Oxford History: The High


All Souls College

All Souls in 2003

A long range of All Souls College runs westwards along the High Street from the corner of Catte Street. The part to the left is jointly Grade I listed as part of the front quadrangle (List Entry No. 1046755) The part to the right is jointly Grade II listed with the Warden's Lodgings to the east (List Entry No. 1046757), and the gateway to the east of those lodgings is separately Grade II listed  (1046758).

All Souls College was founded jointly by Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, and King Henry VI. It was built between 1437/8 and 1443, and was the ninth Oxford college. Originally its Fellows were obliged to take Holy Orders and to engage in further studies after spending three years in the University. They were also expected to pray for the souls of the faithful departed and those killed in the French wars – hence its name.

The college is unique in Oxford today in that it has no undergraduates. Its Fellows undertake research and the supervision of graduate students.

The Universal British Directory of 1791 describes the college thus:

All Souls College is situated in the High-street, westward of Queen’s College. Over the gateway are the statues of the founder, Henry Chichele, and Henry VI.

The first or old court is a decent Gothic edifice, one hundred and twenty-four feet in length and seventy-two in breadth. The chapel on the north side is a stately pile. The ante-chapel, in which are some remarkable monuments, is seventy feet long and thirty broad. We enter the inner chapel, which is of the same dimensions, by a grand flight of marble steps, through a screen constructed by Sir Christopher Wren. The spacious environ of the altar consists of the richest red-vein marble. Above is a fine assumption-piece of the founder, by Sir James Thornhill. The compartment immediately over the communion-table is filled with a picture painted at Rome, in the year 1771, by the celebrated Mr. Mengs. The subject of this piece is our Saviour’s first Appearance to Mary Magdalen after his Resurrection, which is general called, by the painters, a Noli me tangere, in allusion to the first words of Christ’s speech to her, “Touch me not.” This picture is reckoned, by all good judges, to have great merit. The colouring is exquisite; especially in the body of our Saviour. There is something very amiable, mixed with great dignity, in the countenance and character of this figure; while the mild composure of it is finely contrasted by that ecstasy of joy and astonishment which appears on the face of Mary. On the right and left, at the approach to the altar, are two inimitable urns by Sir James Thornhill, respectively representing, in their bas-reliefs, the institution of the two Sacraments. Between the windows, in each side, are figures of saints in chiaro obscuro, bigger than life: four of these represent St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Austin, and St. Gregory, the four Latin fathers, to whom the chapel is dedicated. The ceiling is disposed into compartments embellished with carving and gilding. The whole has an air of much splendour and dignity, and is viewed to the best advantage from the screen.

The hall, which forms one side of an area to the east, is an elegant modern room. It is furnished with portraits of the munificent founder, Colonel Codrington, and Sir Nathaniel Lloyd. At the high table is an historical piece by Sir James Thornhill, whose subject is the Finding of the Law. The figure of Josias, rending his robe, is animated and expressive. Over the chimney-piece, which is handsomely executed in dove-coloured marble, is a bust of the founder: on one side is a bust of Linacre, formerly fellow, a famous physician in the reign of Henry VIII, and on the other of John Leland, a celebrated antiquarian and polite scholar, about the same reign; supposed to have been a member of this house. Here is also a capital full-length statue of Mr. Justice Blackstone, executed by Bacon. The rest of the room is adorned with an admirable series of busts from the antique.

The adjoining buttery is worthy our observation; it is a well -proportioned room, of an oval form, having an arched roof of stone ornamented with curious workmanship. It was built with the hall.

The second court is a magnificent Gothic quadrangle, one hundred and seventy-two feet in length and a hundred and fifty-five in breadth. On the south are the chapel and hall; on the west a cloister, with a grand portico; on the north a library; and on the east two superb Gothic towers in the centre of a series of fine apartments. But, though we have called this court Gothic, it is plainly an imitation only of the Gothic style: and the scenery which it forms, in conjunction with other buildings, is both grand and picturesque.

The library forms the whole north side of this court. It is two hundred feet in length, thirty in breadth, and forty in height; and finished in the most splendid and elegant manner. Its outside, in correspondence to the rest of the court, is Gothic. The room itself is furnished with two noble arrangements of bookcases, one above the other, supported by Doric and Ionic pilasters. The upper middle of the room, on the north side, is a recess equal to the breadth of the whole room; and in its area is placed the statue of Colonel Codrington, the founder of the library. The ceiling and spaces between the windows are ornamented with the richest stucco by Mr. Roberts. Over the gallery a series of bronzes is interchangeably disposed, consisting of vases and the busts of many eminent men, formerly fellows of this house.

The engraving below shows the fifteenth-century High Street frontage of All Souls College in 1834.

All Souls in 1834

At the time of the 1901 census, the All Souls porter, James Trendell, lived in the lodge on the High with his wife and daughter, who was a mantle maker.

Official All Souls College website

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 19 July, 2018

The High home Small Shark Oxford History home