Wadham College, Oxford

Wadham College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, located at the southern end of Parks Road in central Oxford. It was founded by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham, wealthy Somerset landowners, during the reign of King James I. As of 2009, it has an estimated financial endowment of £66 million and in 2011 ranked 7th in the Norrington Table.


The college was founded by Dorothy Wadham in 1610, using money left by her husband Nicholas Wadham for the purpose of endowing an Oxford college. In a period of only four years, she gained royal and ecclesiastical support for the new college, negotiated the purchase of a site, appointed the west country architect William Arnold, drew up the college statutes, and appointed the first warden, fellows, scholars, and cook. Although she never visited Oxford, she kept tight control of her new college and its finances until her death in 1618.

Notable members of the college in its early years include Robert Blake, Cromwell's admiral and founder of British sea-power in the Mediterranean, the libertine poet and courtier John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester and Christopher Wren. Wren attended the meetings of scientifically-inclined scholars which were held by Warden John Wilkins (Cromwell's brother-in-law) in the college in the 1650s. Those attending formed the nucleus of the Royal Society at its foundation in 1662. Arthur Onslow (1708), a great Speaker of the House of Commons, and Richard Bethell, who became Lord Chancellor as Lord Westbury in 1861, were members of the college. Two 20th-century Lord Chancellors, F. E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead) and John Simon, were undergraduates together in the 1890s, along with the sportsman C. B. Fry; Sir Thomas Beecham was an undergraduate in 1897, though soon abandoning Oxford for his musical career. Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell, who was Churchill's scientific adviser during the Second World War, was a fellow of the college. Cecil Day-Lewis, later Poet-Laureate, came up in 1923, and Michael Foot M.P. in 1931. Sir Maurice Bowra, scholar and wit, was Warden between 1938 and 1970. Among recent members have been Dr Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg and novelist Monica Ali.

The college now consists of some 55 Fellows, about 130–150 graduate students, and about 450 undergraduates. The current Warden is Sir Neil Chalmers, formerly Director of the Natural History Museum in London. On June 1, 2011, the College announced that the Fellows intended to elect Lord Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, to succeed Chalmers as Warden upon his retirement in 2012.

Under the original statutes, women were forbidden from entering the college, with the exception of a laundress who was to be of 'such age, condition, and reputation as to be above suspicion.' These rules were relaxed over the years, and in 1974 they were altered to allow for the admission of women as full members of college at all levels. In fact, Wadham was the first historically all-male college to have a female student.

Wadham has a reputation for being a progressive and tolerant college. In 1975 the Junior Common Room (JCR) chose to re-brand itself as a "Students Union", becoming the first Oxford College to do so, and for around 20 years the Holywell Quadrangle was semi-officially known as the Ho Chi Minh Quad. As a protest against apartheid, the students' union passed a motion in 1984 to end every college "bop" (disco) with The Special AKA's single Free Nelson Mandela. The tradition continues despite Mandela's release in 1990. Wadham has a thriving sports scene for its athletically minded students, and the Wadham College Boat Club is consistently one of the most successful clubs in the university.

Wadham also has a reputation as a strong supporter of gay rights, and plays host to "Queer Bop", an annual night of slightly debauched behaviour popular with students of all colleges and sexual orientations. The event provides subtle continuity to the heritage of former warden Robert Thistlethwayte, who fled England in 1739 after a homosexual scandal prompting the limerick:

Main quad

Although it is one of the youngest of the historic colleges, Wadham has some of the oldest and best preserved buildings, a result of the rash of rebuilding that occurred throughout Oxford during the 17th century. It is often considered as perhaps the last major English public building to be created according to the mediaeval tradition of the master mason. Wadham's front quad, which served as almost the entire college until the mid-20th century, is also the first example of the "Jacobean Gothic" style that was adopted for many of the University's buildings.

The main building was erected in a single building operation in 1610–13. The architect or master mason, William Arnold, was also responsible for Montacute House and Dunster Castle in Somerset, and was involved in the building of Hatfield House for Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, James I’s Lord Treasurer. The style of the building is a fairly traditional Oxford Gothic, modified by classical decorative detail, most notably the ‘frontispiece’ framing statues of James I and the Founders immediately facing visitors as they enter the College. Classical, too, is the over-powering emphasis on symmetry. The central quadrangle was originally gravelled throughout; the present lawn was only laid down in 1809.


