St. Edmund Hall

Long before the great Colleges of Oxford were built, the scholars of Oxford lived and were taught in small communities and houses known as Halls, where they were presided over by a Master of Arts. Of these most ancient originals of Oxford communities, only St. Edmund Hall, through accidents of history, still survives. We do not know when St. Edmund Hall was founded, but it was certainly in existence early in the thirtenth century. The first reference to the Hall was in the rent roll of Oseney Abbey and its name derives from St. Edmund of Abingdon, who is traditionally believed to have lived and taught here in the early thirteenth century. The building of the colleges and their admitting undergraduates as well as graduates marked the beginning of the decline of these more ancient academic Halls, a process hastened by the Reformation and their sale by the Crown to Colleges eager to absorb them into their buildings.

After Oseney Abbey was suppressed, the Hall was acquired but not absorbed by the Queen's College in 1557 and although for centuries Queen's appointed the Principal of the Hall, we continued to live a separate and self-determining life. We escaped that final extinction of the other Halls when, in the late nineteenth century, Queen's College decided not to take the final action until the Principalship next fell vacant. The Principal in Office, Dr. Edward Moore, reigned for forty-nine years! When he retired in 1913, the University, realizing now the importance of this link with medieval Oxford, refused to allow the Queen's to absorb us, and King George V in council made an order preserving our separate identity. In the following years, the remaining ties with the Queen's were gradually and amicably broken and in 1957 the Duke of Edinburgh brought from the Queen the Royal Charter granting full collegiate status. But the College kept the ancient name of "Hall", with a sense of pride in its long history and pre-collegiate roots.

The buildings of the College are an architectural record of its long history. Of its medieval foundation only the shaft of the well in the Front Quadrangle, and the chimneyshaft of the Buttery remain. In the Front Quandrangle parts of the north and east wings date from the late sixteenth century. The Old Dining Hall to the west side of the Front Quadrangel was built in 1652. The Chapel to the East, with its old library over ante-chapel, one of Oxford's earliest classical facades, was built in 1680. The Principal's lodgings in the south-west corner are a pleasant example of nineteenth-century Gothic, and the east window of the Chapel is the earliest example of pre-raphaelite stained glass from the then newly-formed company of Burne-Jones and William Morris.

This century has seen an amazing expansion in our territory and building. The Front Quad was completed in 1934 by the building of the Canterbury Block, seven hundred years after Edmund's consecration as Archbishop. Two large residence blocks named after two former Principals in these years of expansion, A.B. Emden and J.N.D. Kelly, tower over our site, with the great new Dining Hall beneath. The old dwellings of the back quadrangle have been replaced by new rooms which still in their name, White Hall, recall another ancient Hall, long since disappeared, which stood on this site. Above the shops on the High Street frontage is the complex of rooms named for Antonin Besse, acquired from Magdalen College in 1952. To the north lies the new library with its gardens, once the parish church of St. Peter-in-the-East, dating back to the twelfth century, but handed over to the College and transformed into one of the most beautiful College libraries in Oxford….

Members of the College live and work among these buildings, this blend of ancient and modern, of old stone and new concrete, a continuing chain of building, from the twelfth to the twentieth century. It is easy to understand how we are part of a society with its roots deep in the past and its life and activities very much in the present.

St. Edmund Hall