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Wadham College


Wadham College

Colleges and halls of the University of Oxford

Wadham College

College name Wadham College
Named after Dorothy (née Petre) and Nicholas Wadham
Established 1610 (1610)
Sister college Christ's College, Cambridge
Warden Lord Ken Macdonald QC
Undergraduates 447[1] (2011/2012)
Graduates 149
Location Parks Road

Wadham College, Oxford

Location of Wadham College within central OxfordCoordinates: 51°45′21″N 1°15′17″W / 51.755871°N 1.254593°W / 51.755871; -1.254593

Blazon Gules, a chevron between 3 roses argent barbed vert (Wadham); impaling Gules, a bend or between 2 escallops argent (Petre)[2]

Wadham College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, located at the southern end of Parks Road in central Oxford. It was founded by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham, wealthy Somerset landowners, during the reign of King James I.

Wadham is a liberal and progressive college, renowned for its left-wing politics and the diversity of its student body.[3][4] As of 2009, it has an estimated financial endowment of £66 million,[5] and in 2011/2012 ranked 4th in the Norrington Table.[6]


The college was founded by Dorothy Wadham (née Petre) in 1610,[7] using money left by her husband Nicholas Wadham for the purpose of endowing an Oxford college. In a period of only four years, she gained royal and ecclesiastical support for the new college, negotiated the purchase of a site, appointed the west country architect William Arnold, drew up the college statutes, and appointed the first warden, fellows, scholars, and cook. Although she never visited Oxford, she kept tight control of her new college and its finances until her death in 1618.

Under the original statutes, women were forbidden from entering the college, with the exception of a laundress who was to be of 'such age, condition, and reputation as to be above suspicion.'[7] These rules were relaxed over the years, and in 1974 Wadham was among the first group of five men's colleges to admit women as full members, the others being Brasenose, Jesus, Hertford and St Catherine's.[8]

In 1968, as student protests became commonplace at centres of learning in Europe and the Americas, the Warden and Fellows are reported to have sent this reply to a set of "non-negotiable demands":[9]

Dear Gentlemen: We note your threat to take what you call 'direct action' unless your demands are immediately met. We feel it is only sporting to remind you that our governing body includes three experts in chemical warfare, two ex-commandos skilled with dynamite and torturing prisoners, four qualified marksmen in both small arms and rifles, two ex-artillerymen, one holder of the Victoria Cross, four karate experts and a chaplain. The governing body has authorized me to tell you that we look forward with confidence to what you call a 'confrontation,' and I may say, with anticipation.

The letter seemed to have dimmed the students' fire, was reprinted in Harper's Bazaar,[10] and cited in newspaper columns[11] and speeches[12] for at least two years following its publication.

Modern day

The college now consists of some 55 Fellows, about 130–150 graduate students, and about 450 undergraduates. In 2011/2012 it ranked 4th in the Norrington Table.[6] The current Warden is Lord Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions. Lord Macdonald succeeded Sir Neil Chalmers as Warden upon his retirement in 2012.

It also has a reputation as a strong supporter of gay rights, and plays host to "Queerfest", a celebration of the LGBTQ cause popular with students of all colleges and sexual orientations. The event provides subtle continuity to the heritage of former warden Robert Thistlethwayte, who fled England in 1739 after a homosexual scandal prompting the limerick:

There once was a Warden of Wadham
Who approved of the folkways of Sodom,
For a man might, he said,
Have a very poor head
But be a fine Fellow at bottom.[13]

In 2011, as part of its annual Queerweek, became the first Oxbridge college to fly the Rainbow Flag in support of equality.[14]

In January 2013, skeletons were discovered during building works on College grounds. These were found to be medieval in origin, contrary to previous rumours of bullet wounds being found on one of the bodies.[15][16]


Main quad

Although it is one of the youngest of the historic colleges, Wadham has some of the oldest and best preserved buildings, a result of the rash of rebuilding that occurred throughout Oxford during the 17th century. It is often considered as perhaps the last major English public building to be created according to the mediaeval tradition of the master mason. Wadham's front quad, which served as almost the entire college until the mid-20th century, is also the first example of the "Jacobean Gothic" style that was adopted for many of the University's buildings.

The main building was erected in a single building operation in 1610–13. The architect or master mason, William Arnold, was also responsible for Montacute House and Dunster Castle in Somerset, and was involved in the building of Hatfield House for Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, James I’s Lord Treasurer. The style of the building is a fairly traditional Oxford Gothic, modified by classical decorative detail, most notably the 'frontispiece' framing statues of James I and the Founders immediately facing visitors as they enter the College. Classical, too, is the over-powering emphasis on symmetry. The central quadrangle was originally gravelled throughout; the present lawn was laid down in 1809.


The hall, one of the largest in Oxford, is notable for its great hammer-beam roof and for the Jacobean woodwork of the entrance screen. The portraits include those of the founders and of distinguished members of the college. The large portrait in the gallery is of Lord Lovelace, who held Oxford for William of Orange during the Revolution of 1688; the inscription records his role in freeing England 'from popery and slavery'.


