St Catherine's College, Oxford

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St Catherine's College, Oxford

St Catherine's College, often called Catz, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its motto is Nova et Vetera ("the new and the old"). It is among the top colleges at the University for academic achievement, especially in the Arts. As of 2006, the college had an estimated financial endowment of £53m.


St Catherine's College was founded by the distinguished historian Alan Bullock, who went on to become the first Master of the college, and later Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.

The college traces its descent from the Delegacy of Non-Collegiate Students, founded in 1868 to offer university education at Oxford without the costs of college membership. Nonetheless, the social role of a college was re-established by the Delegacy's students, meeting as St Catherine's Club (originally St Catharine's Club), which was named after its meeting place in a hall on Catte Street. The Club was officially recognised by the University in 1931 as St Catherine's Society. It was thus developing the characteristics of a college, and in 1956 the Delegates decided to formalise this change in status.

After acquiring 8 acres (32,000 m2) from Merton College, Oxford on part of Holywell Great Meadow for £57,690, monies were sought from the University Grants Committee who also agreed to supply £250,000 towards the building, and additional funds up to £400,000 for all facilities. By 1960 Sir Alan Bullock raised a further £1,000,000 with invaluable assistance from two industrial notables, Sir Alan Wilson (met by chance on the RMS Queen Mary) and Sir Hugh Beaver. After a total cost of £2.5 million, the college opened in 1962 to male students. St Catherine's admitted women from 1974, becoming one of the first five co-educational non-graduate colleges in the university (Nuffield College, a graduate college, was the first in 1937).


The college is situated towards the east of Oxford, on the bank of the Cherwell river. Its striking buildings in glass and concrete by the Danish architect Arne Jacobsen marry modern materials with a traditional layout around a quadrangle. Jacobsen's designs went further than just the fabric of the buildings, with cutlery, furniture, and lampshades being of his own idiosyncratic design. The dining hall is notable for its Cumberland slate floor. The original college buildings received a Grade I listing on 30 March 1993. Jacobsen's plans for the college did not include a chapel: St Cross church on the corner of Manor Road and Longwall Street used to serve this purpose when required before its decommission in the Autumn of 2008. The St Catherine's Christmas carol concert (2008) was held in Harris Manchester College's chapel. The college has a bell tower however; it is particularly visible since no college building is more than three storeys high. An extra floor was reputedly planned for most accommodation blocks, but due to regulations concerning safe building on marshland, this was removed from the final design.

College life

St Catherine's (commonly known as Catz or St Catz) claims a reputation for having a less formal and more relaxed atmosphere than many other colleges. It aims to give a feeling of space and light and peace; it backs onto Merton College's playing fields and the University Parks. Worth noting is that Benazir Bhutto became Oxford Union President while at St Catz. However, there is a high level of involvement amongst the student body in JCR politics, both during elections and at regular meetings.

The College celebrates its patron saint each year with a special Catz Night dinner, attended by junior and senior members of the College. Every three years the college also holds a ball, usually off site due to the problem of securing the college's perimeter sufficiently for insurance purposes.The most recent off-site ball was held was February 9, 2008 at Heythrop Park. On February 12, 2011, the latest incarnation of the Catz ball was held on-site. The theme was surrealism, and the quad was decorated with dozens of marquees – including a large circus tent – with entertainment including Gentleman's Dub Club, MC Xander, masseurs and blow-up Laser Quest.

As well as the usual college facilities, St Catherine's has a number of lecture theatres and seminar rooms, a music house, two student computer rooms, a small gym, squash courts, a punt house, and among the most spacious common rooms in Oxford. There are also additional purpose-built conference facilities with lecture theatres, meeting rooms and bar, and car parking available for non-students. The dining hall, which seats 350 diners, has the largest capacity of any Oxford college.

St Catherine's has recently completed the construction of seven new accommodation staircases with en suite rooms, which means that most undergraduates are able to live on the main College site for the duration of their course. These new staircases effectively form a second quad, which is largely used to provide accommodation for conferences during the breaks between academic terms.

The majority of St Catherines' buildings are in the form of 'staircases' that open directly onto the quad(s) outside; these are filled with student rooms and the occasional office space. Unlike many colleges, St Catherines is no labyrinth of corridors and passages; apart from the uncarpeted JCR, SCR and the office spaces in between, there is little indoor space in the college. Unlike many older colleges in which conference and common rooms alike are filled with plush, comfy chairs, cozy fireplaces and intricate artwork, St Catherines favours a minimalist, rather austere environment, though still comfortable. Student rooms are exceptionally light (Venetian blinds integrated into the window provide privacy but do not shut out light) and quite spacious, with Jacobsen's furniture holding up remarkably well, while the many office rooms are furnished to individual tastes, from modern white furniture to overstuffed sofas.


