Oxford History: The High


24–31: Brasenose College new buildings

24–31 High Street

These Brasenose College buildings that face the High Street were built in two phases: the tower and the four bays to the right in 1887, and the three bays to the left in 1911. They were designed by the well-known later Victorian architect T. G. Jackson, and both sections are Grade II listed (List Entry for 1887 section is 1046735, and for 1911 section is 1046736).

In all, Brasenose demolished eight shops and Amsterdam Court behind in order to build its New Quadrangle stretching down to the High.

A parish boundary ran down the middle of the demolished shops. Nos. 24–27 to the west were in the parish of All Saints, while Nos. 28–31 to the east were in the parish of St Mary-the-Virgin.

First phase of Brasenose New Buildings (1887): Tower and bays to east

First part of Brasenose building


The photograph on the left shows the above scene as it was between 1887 and 1910.

At this stage only four of the seven bays of Brasenose New Buildings had been built (replacing 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31 High Street)

The new tower the left of them was on the site of the former Amsterdam Passage, now Brasenose's Amsterdam Quad.

To the west of the tower is a small section of temporary wall linked to the shops at No. 26, 25, and 24 High Street, which were not demolished until prior to the second phase of building in 1911.



Jackson's Oxford Journal of 15 October 1887 reported thus on the first phase of this development (on the site of the four shops Nos. 27–31), showing how the plans were altered at the last minute :

An extensive line of buildings is to be added to Brasenose, and to provide room for these a row of shops — Messrs. Standen and Co., Bassett, Gee, and Tester's — have succumbed to the pick-axe and the crowbar, and a long tract is laid bare. Eventually, when leases have expired, we believe there is an intention of continuing the base of operations as far as All Saints, but that idea is yet but a dream of the future.

The plans had been accepted, and the foundations had reached an advanced stage, when objections were made, and the designs for all the main portions of the buildings above the line of the street were recalled. A serious difficulty had arisen as to the incongruity of the block—and particularly the tower— with the steeples of St. Mary-the-Virgin and All Saints. There was some hesitation before the present designs were accepted, to risk a work which must, to a certain degree, be experimental, and which might, if incorrectly designed, mar the beauty of the incomparable “High,” which has been well and truly said to have no equal in the world in point of architectural beauty. At the eleventh hour the accepted plans were rejected, and new designs are in course of completion.

Mr. Mogford, the clerk of the works, beyond the foundations, which, having been almost completed, are to remain unaltered, has as yet had no further official instructions with regard to future movements. We have been able, however, to ascertain that the whole superstructure is to be materially altered; that the tower hitherto intended to stand back some distance from the line of frontage is now to be brought on a level with the street, and to be, perhaps, of dwarf construction. The basements on which the men are now at work are the Principal's house, sets of Undergraduate's rooms, and the foundations of a tower.

The following report appeared in The Times (of London) on 17 October 1888:

The Brasenose block promises to be a handsome addition to the High Street, according well with the frontages of the University Church and All Souls. The architect, Mr. T. G. Jackson, has designed a front of good 15th century perpendicular, bold, and pleasing to the eye. The block includes a tower which will be one of the main features of the street. It comprises a Tudor archway leading into an Amsterdam quad, with a groined roof, over which the first story has three double windows with carved spandrils, their heads fitted with quatrefoil and trefoil lights. Above these are a second and a turret story, and the total height is about 62ft. The portion of the building now constructing is to cost £12,000.

A very full description of the first phase of this building work is given in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 12 October 1889. The architect T. G. Jackson in the Magazine of Art for 1888 described the buildings thus:

Various considerations, partly those of expense, prevailed with the College to content themselves with a less ambitious scheme [than that including the crown steeple] and we have returned to a simple gateway tower.... The front consists of a gateway tower with the royal arms and supporters over the arch, signifying the proper style of the College as the “King's Hall and College of Brasenose.” Above are two niches destined for statues of Bishop Smyth and Sir Richard Sutton, the founders. To the west of the tower are three, and to the right four gables, each with a projecting oriel on the first floor; and at the corner next St. Mary's is an octagonal bay, crowned with a spirelet. This end of the front is allotted to the Principal's house, which runs backward towards the Chapel.

