The name of the College has always fascinated visitors to Oxford. There have been several interpretations of it, including the suggestion that it is derived from ‘brasen huis' (brew house). The most likely explanation is that it refers to a ‘brazen' (brass or bronze) door knocker in the shape of a nose.
Before 1509 part of the College site was occupied by a private medieval hall named Brasenose Hall. The earliest mention of the name Brasenose on this site appeared in the mid-13th century, and it is generally thought that the name passed to the Hall and thence to the College. The Hall was purchased in 1262 by Oxford University but after this date a long silence fell on its history, supposedly because of the migration of a large amount of its students to Stamford in Lincolnshire in the year 1333.
This migration of a group of rebellious students from Oxford to Stamford is said to have involved ‘Philippus le maniciple ate Bresnose’, and it is believed that one of the Brasenose students took a door knocker, which had hung on Brasenose Hall, with them to Stamford. In due course the rebellion was suppressed, the king ordering the students to return to Oxford. In 1890 a house, named Brasenose House, in Stamford was offered for sale. It had been known as ‘Brasenose’ since at least the seventeenth century and had an ancient door knocker, dated to the twelfth century. Brasenose College purchased the house for the sake of that door knocker, which was brought to Oxford and now hangs over the high table in Hall. The College historians of the 1890s were convinced that the fourteenth century students of Brasenose Hall took the knocker from which they derived their name to Stamford, and that it had been restored to its rightful home at last.
Noses have been used as symbols for Brasenose College throughout its history. More than one has been placed over the main door and they can be found in the glass in Hall. The Archives have a carved nose once attached to the College Eight, a nose tie pin of the 1870s, and one of the nose pipes smoked by Brasenose undergraduates in the years before the First World War.
For more information please read this report on 'The Brazen Nose', which was issued in December 1890.