Keble College, Oxford

Keble College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its main buildings are on Parks Road, opposite the University Museum and the University Parks. The college is bordered to the north by Keble Road, to the south by Museum Road, and to the west by Blackhall Road.

Keble was established in 1870, having been built as a monument to John Keble. John Keble had been a leading member of the Oxford Movement, which sought to stress the Catholic nature of the Church of England. Consequently, the College traditionally placed a considerable emphasis on theological teaching, although this has long since ceased to be the case. In the period after the second World War the trends were towards scientific courses (the major area devoted to science east of the University Museum influenced this) and eventually co-education for men and women from 1979 onwards. As originally constituted it was for men only and the fellows were mostly bachelors resident in the college.

It remains distinctive for its once-controversial neo-gothic red-brick buildings designed by William Butterfield. The buildings are also notable for breaking from Oxbridge tradition by arranging rooms along corridors rather than around staircases. (Girton College, Cambridge similarly breaks this tradition).

Keble is one of the larger colleges, with 435 undergraduates and 245 graduate students.


The best-known of Keble's Victorian founders was Edward Pusey, after whom parts of the College are named. The College itself is named after John Keble, one of Pusey's colleagues in the Oxford Movement, who died four years before its foundation in 1870. It was decided immediately after Keble's funeral that his memorial would be a new Oxford college bearing his name. Two years later, in 1868, the foundation stone was laid by the Archbishop of Canterbury on St Mark's Day (April 25, John Keble's birthday). The college first opened in 1870, taking in thirty students, whilst the Chapel was opened on St Mark's Day 1876. Accordingly, the College continues to celebrate St Mark's Day each year.

William Butterfield, the original architect, a High Churchman himself, produced a vigorous masterpiece of Victorian Gothic, among his few secular buildings, which Sir Nikolaus Pevsner characterized as "manly", and which, Charles Eastlake asserted, defied criticism, but which only slowly gained adherents during the later 20th century. The College is built of red, blue, and white bricks; the main structure is of red brick, with white and blue patterned banding. Sir Kenneth Clark recalled that during his Oxford years it was then generally believed in Oxford not only that Keble College was "the ugliest building in the world" but that the buildings had their polychromatic origins in Ruskinian Gothic.

On its construction, Keble was not widely admired within the University, particularly by the undergraduate population of nearby St John's College (from which Keble had purchased their land). A secret society was founded, entrance to which depended upon removing one brick from the College and presenting it to the society's elders. Some accounts specify that one of the commonest red bricks was necessary for ordinary membership, a rarer white brick for higher-level membership, and one of the rarest blue bricks for chairmanship. The hope was that eventually Keble would be completely demolished. As a result, there remains a healthy rivalry between St John's and Keble to this day.

An apocryphal story claims that a French visitor, on first sight of the college exclaimed C'est magnifique mais ce n'est pas la gare? ("It is magnificent but is it not the railway station?"). This is a play on Field Marshal Pierre Bosquet's memorable line, referring to the Charge of the Light Brigade, C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre ("It is magnificent, but it is not war").

Keble were champions of the television quiz show University Challenge in 1975 and 1987.

Keble is mentioned in John Betjeman's poem "Myfanwy at Oxford", as well as in the writings of John Ruskin and in Monty Python's "Travel Agent" sketch. Horace Rumpole, the barrister in John Mortimer's books, was a law graduate of Keble College after World War II.

Ronald Reagan, former President of the United States (1981–89), was an Honorary Fellow of the College.

College life

The College publishes a termly magazine called The Brick which is sent to Keble alumni to update them on College life. Students used to publish an irreverent spoof version on the last Friday of each term, also named The Brick, recording college gossip. This version has not been published since Hilary 2006, however, and is possibly due in part to the growth of ubiquitous social networking website Facebook. The college has since seen the release of a student publication calling itself The Breezeblock, containing both college gossip and a satirical take on college life.