The hall, one of the largest in Oxford, is notable for its great hammer-beam roof and for the Jacobean woodwork of the entrance screen. The portraits include those of the founders and of distinguished members of the college. The large portrait in the gallery is of Lord Lovelace, who held Oxford for William of Orange during the Revolution of 1688; the inscription records his role in freeing England 'from popery and slavery'.


Although a ceremonial door opens directly into Front Quad, the chapel usually is reached through the door in staircase 3. The screen, similar to that in the hall, was carved by John Bolton (he was paid £82 for both). Originally Jacobean woodwork ran right round the chapel. The present stone reredos was inserted in the east end in 1834. The monumental East window depicting Jonah's whale, top right, was made by a Dutchman, Bernard van Linge, for £113 in 1622. The elegant young man reclining on his monument is Sir John Portman, baronet, who died in 1624 as a nineteen-year old undergraduate. Another monument is in the form of a pile of books; it commemorates Thomas Harris, one of the fellows of the college appointed at the foundation. He died in 1614, aged 20. The Chapel organ dates from 1862. It is one of the few instruments by Henry Willis, the doyen of Victorian English organ builders, to survive without substantial modification of its tonal design. It is thought that the chapel was the first religious building in England to regain its stained glass and statuary following the reformation.

Holywell Music Room

In the college grounds is also the Holywell Music Room, probably the oldest building of its kind in Europe. It was designed by Thomas Camplin, at that time Vice-Principal of St Edmund Hall, and opened in July 1748. The interior has been restored to a near-replica of the original and contains the only surviving Donaldson organ, built in 1790 by John Donaldson of Newcastle and installed in 1985 after being restored.

Expansions and renewals

A dramatic expansion since 1952 has made use of a range of 17th- and 18th-century houses, a converted warehouse originally built to store bibles, and several modern buildings designed by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia and MacCormac Jamieson Prichard. The college was refaced in the 1960s, and much of the front quad is currently undergoing further restoration work.


Even without the land sold to build Rhodes House in the 1920s, Wadham Gardens remain relatively large when compared with those of other Oxford colleges. Originally a series of orchards and market-gardens carved out from the property of the previously existing Augustinian priory, their appearance and configuration have been significantly modified over the course of the last four hundred years in order to reflect their constantly-changing functional and aesthetic purpose.

The land was shaped, in particular, by two major periods of planning. Gardens were first created under Warden Wilkins (1648–59) as a series of formal rectangles laid out around a (then fashionable) mound which was, in turn, surmounted by a figure of Atlas. These gardens were notable not least for their collection of mechanical contrivances (including a talking statue and a rainbow-maker), a number of obelisks and a Doric temple. Under Warden Wills (1783–1806), the terrain was then radically remodelled and landscaped (by Shipley) and became notable for a distinguished collection of trees.

Restored and reshaped following the Second World War, the present Gardens are divided into the Warden’s Garden, the Fellows’ Private Garden and the Fellows’ Garden, together with the Cloister Garden (originally the cemetery) and the White Scented Garden. They are still notable for their collection of trees (specimens include a holm oak, silver pendent lime, tulip tree, golden yew, purple beech, cedar of Lebanon, ginkgo, giant redwood, tree of heaven, incense cedar, Corsican pine, magnolia and a rare Chinese gutta-percha) and they still contain a number of vestigial curiosities from the past (notably an 18th-century ‘cowshed’ set into the remnants of the Royalist earthworks of 1642, and a sculpture of Warden Bowra).