St. Catherine's is one of the strongest boat clubs in Oxford. This past Torpids, Catz's men's first boat was 5th on the river and then bumped up to fourth. The St. Catherine's first boat is currently 8th on the river after this year's Summer Viii's. The women's first boat held headship in Torpids a few years ago. British Olympians Matthew Pinsent and Andrew Triggs-Hodge both rowed at Catz.

More images
  • A view of the water garden along the west side of the site, toward the small bridge that was part of the original entrance sequence.

  • A view of the west-side accommodation and water garden

  • A view of Jacobsen's bespoke furniture and lighting in the Hall at St Catherine's

  • The statue outside the old porter's lodge in snow, "Achaean" by Barbara Hepworth

  • Barbara Hepworth's "Achaean" at St Catherine's College, Oxford

Notable alumni

Note that some of these alumni were associated with the St Catherine's Society prior to the official founding of the College.

  • R.J.Q. Adams – American historian who specializes in the history of Great Britain
  • Clive Barnes – theatre critic.
  • Michael Billington – Critic, author and radio presenter.
  • Benazir Bhutto – Pakistani politician, elected to an Honorary Fellowship of the College 1989
  • John Birt – former Director-General of the BBC.
  • Christopher Bishop – Chief Research Scientist at Microsoft Research, Cambridge, and Chair of Computer Science at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Sir Victor Blank – Chairman of Lloyds TSB.
  • Euros Bowen – Welsh poet.
  • Tim Brighouse – Education guru and previously Schools Commissioner for London.
  • Alan Chesters – Anglican Prelate
  • Sophie Collier – Artist
  • Justin Winslett – Sinologist and renowned university lecturer
  • Sir John Cornforth – 1975 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.
  • Barun De – Historian; presently Chairman West Bengal Heritage Commission.
  • Jeremy Duns – British author
  • Clark Kent Ervin – first Inspector General of the US Department of Homeland Security.
  • Alice Eve – Actress.
  • Adam Foulds – Novelist and poet
  • Timothy Garden, Baron Garden – Liberal Democrat
  • J Paul Getty – American mogul and philanthropist
  • Phil de Glanville – former England rugby captain.
  • Joseph Heller – American author and playwright; Catch-22.
  • David Hemery – Olympic gold medallist in athletics.
  • Richard Herring – Comedian and writer.
  • Peter Mandelson – architect of "New Labour", twice a UK Cabinet minister, Trade Commissioner in the Barroso Commission 2004–2008. Since then he has been made First Secretary of State and is Business Secretary,
  • Oliver Mann – Podcaster and Broadcaster, Co-Creator of the podcast Answer Me This!
  • James Marsh – Academy Award-winning film director.
  • Chris Maslanka – Writer and broadcaster.
  • Richard Newby, Baron Newby – Liberal Democrat politician.
  • George Peck (theatre) – Founder of the Oxford School Of Drama
  • Bob Peirce – Diplomat
  • Tom Phillips – artist and Royal Academician.
  • Sir Matthew Pinsent – Quadruple Olympic gold medallist in rowing.
  • Benjamin Ross – film director.
  • David Rudkin – Playwright
  • Benjamin Ross – film director.
  • Tony Smith – Fundamental advances in special needs education.
  • Mark Simpson – BBC Young Musician of the Year 2006, and BBC Young Composer of the Year 2006
  • Paul Spike – Author, editor and journalist.
  • H. S. Suhrawardy – Prime Minister of Pakistan.
  • Sir John Vane – 1992 Nobel Laureate in Medicine.
  • John E. Walker – 1997 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.
  • Paul Wilmott – British mathematician and quantitative analyst
  • Simon Winchester – British author and historian; The Surgeon of Crowthorne; The Map that Changed the World.
  • Jeanette Winterson – British author of books including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry, Written on the Body, The World and Other Places.
  • Eric Williams – Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Emily Woof – Actress.
  • P. C. Wren – Novelist, author of Beau Geste.
  • Farooq Leghari – Former President of Pakistan
  • Helen Zaltzman – Podcaster and Co-Creator of the podcast Answer Me This!


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