The architecture of

Merton College, Oxford

60 photographs with architectural notes

Click on photos to enlarge.
Notes in italics from Oxfordshire by Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner (1974)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

College Plan at Merton College Website

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Walter de Merton, King's Chancellor, founded the college about 1264.
The  Merton Street front is long ... The centre stretch is essentially by Blore, 1836-8, though it hides C13 and Perp work. Blore's features are Dec, and his composition is asymmetrical.
Beyond it to the west rises the chapel, more below.

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The E end of the stretch is by Champneys, 1904-10. (It represents the north wing of Champneys' St Albans Quad, more below). It is a little higher, but hardly more lively than Blore's front. But in it is a doorway of 1599, rather crude, with coupled Tuscan columns and a small semi-circular pediment; for this part of the range is old too.

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Front Quad. The gateway into Front Quad is of 1418. ... To its E is the Blore range, but here it has the original masonry including the E end of this range which is late C13 and was once a hall, probably that of the Warden. ... It has longer windows than the rest, though they are all renewed. The tracery has the same spherical triangles as the chapel ... To the S of this begins Champney's work, much prettier here, in a free C16 style, the former Warden's  Lodgings, with a twin archway into St Albans Quad (see below).

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The S side has the hall, and the W side the chapel (below). The hall is basically C13, though all but rebuilt by Scott in 1872-4. ... The porch, though still entirely Gothic, dates from 1579. ... The hall itself has slender transomed two-light windows with pointed trefoiled heads, apparently repeated correctly by Scott. Attached to the porch is a higher stair-turret.

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Merton Chapel is only a fragment. Walter de Merton wanted it to have a nave and aisles. ... As it is, the nave and aisles were never built, and so, consisting of transepts, crossing, and choir only, Merton established the type which other Oxford college chapels followed. ... Only the choir dates from C13 ... The window details ... are one of the best examples of late C13 tracery in the country. The E window is huge, of seven lights, all pointed-trefoil-cusped and with, in the head, a roundel of twelve spokes, all also pointed-trefoil-cusped. The three plus three side parts have intersecting tracery. The combination of intersecting tracery with a roundel destroying its even rhythm is typical of c.1300. The side windows are of three lights and have motifs in which spherical triangles dominate, though there are also circles, trefoils, and other motifs of the geometrical style of tracery. When the choir was built, work went into the crossing, which was built c.1330-5.

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The S transept followed in 1367-8 (first picture), though its windows are C15 (Perpendicular) and similar to those of the N transept (second picture) whose date is supposed to be 1416-24. The dedication took place in 1425, but the tower over the crossing was only erected in 1448-51. ...

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Large gargoyle waterspouts on the north and east side of the choir.

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The chapel interior is on a grand scale, very lofty and very spacious. The climax is the crossing with its tremendous piers, six shafts to each side of the pier, except that those for the nave have only five. Bases and capitals and arch mouldings are all typically Dec, although the date of the crossing, c1330-5, can hardly apply to the E arch, without which the choir cannot have been finished. So this ought to be of c.1300.
The choir windows are shafted inside, and there are also vaulting shafts starting on excellent corbels from the level of the springing of the window arches. The roof is by Butterfield and of 1849-50. ... The ornate group of sedilia, piscina, and S doorway is almost certainly also by Butterfield. ...

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Screen. Money for it was left in 1671. High, of three arches, with Corinthian pilasters and over the middle arch an open scrolly pediment. (Mr Hodgson adds: The screen was originally across the choir, between the first two windows. It was designed by Wren, along with a full set of stalls and side panelling. All of Wren's work had been removed by 1851 ... About twelve years ago (i.e. c.1962) ... the existing smaller screen, about half of which is original, was reconstructed). ...
Organ case by Robert Potter, 1968, in a neo-Georgian Gothic.


