Worcester College, Oxford

Worcester College (pronounced /ˈwʊstər/) is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. The college was founded in the eighteenth century, but its predecessor on the same site had been an institution of learning since the late thirteenth century. As of 2006, Worcester had an estimated financial endowment of £32 million.

Buildings and grounds

The buildings are diverse, especially in the main quadrangle: to the right is an imposing eighteenth century building in the neo-classical style; and to the left a row of mediæval buildings known as "the cottages", which are among the oldest residential buildings in Oxford. These cottages are the most substantial surviving part of Gloucester College, Worcester's predecessor on the same site: this was a college for Benedictine monks, founded in 1283 and dissolved with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in about 1539.

After a lapse of twenty years, the buildings of the old Gloucester College were used in the foundation of Gloucester Hall, in around 1560. The last principal, Benjamin Woodruffe, attempted to establish there a 'Greek College' for Greek Orthodox students to come to Oxford, part of a scheme to make ecumenical links with the Church of England. This was a going concern from 1698 to 1705, although only 15 Greeks are recorded as members.

In 1714, thanks to a fortunate benefaction from a Worcestershire baronet, Sir Thomas Cookes, Gloucester Hall was transformed into Worcester College. Even then, there were only sufficient funds to rebuild the Chapel, Hall and Library and the north side of the Front Quad, known as the Terrace. The designs were by Dr. George Clarke, who had consulted Nicholas Hawksmoor.

In 1736, Clarke (later Sir George) generously left to the College his great collection of books and manuscripts. These included the papers of his father William Clarke (which are of crucial importance for the history of England during the period of the Commonwealth and Protectorate) and a large proportion of the surviving drawings of Inigo Jones.

Owing to lack of funds, Worcester's eighteenth-century building programme proceeded by fits and starts. The west end of the Terrace and the Provost's Lodgings were added in 1773-6 (architect: Henry Keene). The mediæval cottages were to have been replaced by a further classical range, but survived because money for this purpose was never available; the Hall and Chapel, by James Wyatt, were not completed until the 1770s.

In more recent years several new residential blocks for undergraduates and graduates have been added, thanks in part to a series of generous benefactions. The latest of these include the Earl building, Sainsbury Building (which won the Civic Trust Award in 1984), Linbury Building, Canal Building, Ruskin Lane Building (for undergraduates), and the Franks Building (for graduates).

A modern addition to Worcester College, the Canal Building, sits next to the north entrance to the college and, as the name suggests, beside the Oxford Canal. It houses fifty students in large en-suite single rooms. The accommodation is usually reserved for third and fourth year undergraduates.

The Chapel

The College Chapel was built in the eighteenth century. Dr George Clarke, Henry Keene and James Wyatt were responsible for different stages of its lengthy construction (1720–91), owing to shortage of funds. The interior columns and pilasters, the dome and the delicate foliage plastering are all Wyatt's work. His classical interior was insufficiently emphatic for the tastes of militant Victorian churchmen, and between 1864 and 1866 the chapel was redecorated by William Burges. It is highly unusual and decorative; being predominantly pink, the pews are decorated with carved animals, including kangaroos and whales, and the walls are riotously colourful, and include frescoes of dodos and peacocks. Its stained glass windows were to have been designed by John Everett Millais, but Burges rejected his designs and entrusted the work to Henry Holiday. Oscar Wilde said of the Chapel, 'As a piece of simple decorative and beautiful art it is perfect, and the windows very artistic.'

The Chapel Choir is augmented by 18 boy choristers who attend Christ Church Cathedral School.

The Hall

Burges also started the redecoration of the Hall in 1877, but the work remained uncompleted at his death, and, in the early 1970s, Wyatt's designs were restored.

The Gardens

Although Worcester is near the centre of Oxford today, it was on the edge of the city in the eighteenth century. This has proved a benefit in the long run, since it has allowed the college to retain very extensive gardens and, uniquely among Oxford colleges, contiguous playing fields (a total of 26 acres (110,000 m2), including a lake).

The gardens have won numerous awards, including the Oxford in Bloom college award every time they have been entered for the competition. The gardens were laid out in 1823 by the then Bursar Richard Gresswell, and are now managed by head gardener Simon Bagnall and a team of seven gardeners.

A production of Twelfth Night was directed by Patrick Garland in the gardens with Oz Clarke as Sir Toby Belch and Francis Matthews.

The college's gardeners keep a blog to provide an insight into the work involved in looking after the 26 acres (110,000 m2).

  • Every three years ball-goers enjoy the Worcester College Commemoration Ball on College grounds. Held in June, it lasts from 6pm until 6 am and the dress code is white tie. Recent Worcester Balls have made sizeable donations to local and international charities.
  • The College holds a Formal Hall every day of term except on Mondays, Saturdays and Fridays; dress is formal with gowns compulsory for students who choose to attend. Before each meal, the College grace is recited by a scholar, or student studying a field related to Literae Humaniores. The text is the same as that recited at Christ Church but, in comparison, always given in the long form:
  • Richard Blechynden 1714–36
  • William Gower 1736–77
  • William Sheffield 1777–95
  • Whittington Henry Landon 1795–1839
  • Richard Lynch Cotton 1839–81
  • Dr William Inge 1881–1903
  • Charles Henry Olive Daniel 1903–19
  • Dr Francis John Lys 1919–46
  • Sir John Cecil Masterman 1946-62
  • Sir Oliver Sherwell Franks, Baron Franks 1962-76
  • Asa Briggs, Baron Briggs 1976-91
  • Richard Good Smethurst 1991-2011
  • Professor Jonathan Bate CBE FBA 2011-
Notable former students

See also Former students of Worcester College.

  • Fictional alumni of the college include Nick Guest from The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.

Building Activity

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