The two niches remained empty.

Second phase of Brasenose New Buildings (1911): Three bays to the west

It was reported in The Times (of London) on 19 August 1910 (33 years after the opening of the first phase) that the Brasenose buildings were incomplete, and that

it was only last year that the aged Bishop of Lincoln (the late Dr. King), as Visitor of the College, laid the foundation-stone of the remaining portion — a worthy commemoration of the 400th birthday of Brasenose. The builders have worked quickly since that day, and now it is possible to see what the completed front will look like — very harmonious, very academical, and as perfectly in keeping with the place as with the needs of future undergraduates.

The postcard below dating from about 1910 shows All Saints' Church on the left, then the five houses to the east (19–23 High Street) which were originally included in the plan but were spared. Phase 2 of the Brasenose new buildings are in the process of being erected behind the scaffolding.

Brasenose behind scaffolding

The Oxford Chronicle of 14 October 1910 (p. 8) has a full report on Phase 2 of Brasenose College's High Street buildings, which comprised 16 sets of rooms (14 for undergraduates and two for fellows), a basement with heating apparatus, rooms for servants, cellars, and storerooms. It was fitted with a set of new lavatories, including eight baths and six shower baths.

Some of the shops that stood on the High Street frontage of this site

Brasenose site in 1814

Spiers ad
Advertisement for Spiers at 28 High Street
in Jackson's Oxford Journal, 6 November 1813

The above detail from a plan of 1814 shows the shops that once stood on this site. From left to right they are:

  • No. 26: Sawell (as per 1841 census)
  • Entrance to Amsterdam Court
  • ?: Cox = Frederick Cox, ladies' shoe maker in 1839
  • No. 27: Hester: an error for Tester, fishmonger
  • No. 28: Spiers = Richard Spiers, manufacturer of ornamental hair, who remained here until 1834
  • No. 29: Barrett (G. Bridges, perfumery & stationer in 1839)
  • No. 30: Lodgings of the Principal of Brasenose
  • No. 31: Sindry = Mary Sindry, jeweller

Then comes the entrance to St Mary's Passage, with the Oxford Arms pub marked behind Sindry's shop.

Photograph of the former buildings on this site taken by William Henry Fox Talbot in c.1840
This shows part of 23 High Street, which still survives, on the left, but all the buildings after that
(Nos. 24–31 ) were demolished by Brasenose College, including the tall square building
which was their Principal's Lodgings at No. 29 and the shop to the right (No. 31)


Nos. 24 & 25 (All Saints parish)

The carver & gilder James Ryman occupied No. 24 by 1839, and at the time of the 1841 census he was living over this shop with his wife Jane and their servant.

The 1851 census shows Jane Ryman (her husband apparently absent for the night) was living over Nos. 24 and 25 with two servants.

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) records in his diaries a number of visits to Ryman's shop buy prints and to view paintinigs being exhibited.

The Rymans moved into No. 23 next door when their old pair of shops was demolished by Brasenose College in 1909.

No. 26 (All Saints parish)

William Sawall, a perfumer, appears to have occupied No. 26 by 1814, and at the time of the 1841 census was living over this shop with his servant.

At the time of the 1851 census the photographer Edward Bracher lived over No. 26 with his wife, two little children, and two servants. He took shilling photographic portraits in his studio there, and in about 1856 at the age of 14 Henry Taunt, the famous Victorian/Edwardian photographer, started his photographic career here with Bracher. In December 1864 Bracher was advertising carte de visite portraits (ten for half a guinea, 24 for one guinea). In April 1866 Bracher sold his business to Wheeler & Day, who transferred it to 106 High Street, together with Bracher himself.

By 1866, however, the shop had been taken over by R. E. Farrant, a turner and brushman, and Taunt had moved to a shop of his own in Cornmarket. In 1874 he moved to 9–10 Broad Street, but moved back to the High Street in 1894 when the lease ran out, spending a year or so at No. 41 and then moving to No. 34.

