked to Lincoln College through a connecting door, which Brasenose College members are permitted to enter Lincoln College through on Ascension Day each year. The door is opened for five minutes and it is the only time during the year that this door is unlocked. Brasenose members are then served an ale by Lincoln College, which is traditionally flavoured with ground ivy.

The main college site comprises three quads, the original Old Quad, the small second quad affectionately known as the Deer Park, and the large New Quad, as well as collection of smaller houses facing Radcliffe Square and the High Street. The original college buildings comprised a single two storey quad, incorporating the original kitchen of Brasenose Hall on the south side. In the 17th century a third floor was added to the quad to form the current Old Quad. A separate chapel was also built to the south, connected to the quad by a library built over a cloister as shown in a 1670 print, thus enclosing the Deer Park. The cloister was for a time the college burial ground, and evidence suggests there were at least 59 people buried there, with the last recorded burial being in 1754. The cloister was filled in to make two or three chambers in around 1807, used as student bedrooms or administrative offices until 1971, when the space was converted into the graduate common room. More recently the graduate common moved to the Old Quad, and the space, still known as the "Old Cloisters" has been used as a library overspill area, a teaching room and, in 2010-11, as the temporary Senior Common Room. The nickname for the Chapel Quad is often thought to be a friendly jibe at Magdalen College which has a genuine deer park known as The Grove; a former Brasenose student named C.C. Bradford (matriculated 1884) claimed that in 1886 he was walking through Chapel Quad with R.H Tilney (matriculated 1885), discussing a visit to Magdalen the previous day. When they saw a man preparing to put up a post and chain fence Mr. Bradford exclaimed, 'They are going to give us a deer-park', and his companion replied, 'By Jove we’ll call it that'.

During the 16th century the dining hall was heated by an open fire in the centre of the room, supplemented by movable braziers. In the 1680s the hall was renovated, with a raised floor to accommodate a wine cellar below and a reconstructed roof. Another renovation phrase in the mid-18th century included a new chimneypiece, a new ceiling to cover the original timber beams and two gilded chandeliers. The original brazen nose was placed above high table in 1890.

Building began on the current chapel in 1656, and it replaced an old chapel which was located in a space now occupied by the Senior Common Room. Building materials were taken from a disused chapel at the site of St Mary’s College (now Frewin Hall), transported piece by piece by horse-and-cart to Brasenose College. The chapel, a mix of Gothic and Baroque styles, features a hanging fan vault ceiling of wood and plaster, and was consecrated in 1666. The internal fittings are largely 18th and 19th century, and include chandeliers presented to the college in 1749. These were donated to a parish church and later converted to gas but then returned to Brasenose when the church switched to electric lights. The chandeliers were then converted back to their original state so that candles could be used in them once again. The current library was begun in 1658 and received its first books in 1664. It replaced a smaller library on Staircase IV, which is now used as a meeting room. The books in the current library were fixed by chains, which were only removed in the 1780s, over a hundred years later.

New Quad was designed by Jackson and finished in 1911, replacing a number of existing buildings. The current site was completed in 1961 with new buildings, used largely for first year undergraduate accommodation, designed by the architects Powell and Moya. In 2010, a project was begun to renovate the kitchens, servery, dining hall and some other areas of college. The project includes the installation of under floor heating and a new timber floor in the dining hall, new kitchen equipment, a new servery area, additional dining and meeting places, and disabled access to the dining hall. During the project, the Old Quad is housing a temporary dining hall and kitchen, while the New Quad is being used to store building materials. The dining hall refurbishment is due to be completed by September 2010, whilst the remaining work is scheduled to finish in early 2012. In recent years the Junior Common Room (JCR) and Bar have also been renovated.

The college also has a large undergraduate annexe situated on St Michael's Street, developed from Frewin Hall in the 1940s, and a graduate annexe shared with St Cross College was completed in 1995. The St Cross annexe is laid out in clusters of five bed-sitting rooms, sharing two shower rooms and a well equipped kitchen. A second graduate annexe, Holly Bush Row, was opened in September 2008 and is located close to the railway station and Said Business School. It consists of single rooms with en suite bathrooms and shared kitchens. There are also a small number of other graduate houses offered by the college.

Student life

Brasenose College Boat Club (BNCBC) is popularly held to be the oldest boat club in the world; this is impossible to verify but BNCBC is certainly the oldest collegiate boat club and took part in the first ever head race, beating Jesus College Boat Club on that occasion.