Notable alumni
  • Monica Ali, novelist
  • Lindsay Anderson, film director
  • Charles Badham, classics scholar
  • Owen Barfield, philosopher, author, poet, and critic.
  • Samuel Augustus Barnett, social reformer
  • Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor
  • Henry de Beltgens Gibbins, economic historian
  • Richard Bentley, scholar and critic
  • Richard Bethell, 1st Baron Westbury, former Lord Chancellor
  • Robert Blake, Cromwell's admiral
  • Melvyn Bragg, television broadcaster
  • Simon Brett, writer
  • Alan Bullock, historian of Nazi Germany
  • Andy Cato, of Groove Armada
  • Sir Michael Checkland, former Director General of the BBC
  • Robert Caesar Childers, Pali Language Scholar
  • John Cooke, prosecutor of Charles I
  • Alan Coren, comic writer
  • Robert Crampton, Times journalist
  • Cecil Day-Lewis, former Poet Laureate
  • Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician
  • Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral
  • James Flint, writer
  • Michael Foot, politician
  • Neil Forrester, Artist and subject of The Real World TV show (London series)
  • William Fox, premier of New Zealand
  • C. B. Fry, sportsman
  • Penaia Ganilau, former Governor General and President of Fiji.
  • Neil Gerrard, politician
  • Nordahl Grieg, Norwegian poet and playwright
  • Thomas Guidott, physician
  • Tuanku Abdul Halim, Sultan of Kedah, former King of Malaysia (1970–1975)
  • Evan Harris, former Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon
  • J. W. Harris, legal scholar, Professor of the London School of Economics and Fellow of the British Academy.
  • Sir Thomas Graham Jackson, architect
  • Felicity Jones, actress
  • Reginald Victor Jones, physicist, scientific military intelligence expert and writer
  • Michael Kenyon, novelist
  • Francis Kilvert, clergyman and diarist
  • Hari Kunzru, novelist
  • K. N. Wanchoo, former Chief Justice of India.
  • John Leslie, philosopher
  • P. J. Marshall, historian of the British empire in the 18th century
  • Alister McGrath, Christian apologist and theologian
  • Tim McInnerny, actor
  • Frank McLynn, historian and biographer
  • Kamisese Mara, former Prime Minister and President of Fiji.
  • Patrick Marber, comedian and playwright
  • Sharon Mascall, journalist, broadcaster and writer
  • Jodhi May, actress
  • Robert Moses, city planner
  • Arthur Onslow, former Speaker of the House of Commons
  • Iain Pears, novelist
  • Rosamund Pike, actress
  • Emma Reynolds, MP
  • Tony Richardson, English theatre and Academy Award-winning film director and producer
  • Michael Rosen, poet and broadcaster
  • Nathaniel Philip Rothschild, British financier and only son of Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild
  • Waseem Sajjad, two time interim President of Pakistan and Former Chairman Senate
  • Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Baronet, wit, dramatist and politician
  • Mary Ann Sieghart, former assistant editor of The Times
  • John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon, former Lord Chancellor
  • F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, former Lord Chancellor
  • Thomas Sprat, divine and cofounder of the Royal Society
  • Irving Wardle, theatre critic
  • Rex Warner, clacissist, writer and translator
  • Rowan Williams, current Archbishop of Canterbury
  • John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, libertine poet and protegé of King Charles II
  • Sir Christopher Wren, architect and cofounder of the Royal Society
  • Henry Penruddocke Wyndham, politician, topographer and author
  • Sir Wadham Wyndham, judge
Notable Wardens, Fellows and former Fellows
  • Alfred Ayer, logical positivist
  • Michael R. Ayers, philosopher
  • Anindya Banerjee, economist
  • John Bell, Professor of Law and Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge
  • T.J. Binyon, Russian literature scholar and crime writer
  • Maurice Bowra, scholar and wit
  • Peter Carter, legal scholar
  • Peter Derow, historian of ancient Greece and Rome
  • Terry Eagleton, literary theorist
  • Eprime Eshag, Keynesian economist
  • Stuart Hampshire, philosopher and literary critic
  • Jeffrey Hackney, legal scholar
  • Humphrey Hody, clergyman and theologian
  • Thomas Graham Jackson, architect
  • Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell, Churchill's scientific adviser during the Second World War
  • Claus Moser, economist
  • Bernard O'Donoghue, poet
  • Roger Penrose, mathematician
  • Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician, writer, television presenter
  • Robert Thistlethwayte, the Warden who fled to France in 1737 after a homosexual scandal
  • John Wilkins, scholar and co-founder of the Royal Society
  • Robert J.C. Young, post-colonial theorist

Building Activity

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