It then became a berlin wool repository run by three different women until it was demolished in 1909.

Here was Amsterdam Court

An anomaly (All Saints parish)

There is some confusion here, as Cox is shown on the plan as having premises to the east of Amsterdam passage, and certainly by the 1830a the shoemaker Frederick Cox was here. At the time of the 1841 census Cox was living here with his eight young children and a female servant. By 1843 he was bankrupt

Charles Maltby, another boot & shoemaker, announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 31 January 1846 that he had taken over these premises.

No. 27 (All Saints parish)

Samuel Tester had this shop by 1818 (and the “Hester” name on the above plan of 1814 is likely to be an error for “Tester”). The Tester family remained here until their shop was demolished in 1876.

At the time of the 1841 census Mrs Susan Tester lived here over her shop here with her children Elizabeth, Mary, Robert, John, and George, plus two female servants. She was still here In 1851 with her son Robert Tester (34), who was now a partner in the family fishmonger business), her daughters Elizabeth (26) and Mary (24), and a servant. She died in 1854.

The Tester family tomb still survives in the churchyard of the former All Saints Church. It reads:

Samuel Tester, died 1 May 1879, aged 86. Susan wife of Samuel Tester died 20 April 1854, aged 67. John son of Samuel & Susan Tester, died 16 August 1845, aged 27. Elizabeth Whiting, daughter of Samuel & Susan Tester, died 25 October 1880 aged 58 years. Also Robert, son of Samuel & Susan Tester, died 30 March 1882 aged 65 years.

The shop remained Tester's Fish Market until the shop was demolished in 1887.

No. 28 (St Mary-the-Virgin parish)

Richard Spiers had a hairdressing shop here by 1816. His son Richard James Spiers went into partnership with him in October 1832, and on 6 March 1834 moved to his better-known shop at 102 High Street.

On 13 August 1834 the mercer Edward Standen, who had married Richard James Spiers' sister Katherine, took over Spiers' former shop here. At the time of the 1841 census Edward Standen lived over this shop with his wife Katherine and their children Richard (5), Edward (4), George (3), and Katherine (2), plus two female servants. He died in Shetland on 25 July 1845 at the age of 35, and his wife continued to run the shop. Standen & Co. remained here into the 1860s.

By 1866 W. H. Gee had a secondhand bookshop here, and he remained

No. 29 (St Mary-the-Virgin parish)

At the time of the 1841 census the stationer George Bridges lived over this shop with his wife Jane, his son Charles who helped in the shop, and his daughter Jane, plus one female servant.

No. 30 (St Mary-the-Virgin parish)

At the time of the 1841 census this would have been the home of the Principal of Brasenose College, Richard Harington, but he appears to have been elsewhere on census night.

No. 31 (St Mary-the-Virgin parish)

James Sindry was a silversmith here by 1796, and the business was later taken over by Mary Sindry.

At the time of the 1841 census the jeweller Elizabeth Hickman lived over this shop with Emma Boxall and her daughter Diana, plus three servants and two lodgers with their servants.

Amsterdam Court

Amsterdam Court (or simply “Amsterdam” as it is usually described in directories) was a narrow passage owned by Brasenose College which until 1911 ran between 26 and 27 High Street. Originally Amsterdam stretched back almost to Lincoln College, but in the 1820s Brasenose cut it off roughly level with its chapel. In medieval times Broadgates Hall stood on this site.

Anthony Wood first mentions the court on 3 May 1667, when he wrote: “For whey at several times at Amsterdam, 4d.”, and it appears there was some kind of small inn there at that time. In July 1669 and again July 1671 he writes about two visiting Benedictine monks who stayed there, Father John Huddleston and Father Thomas Vincent, saying on the second occasion, “Their lodging was in Allsaints parish, in the back-side housing called Amsterdam.”

