The architecture of

St John's College, Oxford

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

Front Quad started life as St Bernard's College, founded as a Cistercian  college by Archbishop Chichele in 1437. It was built slowly, right into C16. ... The college - being a religious foundation - was dissolved in the 1540s, the E range still unfinished; but in 1555 Sir Thomas White, a London merchant, re-founded St Bernard's as  St John's College. ...

P8232469-soft-transf-vardk-u2-720-u0.3-q10.jpg (65670 bytes)

The front of Front Quad, i.e. of St Bernard's College, has the usual gate tower in the middle. It has a four-centred arch and a canted oriel with canopied niches l. and r. and a top stage with another niche. ... To the l. and r. the facade is two-storeyed ...The dormers are an addition of 1616. ... 

P8232468-varyr-u2-h540-u0.5t3-q60.jpg (69350 bytes)     P8232405-transf-u2-720-u0.5-q40.jpg (68981 bytes)     P8232406-crop-h540-u0.5t5-q80.jpg (60283 bytes)

Front Quad is entered through an original door and under an original two-bay vault with diagonal and ridge-ribs. The tower has towards the quad in the top niche a statue of St John by Eric Gill, 1936.

P8232408-transf-varlt-u2-720-u0.5-q40.jpg (79296 bytes)     P8232397-transf-varlt-u2-h540-u0.5-q30.jpg (78368 bytes)     P8232400-transf-u2-720-u0.5-q20.jpg (80456 bytes)     P8232403-rot-crop-u2-720-u0.5t5-q10.jpg (66383 bytes)

The quad is spacious, with two-storeyed buildings which were embattled in 1617. Alas, all their windows were sashed in the C18. The S range was in course of erection in 1438 (second picture), the E range was never finished by the monks. On the N side (third picture) are the hall and chapel, the chapel with three Perp windows (of Blore's restoration in 1843), the hall with slightly pointed arched windows with Georgian glazing, probably of c.1730.

P8232401-rot-u2-720-u0.5t5-q50.jpg (78133 bytes)          P8232401-crop-q60.jpg (43002 bytes)

The E range has two doorways, and they prepare suitably for Archbishop Laud's quad. They are broad and have big open scrolly pediments. ... The right-hand doorway leads to Canterbury Quad.

P8232411-transf-u2-720-u0.5t5-q40.jpg (75238 bytes)     P8232433-rot-u2-720-u0.5t5-q30.jpg (68669 bytes)     P8232426-transf-soft-u2-720-u0.5t3-q40.jpg (68203 bytes)     P8232412-transf-u2-720-u0.5t3-q40.jpg (84113 bytes)

Canterbury Quad:  North Range - East Range - West Range - South Range

When Archbishop Laud, who had been president from 1611-1621, began Canterbury Quad, the present S range was already there, containing, as it still does, the library. It had been built in 1596-1601. Laud started in 1631, and by 1636 all was ready. It was a princely job, and it is by far the most impressive building of its date in Oxford. ... 

P8232409-transf-soft-u2-720-u0.5-q60.jpg (86729 bytes)          P8232415-u2-720-u0.5-q40.jpg (69674 bytes)          P8232424-transf-u2-720-q40.jpg (82700 bytes)

One finds oneself in a long arcade of elegant columns leading nowhere l. and r. Opposite the arcade repeats, and this range must be first described, as it is first seen. The columns are Tuscan, the spandrels have thick decoration and busts of Virtues, Liberal Arts, etc. (by Anthony Gore) in recesses. There are eleven bays altogether, the middle one intended to be a showpiece and being a showpiece (below)

P8232434-transf-crop-u2-h540-u0.5-q60.jpg (74802 bytes)               P8232417-crop-u2-h540-u0.5-q60.jpg (73790 bytes)               P8232418-u2-h540-u0.5t3-q60.jpg (78411 bytes)

Two pairs of Roman Doric columns and an archway between, over-decorated too. Above, two pairs of wholly detached very slender Ionic columns on excessively high, thickly decorated pedestals. A niche with aedicule surround in the middle, the columns being detached, the pediment broken. The niche holds the statue of Charles I by Lesueur. Sumptuous cartouche with shield beneath the niche. Top pediment large and segmental, the tympanum recessed. A crown at the very top. All this is boldly done in high relief. 

P8232428-transf-crop-u2-h540-u0.5t5-q70.jpg (76582 bytes)               P8232432-u2-h540-u0.5t5-q50.jpg (68446 bytes)

The W side of the quad, to which we can now look back, is identical, except that the statue is Queen Henrietta Maria.