The College has an active Music Society and several concerts per term. Regular dates include the termly Platnauer Concerts, established to honour the memory of Maurice Platnauer, Principal of Brasenose (1956–1960); termly Heberden Concerts, recently established to honour Charles Buller Heberden (1849–1921), Principal of Brasenose (1889–1920) and to showcase talented undergraduates and graduates of Oxford University; the Principal's Concerts, established in 2009, for junior and senior members of Brasenose and other colleges to display their talents. Brasenose College has a choir, which is voluntary, although choral awards are offered to members of Brasenose through auditions at the beginning of the academic year. The choir sings Evensong every Sunday, and also sings for various special services and events, including two Carol Services, Roman Catholic Masses, the annual joint service with Lincoln College and other occasions. The choir goes on regular singing tours, for instance Rome in 2004, Paris in 2006, Lombardy in 2009 and back to Rome in 2010. In 2010 and 2011 the college has run the Wondrous Machine event, where local Primary School children are invited to Brasenose for interactive sessions to learn about the pipe organ and the science behind the musical instrument.

Brasenose College Rugby Football Club proudly associates itself with William Webb Ellis, who is often credited as the inventor of the game, founder of BNCRFC, the club's first captain, and graduate of the college. Webb-Ellis's 'outside-the-box' approach has underpinned the tactical philosophies of a long and illustrious line of BNCRFC captains.

The JCR plays a central part in the life of the undergraduate community. Offering social, recreational and welfare support to the students, the elected committee addresses many aspects of student life and liaises with the governing body and graduate student representatives. A weekly report is collated and distributed on the mailing-list by official JCR Scribe and Vice-President. Unlike most Oxford colleges, the graduate common room is known as the Hulme Common Room (HCR), named after a past benefactor, rather than the Middle Common Room (MCR).

The college also prides itself on its annual summer arts festival, first staged in 1994, involving various plays, pantos, comedy evenings and musical performances. The 2010 summer arts festival featured six days of open-air plays, music concerts, workshops, poetry readings and exhibitions as well as an outdoor summer bar, all organised by Brasenose students.

Coat of arms

Brasenose College's coat of arms is quite complex, since it incorporates the personal arms of the founders and the arms of the See of Lincoln.

In heraldic terminology: Tierced in pale: (1) Argent, a chevron sable between three roses gules seeded or, barbed vert (for Smyth); (2) or, an escutcheon of the arms of the See of Lincoln (gules, two lions of England in pale or, on a chief azure Our Lady crowned seated on a tombstone issuant from the chief, in her dexter arm the Infant Jesus, in her sinister arm a sceptre, all or) ensigned with a mitre proper; (3) quarterly, first and fourth argent, a chevron between three bugle-horns stringed sable; second and third argent, a chevron between three crosses crosslet sable (for Sutton).

Because of the complexity of the arms they are not suitable for use on items such as the college crested tie, where the nose is used instead.

College prayers
The College Prayer

The college prayer is read by the principal or a fellow at evensong on Sundays during term and at gaudies.

Individual benefactors are commemorated in an annual pattern, with the founders being commemorated (as shown above) on the first Sunday of Michaelmas Term, and at all gaudies.


The preprandial grace is read by the Bible Clerk at Formal Hall.

The grace after dinner is only read on special occasions, and the list of benefactors included in this grace is quite variable.

People associated with the College

Notable former students of the college have included politicians, scientists, writers, entertainers and academics. Perhaps the best known living Brasenose alumni are Prime Minister David Cameron, the comedian Michael Palin as well as Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey, all of whom are honorary fellows. Earlier alumni include Henry Addington, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, William Webb Ellis, often credited with the invention of Rugby football, William Golding, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, and Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Fictional Brasenose
  • Brasenose College is featured as Lonsdale College in the Inspector Morse novels and television adaptations. It appears both as Brazenface College and under its own name in Cuthbert Bede's 19th century comic novel Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman.
  • Parts of the novel Doomsday Book by Connie Willis take place in a not-too-distant Brasenose College.
  • In The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch by Terry Pratchett a reference is made to "those bastards over at Braseneck College", probably a parody of Brasenose.
  • Thomas Love Peacock in his novel Crotchet Castle (1831) has one of his characters say: 'the Friar is gone, and his learning with him. Nothing of him is left but the immortal nose, which, when his brazen head had tumbled to pieces, crying "Time's Past," was the only palpable fragment among its minutely pulverised atoms, and which is still resplendent over the portals of its cognominal college. That nose, sir, is the only thing to which I shall take off my hat, in all this Babylon of buried literature.'


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