For the first hundred years of its existence the College consisted of just one quadrangle (Old Quad). From the early 16th century to the mid-17th century all College accommodation was situated on Old Quad. The only building to extend beyond it was the 15th century kitchen, which had been inherited from Brasenose Hall. The Tower was a much more imposing structure than it seems today, as it had only two storied buildings surrounding it, and a tangle of tenements and gardens where the Radcliffe Camera now stands. By the 17th century the College was running out of space, and the solution was to build a third storey, which seems to have been started in about 1614 and took some 20 years to complete. The staircases in the College were numbered from at least the 18th century. Those on the Old Quad are numbered 1-8. The Main Porter’s Lodge, the Hall and the Senior Common Room have always been situated on Old Quad.
The Principal’s Lodgings were originally spread out between either side of the Old Quad Tower, on the first floor. The original front door can still be seen just inside the quadrangle, on the left. In 1771 a house on the High Street was adapted to make a new Lodging for the Principal. The former lodgings on Old Quad became known as the Old Lodgings or ‘Old Lodge’. These rooms included what is now the Stocker room (instituted in the 1960s), the whole of what is now the History Library and the other rooms on staircase 7. The Bursary and Bursar’s offices were then located in Old Lodge until the 1950s. On 14 February 1950 a fire broke out (in what is now the History Library) and destroyed most of the area known as Old Lodge. At this point the area was renovated with the History Library being added on the top floor. The Bursary was relocated to St Mary’s (just off New Quad) at this time.
The Main Library and Chapel were built between 1655 and 1666. Before this time both the Chapel and the Library were situated in rooms on Old Quad. The old Chapel was located in an area which now forms part of the Senior Common Room. The room now known as the Old Library was converted into a Fellows set, but in the early 21st century the room was rearranged and it is now used as a meeting/teaching room. The current Library and Chapel are located on Deer Park, the small quadrangle in between Old Quad and New Quad.
When the Main Library and Chapel were built in the 17th century an open Cloister was also constructed underneath the Library. This was envisaged as a place for the Fellows to take exercise in bad weather, though in 1807 the open Cloister was turned into a set of four rooms to provide more accommodation for students. The work is thought to have been completed by Sir John Soane. Between 1971 and 2008 the Hulme Common Room for graduate students was located in the Cloisters. In 2015 work started on an extension to the Main Library, in which the Cloister will become part of the Library, which is located on the floor above.
The further extension of the College to the High Street (New Quad) was planned for over 150 years before it actually happened. A number of houses, cottages, yards and gardens, including a small court known as Amsterdam Court originally stood on the area which is now occupied by the New Quad buildings. Before New Quad was built there also existed two accommodation buildings on this site. The first was built in 1740 and another in 1810, though these were demolished to make way for New Quad. Designs for an extension of the College and a renewed High Street front were received from Sir John Soane, Philip Hardwick and Nicholas Hawksmoor, but the College did not follow any of these. Apart from the conversion of the house for the Principal no further work was undertaken to improve the ‘unseemly squalor’ (Walter Pater's words) which lay between the Chapel and the High Street. The College finally took the plunge between 1880 and 1911, when a series of buildings designed by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson swept away most of the old buildings, which stood on the back premises. This also necessitated the removal of the Principal’s House and of the College brew-house. The buildings on New Quad included a new site for the Principal’s Lodgings (though the Principal moved out of these and back to Old Quad in 1956; this area of New Quad is now known as Heberden/JCR/Stallybrass Law Library), sets of rooms for Fellows and students, the High street tower and lecture rooms. Due to financial constraints the buildings were completed in three stages and the High Street front remained unfinished for twenty years. It was not until 1909-1911 that Jackson was able to complete the building he had designed thirty years before. The staircases on New Quad are numbered 9-13.
On 7 March 1894 it was decided to build a house on the site of a shop owned by the College, which was adjacent to the Chapel. The architect of the house was Harry Wilkinson Moore, who designed many of the houses in North Oxford. The house was advertised to let as Stamford House in October 1895 and was let to a series of tenants until 1946, when it begun to be taken over for College purposes. The front of Stamford House can be viewed from Radcliffe Square/St Mary’s Passage. Standing next to Stamford House is St Mary’s Entry. This building is most famous for its ornate door and the main structure of the house is thought to date from the 17th century. For many years it was a public house called the City Arms. The house was converted to College rooms after World War I.
During the twentieth century the numbers of students continued to rise, partly as a result of population growth and partly because higher education was no longer seen as the prerogative of the few. As more and more accommodation was needed commercial leases were terminated in favour of student use. Staircases 14 and 15 (mostly containing rooms above shops on the High Street) were converted for College use in the early 1930s. In the 1940s Frewin Hall in New Inn Hall Street was used by students for the first time. Owned by the College since 1580, Frewin’s most famous previous occupant was Edward VII, who occupied the house as Prince of Wales when he was an undergraduate in 1859-1860.
By 1959 every staircase except one was equipped with toilets and bathrooms or showers, and at last it was possible to demolish the old bathhouses. A small block of single study bedrooms (staircases 16-18) was built in 1959-1960, designed by Powell and Moya and greatly acclaimed in its day.
Between the 1970s and 1990s an extension was built at Frewin. A building for graduates in St. Cross Road was completed in 1995, and a second graduate accommodation block, Hollybush Row, in 2008.
Throughout the years many architects have advised, submitted designs and completed alterations or built at Brasenose College or on estates owned by the College. These include John Chessell Buckler, Harry Wilkinson Moore, Henry Thomas Hare and Gerald Banks.
Please see below for further information on specific buildings:
Traditions and legends
From Ale Verses to a visit from the Devil, browse some of our quirky traditions and legends
A concise history, with detail on our coat of arms and our name