Keble students enjoy a vibrant social life, with a wide range of student run societies. Keble fields a number of sports teams and has flourishing choral and dramatic societies. Keble's rugby teams have been successful, winning the intercollegiate league for five seasons in a row, and triumphing in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 rugby Cuppers, having also been finalists in 2008 and 2010. The 2nd XV also achieved promotion in 2011. The college boat club has not enjoyed as much success, but were the highest ranked blades in the 2007 Summer Eights regatta. The Keble Women's football team also won Cuppers in 2007, and continue to dominate the college league competition. Furthermore, Keble has a large Dancesport contingent, winning the cuppers competition in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Keble College Sports Ground is located on Woodstock Road, and as well as hosting intercollege ("Cuppers") matches, also lays the stage for annual fixtures between current undergraduates and Old Members ("Ghosts"), particularly in football and cricket. Commemorative photographs of important matches adorn the walls of the Keble Cricket Pavilion inside the ground.

Each year the Advanced Studies Centre invites distinguished speakers for their Creativity Lecture Series. Recent presenters include Nicholas Humphrey, Tim Ingold and Steve Rayner.

The Keble Ball is planned by the student committee to coincide with the day-long graduation ceremony in Trinity term week 2.

College buildings

The best-known of Keble's buildings is the distinctive main brick complex, designed by Butterfield. The design remained incomplete due to shortage of funds: the Chapel and Hall were built later than the accommodation blocks to the east and west of the two original quadrangles and the warden's house at the south-east corner. (The Hall and Chapel were funded by a large donation from William Gibbs of Tyntesfield.)

A section west of the Chapel was built in a different style in the 1950s with funds from Antonin Besse. Later still other significant additions have been added, most notably the modern, brick Hayward and de Breyne extensions by Ahrends, Burton and Koralek. The de Breyne extension was made possible by a generous response from the businessman André de Breyne and other fund-raising efforts. The ABK buildings included the college's memorable, futuristic bar, opened on 3 May 1977 and recently refurbished and expanded. In 1995, work was completed on the ARCO building by the renowned US-born architect Rick Mather. This was followed in 2002 by another similarly styled building also designed by Mather, the Sloane-Robinson building. Along with a number of additional student bedrooms the Sloane Robinson building also provided the college with the O'Reilly Theatre (a large multipurpose lecture theatre), a dedicated room for musical practice, a number of seminar rooms and a large open plan space which during term time is used as a café and social space for all members of the college.

The College contains four quads: Liddon (the largest), Pusey, Hayward and Newman. All the gardens have recently undergone a landscaping project finished in 2006/07. The original fellows garden was lost in the programme of extension, as were a range of houses on Blackhall Road.

In July 2004 Keble announced the purchase of the former Acland Hospital for £10.75 million. This 1.7-acre (6,900 m2) site, situated a couple of minutes walk from the main college buildings, currently houses an estimated 100 graduate students but will in time be redeveloped to provide double the number of rooms. Keble previously owned a number of houses across Oxford which were used as additional student accommodation, but these were sold following the purchase of the Acland site.

The Light of the World

Keble owns the original of William Holman Hunt's famous painting The Light of the World, which is hung in the side chapel (accessed through the chapel). The picture was completed in 1853 after eight years of work, and originally hung in the Royal Academy. It was then given as a gift to the college. Hunt originally wanted the painting to be hung in the main chapel but the architect rejected this idea, as a result he painted another version of the painting which is in St Paul's Cathedral, London. This copy was painted by Hunt when he was nearly 70.

College stamps

Keble College has the distinction of being the first college to issue stamps for the prepayment of a porter/messenger delivery service in 1871 only 1 year after it was founded, and it set the pace for other Oxford Colleges to issue their own stamps. This service was successfully challenged by the post office in 1886.

Keble also issued a College stamp in 1970 to mark its 100th aniversary.

List of Wardens
  • Edward Stuart Talbot 1870–1888
  • Robert Wilson 1888–1897
  • Walter Lock 1897–1920
  • Beresford Kidd 1920–1939
  • Harry James Carpenter 1939–1955
  • Eric Symes Abbott 1956–1960
  • Austin Farrer 1960–1968
  • Spencer Barrett (Acting Warden, 1968–1969)
  • Dennis Nineham 1969–1979
  • Christopher Ball 1980–1988
  • George Barclay Richardson 1988–1994
  • Professor Dame Averil Cameron 1994–2010
  • Sir Jonathan Phillips KCB 2010-.
Notable members of Keble

Building Activity

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