In the 1772 Survey of Oxford, the following three people are listed as having a house and passage to Amsterdam:

  • Mr Spiers L (frontage: 6 yards 1 foot 11 inches)
  • Mr Brown (frontage: 4 yards 1 foot 3 inches)
  • Mr Benford (frontage: 3 yards 2 feet 8 inches).

At the time of the 1841 census five houses, occupied by the following Brasenose College servants, were listed under Amsterdam Court:

  • Timothy Miller, the Porter of the college, with his wife and four children and an independent lady lodger
  • Samuel Seaborne, college servant, with his wife and five children and four lodgers (a plasterer, a gilder, a young college servant, and an independent lady). This group had their own servant girl
  • Adam Owen, servant, with his wife and seven children, and a 12-year-old girl. This family had its own servant girl
  • John Hedges, college servant, and his wife and three children, and another young woman. This family also had its own servant girl
  • James West, college servant, and his wife and two daughters.

The cottages in the passage were pulled down by Brasenose College in 1881. Jackson's Oxford Journal of 15 October that year reported:

A very considerable addition has just been commenced at this College, the whole of the cottages and shops in the passage known as “Amsterdam” having recently been pulled down to make room for about 30 sets of rooms and two lecture rooms. The area at present cleared is about 150 feet from north to south, by about 46 feet from east to west, but in course of time the extension will be carried to High-street. Owing to the nature of the soil the foundations have had to be dug to a depth of 29 feet, and upon the gravel no less than six feet of concrete has been placed, surmounted with stonework. The buildings will consist of basement, ground, first, and second floors. In the excavations which have been made some interesting specimens of pottery, coins, and other articles have been found. The architect is Mr. Jackson, of London, and the clerk of the works Mr. T. Mockford, but the contract for the building itself has not yet been let.

The Times of 25 October 1886, reporting on the new development, stated that “the back lane, known as 'Amsterdam,' has now entirely disappeared.”

This photograph dating from 1908 shows on the right the new “Tudor archway” of 1888 leading into Amsterdam quad, but this too was demolished in preparation for Brasenose's 1911 range of buildings:

The old passage now lies under the west side of the New Quadrangle, and the passage between Staircases XI and XII is called Amsterdam in its memory.


Occupiers of the site, 1814–1911
Darker background = former buildings on this site, now demolished

West: All Saints parish

East: St Mary-the Virgin parish


 High St

High St

High St





High St

High St

High St

High St



William Sawell

Frederick Cox
Ladies’ shoe maker

Samuel Tester


Mrs Tester
by 1880


Tester's Fish Market
by 1882

Richard Spiers


Lodgings of Principal of Brasenose College




Edward Standen
Mercer & Shirtmaker
(died 1845)

then his widow
Mrs Katherine Sirman Standen

Standen & Co.
Tailors, robe-makers, shirt-makers, hosiers, hatters, & glovers
(moved to No. No.31 in June 1862)



Mrs Elizabeth Hickman


James Ryman

Printseller in 1846


Carver & gilder, Printseller
1852– 1861

Printseller, publisher, & frame maker
in 1876


Ryman & Co.
Print sellers & publishers
from 1898

Charles Maltby
Boot & shoemaker


Edward Bracher
British & Foreign Warehouse,

Oxford University Portrait Rooms


Stationer & fancy warehouse-man

Mrs Bridges

J. Bridges
in 1866


Richard J. Hansard
Surgeon (1852)

T. R. Marshall (to 1856)

Henry Carter
(from April 1856 to 1861)


R. E. Farrant
Turner & brush-maker

W. H. Gee
Secondhand bookseller

Standen & Co.
Tailors & robe makers (from June 1862)


Mrs Winfield
Berlin wool repository

Edward Bassett
Hair cutter & stationer

Mrs Bassett
by 1880


Miss Wright
Berlin wool & fancy repository


Miss A. E. Stew
Berlin wool repository

1887 extension to
Brasenose College

(four gables and corner turret at St Mary's Passage,
with tower on left in front of Amsterdam Passage)


Misses Gilbert
Berlin wool repository




1911 extension to
Brasenose College

(three gables)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 16 January, 2022

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