Although a ceremonial door opens directly into Front Quad, the chapel usually is reached through the door in staircase 3. The screen, similar to that in the hall, was carved by John Bolton (he was paid £82 for both). Originally Jacobean woodwork ran right round the chapel. The present stone reredos was inserted in the east end in 1834. The monumental East window depicting Jonah's whale, top right, was made by a Dutchman, Bernard van Linge, for £113 in 1622. The elegant young man reclining on his monument is Sir John Portman, baronet, who died in 1624 as a nineteen-year-old undergraduate. Another monument is in the form of a pile of books; it commemorates Thomas Harris, one of the fellows of the college appointed at the foundation. He died in 1614, aged 20. The Chapel organ dates from 1862. It is one of the few instruments by Henry Willis, the doyen of Victorian English organ builders, to survive without substantial modification of its tonal design. It is thought that the chapel was the first religious building in England to regain its stained glass and statuary following the reformation.

Holywell Music Room

In the college grounds is also the Holywell Music Room, probably the oldest building of its kind in Europe. It was designed by Thomas Camplin, at that time Vice-Principal of St Edmund Hall, and opened in July 1748. The interior has been restored to a near-replica of the original and contains the only surviving Donaldson organ, built in 1790 by John Donaldson of Newcastle and installed in 1985 after being restored.

Ferdowsi Library

The Ferdowsi Library (formerly the Ashraf Pahlavi Library), specialising in Persian literature, art, history, and culture, is unique among the college libraries of Oxford. It possesses about 3,500 volumes, almost 800 manuscripts, about 200 lithographs in Arabic and Persian, and about 700 rare and early Armenian books, most of which were donated by Dr. Caro Minasian.[17]

At the end of the 1960s, the Warden, Sir Maurice Bowra, President of the British Academy and one of the first co-founders of the British Institute of Persian Studies (BIPS), welcomed a donation to construct the building of the New Library in Wadham, where the emphasis would be given to Persian Studies and the post in Persian. Since then a special connection between Wadham and Iran has been established.[17]

The Wadham library was founded by funds from the then Iranian monarchy in 1976, the Pahlavi dynasty. The funds were secured by Fellow and tutor in economics, Eprime Eshag.[17][18]

Expansions and renewals

A dramatic expansion since 1952 has made use of a range of 17th- and 18th-century houses, a converted warehouse originally built to store bibles, and several modern buildings designed by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, and the Bowra Building by Sir Richard MacCormac of MJP Architects. The college was refaced in the 1960s, and much of the front quad has undergone further restoration work. In July 2011, construction on a new graduate centre began on the college's back quad.


Even without the land sold to build Rhodes House in the 1920s, Wadham Gardens remain relatively large when compared with those of other Oxford colleges. Originally a series of orchards and market-gardens carved out from the property of the previously existing Augustinian priory, their appearance and configuration have been significantly modified over the course of the last four hundred years to reflect their constantly changing functional and aesthetic purpose.

The land was shaped, in particular, by two major periods of planning. Gardens were first created under Warden Wilkins (1648–59) as a series of formal rectangles laid out around a (then fashionable) mound which was, in turn, surmounted by a figure of Atlas. These gardens were notable not least for their collection of mechanical contrivances (including a talking statue and a rainbow-maker), a number of obelisks and a Doric temple.[19] Under Warden Wills (1783–1806), the terrain was then radically remodelled and landscaped (by Shipley) and became notable for a distinguished collection of trees.

Restored and reshaped following the Second World War, the present Gardens are divided into the Warden's Garden, the Fellows’ Private Garden and the Fellows’ Garden, together with the Cloister Garden (originally the cemetery) and the White Scented Garden. They are still notable for their collection of trees (specimens include a holm oak, silver pendent lime, tulip tree, golden yew, purple beech, cedar of Lebanon, ginkgo, giant redwood, tree of heaven, incense cedar, Corsican pine, magnolia and a rare Chinese gutta-percha) and they still contain a number of vestigial curiosities from the past (notably an 18th-century 'cowshed' set into the remnants of the Royalist earthworks of 1642, and a sculpture of Warden Bowra).

Student life

Wadham College Boat Club is the rowing club for students at Wadham, and due to an affiliation it also allows Harris Manchester College students to join. The college boat house is located on Boathouse Island.

People associated with Wadham

Main article: List of Wadham College people

Notable members of the college in its early years include Robert Blake, Cromwell's admiral and founder of British sea-power in the Mediterranean, the libertine poet and courtier John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester and Christopher Wren. Wren attended the meetings of scientifically inclined scholars which were held by Warden John Wilkins (Cromwell's brother-in-law) in the college in the 1650s. Those attending formed the nucleus of the Royal Society at its foundation in 1662.

Arthur Onslow (1708), a great Speaker of the House of Commons, and Richard Bethell, who became Lord Chancellor as Lord Westbury in 1861, were members of the college.

Two 20th-century Lord Chancellors, F. E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead) and John Simon, were undergraduates together in the 1890s, along with the sportsman C. B. Fry; Sir Thomas Beecham was an undergraduate in 1897, though soon abandoning Oxford for his musical career.

Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell, who was Churchill's scientific adviser during the Second World War, was a fellow of the college. Cecil Day-Lewis, later Poet-Laureate, came up in 1923, and Michael Foot M.P. in 1931. Sir Maurice Bowra, scholar and wit, was Warden between 1938 and 1970.

Among recent members have been Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Dyson, former Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and current Master of the Rolls, author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg and novelist Monica Ali.

Wasim Sajjad, a leading senior lawyer in Pakistan, who served as the Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan and also as the President of Pakistan for two non-consecutive terms studied in the college on a Rhodes scholarship and was also elected as the Honorary Fellow of the college in 1966.


External links

  • Wadham College
    • Wadham College Student Union
    • Wadham College Middle Common Room
    • Wadham College Boat Club
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