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In the N transept: ... Anthony a Wood, the antiquarian, died1695. Small cartouche, supporting a pediment. ... Sir Thomas Bodley, died 1613. Alabaster and marble. By Nicholas Stone. It cost 200. Large hanging monument. His bust frontal in an oval recess. The recess is surrounded by four allegorical female figures in relief. They represent Music, Arithmetic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. To their l. and r. pilasters built up entirely of books laid flat one on top of the other. The allegorical figure at the bottom, seated in relief, represents Grammar, the beginning of higher education. ... 
Font ... by Butterfield, of 1851.
In the S transept: Sir Henry Savile, Warden of Merton, died 1622. Large hanging wall-monument. Frontal demi-figure, handling a book. Statuettes of Sir John Chrysostom, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Tacitus l. and r. and Fame on top. ...

More about the chapel
at the chapel website

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Mob Quad:  North - East - South - West

Mob Quad is entirely C14, the earliest complete Oxford quad. It is of two storeys. The E and N ranges came first. They date from 1304-7 and include the slightly higher treasury. The N range is probably of c.1335, the other two certainly of 1371-8. The designer of the latter was, it seems, William Humberville. ... The doorways to the sets differ all round ... The only elaborate one is in the S range and is now the principal entrance to the library. It is difficult to say anything about the windows. They differ a great deal in shape and date and are with one exception, in the W range, over-restored. The cusped single lights represent the C14, the straight-headed, moulded two-light windows originally had cusped lights and represent the C15. The big four-light dormers were added c.1623. Arched light and semi-circular cresting. The library windows are mostly single lights and are closely placed. The library has a dog-leg plan. It runs along the W and the S ranges. ...

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South and west ranges of Mob Quad from the outside.

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Entrance to Fellows' Quad from Front Quad. The gateway into Fellows' Quad was built by Warden Fitzjames in 1497. It is wide and low with an excellent lierne-vault with exceptionally good bosses of the signs of the Zodiac. Virgo is especially attractive; so is Sagittarius.

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Fellows' Quad. Savile built Fellows' Quad in 1608-10. The mason was John Acroyd of Halifax. This is a much larger quad, and it is of even design, three storeys from the start - the earliest three-storeyed quad of Oxford. All windows still have arched lights. ... The battlements of the quad were added in 1622, and so probably were their stepped-up centrepieces ending in a semi-circle. (The present battlements are a replacement of c.1850 (R.B.C. Hodgson)). ...

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The evenness of the interior of the quad is broken in the middle of the S side by a four-tier frontispiece of the type of that of the Bodleian (Schools Quadrangle) though in its size a little pinched. Paired columns in four tiers. Odd details, especially the tiny top pediment and the two ogee-headed niches.

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Outside of east and west ranges of Fellows' Quad, and path along south side with Christ Church Meadows on the right. Broad gables on the outside of the range and pillar chimneystacks in groups. 

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SW of the chapel Grove Buildings, 1864 by Butterfield but chastened in 1930 by T.H. Hughes. The top storey was removed, and two wings were added at the back. It is still Tudor, but now very quiet. ...

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St Albans Quad: Entrance from Front Quad - North - East - West

St Albans Quad was rebuilt by Champneys in 1904-10. It is named after St Alban's Hall, one of the four academic Halls still existing in the later C19. Merton took it over. Its N side faces Merton Street (see above), its W side, the Warden's Lodgings until recently, Front Quad. The style is a free Tudor, very pretty, with Arts and Crafts touches. Oriels and gables galore.  

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South side of St Albans Quad towards the gardens.

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At the same time, the same architect (Champneys) designed the new Warden's Lodgings across Merton Street (facing his St Albans Quad, and with similarities in gables and chimneys). They are now alas no longer used as such, and their name has become Old Wardens' Lodgings. It is a building more assertive than any other principal's house in either university, high, symmetrical, in a free Jacobean with a gateway and  a covered stair to the main entrance. The gateway has the alternate blocking of its columns which the Edwardians liked so much. The date is in fact 1908. ...

Merton College Website


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