P8232433-rot-u2-720-u0.5t5-q30.jpg (68669 bytes)               P8232426-transf-soft-u2-720-u0.5t3-q40.jpg (68203 bytes)

However, what has not been said yet is that the upper-floor windows are of two arched lights in the C15 and C16 tradition.

P8232411-transf-u2-720-u0.5t5-q40.jpg (75238 bytes)               P8232412-transf-u2-720-u0.5t3-q40.jpg (84113 bytes)

This is indeed done throughout the N and S sides, without anything to make them match the two showpieces. There are even the traditional carvings of the string course beneath the battlements. Of course, the S range existed, but Laud or his mason might have refaced it it a more suitable pattern which the N range might have displayed throughout. 

P8232422-rot-varlt-u2-h540-u0.5-q60.jpg (68546 bytes)       P8232437-transf-varlt-u2-720-u0.5-q40.jpg (68145 bytes)       P8232438-vary-u2-720-u0.3t3-q30.jpg (84909 bytes)       P8232439-u2-720-u0.5t3-q20.jpg (88985 bytes)

Portal leading through east range. Large decorated pediment; decorated frieze.
The E side of the E range is another surprise. It is neither Gothic, like the N and S ranges of the quad, nor at all Baroque. It is embattled, with gables over the end bays, and it has five oriels, including the large one at the E end of the library. The panels between the windows of the oriels are decorated with strapwork, not with Laud's foliage and cartouches. ...

P8081772transf-crop-u2-720-u0.3t5-varlt-q40.jpg (78092 bytes)          P1030383-crop-u2-h540-u0.5-q40.jpg (79242 bytes)          P8081774-transf-crop-720-u1t5-q60.jpg (42320 bytes)

To the N of the old facade (in St Giles') ... New Buildings of 1881, by George Gilbert Scott Jun., and a self-effacing design at a time when Jackson had already started waving his arms about. ... Central gate tower and three bays r., three l., plus one as the l. end bay with a big oriel. But the design is not as simple as it may at first appear. The ground floor has four-light windows, the first two of two lights in each of the six bays set further apart, and the gables have oriels, the one non-authorized motif. Or perhaps one should say that there is another: little lions' heads in many places and not set strictly axially. It is really very subtle. ... 

P8232463-transf-u2-h540-u0.5-q30.jpg (69781 bytes) P8232464-transf-u2-h540-u0.5-q30.jpg (67370 bytes) P8232465-crop-levdkmid-u2-h540-u0.5t3-q50.jpg (70370 bytes)

Dolphin Quad ... one reaches it from the W end of the S range of Front Quad. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe in 1948 and is attractive, though of course very retardataire by then. Short colonnades hide the walls E and W, and the Dolphin Building itself is of seven bays, essentially neo-Georgian, but with slightly squared-up details. ...

P8232446-transf-soft-u2-720-u0.5t3-q40.jpg (101038 bytes)          P8232445-crop-h540-u1t5-q60.jpg (55765 bytes)          P8232450-u2-720-u0.5t3-q20.jpg (79609 bytes)          P8232455-tranfs-u2-720-u0.5-q30.jpg (78716 bytes)

The chapel is internally entirely C19 ... Lectern. A delightful piece, an eagle on a baluster, and the eagle is holding in its beak a flower garland which twines round the baluster. The lectern was carved in 1773 by one Snetzler of Oxford. ... Stained glass of the E window by Kempe, 1892. ...


P8232454-crop-levdkmid-u2-720-u0.5t3-q50.jpg (62729 bytes)

In the passage between chapel and hall: ... Richard Lateware, died 1603, small kneeler ... John Case, died 1600, small kneeler.

P8232456-u2-720-u0.5-q60.jpg (74257 bytes)

P8232458-crop-u2-h540-u0.5-q60.jpg (77939 bytes)          P8232459-crop-varlt-u2-h540-u0.5t3-q50.jpg (68097 bytes)          P8232460-crop-u2-h540-u0.5t5-q60.jpg (68533 bytes)          P8232460-crop-varlt-u2-h540-u0.5t5-q50.jpg (65145 bytes)

Pictures in the chapel
(Any information welcomed) 

St John's College Website 

More Oxford at Astoft

Home Architecture Index Email:  Maps Link  (U.K.)

All photographic images in pages within the domains & are Copyright the Website owner 2001 or later unless otherwise stated. Email contact above. Full size 3megapixel originals are available for approved purposes.