The Devil visits Brasenose

There is a strong tradition that there was a club in Brasenose in the late 1820s which modelled itself on the infamous Hell Fire Club and took the same name. It is reputed to have revelled in vice, drunkenness and atheism in the teeth of authority. It is also the subject of one of the most famous College stories, which is supposed to have taken place in about 1828. This is an account of 1872, taken from the journal Odds and Ends:

'Brasenose Lane was always dismal and dreary in the daytime and barely lighted by two or three lamps at night. The Brasenose windows were fitted with close upright iron bars to prevent any going in or out of the undergraduates' rooms at night. Besides this the windows of the rooms on the ground floor were secured by a strong netting of stout wire with openings too small even for a hand to pass through.

Between eleven and twelve o'clock one night in December a Fellow of Brasenose was returning home along this lane. He saw a tall man, seemingly wrapt up in a long cloak, standing before a window of the rooms of an undergraduate of bad reputation and known to be one of the most active members of the Hell-fire Club. As the Fellow rushed by he saw that the occupier of the rooms was being slowly drawn through the wire netting and through the iron bars.

It was but a few steps to the college gate round the corner of the lane. At the moment that the porter opened the gate there came also a cry and a rush of men from one of the rooms on the right hand of the quadrangle. There had been a meeting of the Hell-Fire Club and in the middle of one of his blasphemous speeches the owner of the rooms had broken a blood vessel and fallen dead upon the floor.'

The inference, of course, is that the tall man in the long cloak was the Devil come to claim the soul of his own. Needless to say there is no direct evidence for this in the archives, although on 3rd March 1834 Edward Leigh Trafford died in his College rooms on Staircase III, one of the staircases which has rooms on Brasenose Lane. He was a 21 year old undergraduate from a Cheshire family with long established Brasenose connections and later tradition says that he was the president of a Brasenose Hell-Fire Club and that he died by delirium tremens.



Traditions and legends

From Ale Verses to a visit from the Devil, browse some of our quirky traditions and legends

College history

A concise history, with detail on our coat of arms and our name

Famous Brasenose Names

More information on historical figures connected to Brasenose

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