Oxford History: The High


St Mary’s Passage

St Mary’s passage

St Mary’s Passage (often called Radcliffe Street in the nineteenth century) runs northwards from the High Street between Brasenose College and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. It has always been in the parish of the latter.

On the East side after passing the University Church it disappears into Radcliffe Square, which has the Radcliffe Camera (built in 1737–1749) in the centre.

On the West side after passing the side of the new buildings of Brasenose College (built in 1887), there are two more buildings: the former City Arms pub, and Stamford House. Then comes Brasenose College's chapel (1650s) and its main entrance.

Properties on the west side of St Mary's Passage

The 1771 Survey of Oxford listed four buildings on the west side of the passage, running south to north:

  • Mr Alderman Nicholes (with a frontage of 7 yards, 1 foot, 3 inches): roughly
    This roughly equates to the width of the side of Brasenose New Buildings
  • Mr Rumball (with a frontage of 11 yards and 5 inches)
    This is a bit narrower than the City Arms pub building
  • Mrs Stevens (with a frontage of 5 yards 2 feet 9 inches) and Mr Wise (with a frontage of 5 yards 2 feet 4 inches)
    Together they roughly equates to width of Stamford House

Plan of the Brasenose College site in 1909, showing how the former pub (now a house called St Mary's Entry) and Stamford House fitted in between the new buildings facing the High and its chapel.

(1) The former City Arms pub building, now part of Brasenose College

(numbered 1 & 2 Radcliffe Street in the nineteenth century)

This seventeenth-century timber-framed building is Grade II listed (List Entry No. 1046737). It has an overhang above the door supported by fauns. Inside, fireplaces and panelling survive from the seventeenth century: see example.

City Arms

From the sixteenth century to the early 1880s: City Arms pub

The bookseller Joseph Barnes both lived and printed in a building on this site, and also had a licence to sell wine here from 1585 to 1617. The importance of the establishment at this time is indicated by the following item in Oxford City Council's expenses for 1 December 1599: “Wyne and suger and cake and fyer at Mr. Josephe Barnes, Dec. 1, for the Mayor and Vicechancellor and their company, 6s. 11d. Barnes was buried in St Mary the Virgin Church on 17 December 1618, with his occupation given as Typographicus (printer).


Door with green man

On 6 August 1697 Thomas Snow, victualler, applied to put up a sign in St Mary-the-Virgin parish for the Oxford Arms, which may be this pub.

Jackson's Oxford Journal of 29 December 1827 reports that Ann Barton of the City Arms gave evidence in the trial of John Williams, alleged to have murdered Ann Crotchley after leaving the pub.

George Barton was landlord here from at least 1830 to 1842. The 1841 census shows Barton and his wife Ann, who were both aged about 50, living at the pub with an independent young lady called Isabella George and a servant. He described himself as an innkeeper.

In February 1845 John Smith was granted a university wine licence for the City Arms. He described himself in the 1851 census as a publican: aged 45, was living over the City Arms with his wife Mary and their young daughters Mary Ann and Helen, and two servants. The building was divided, and to the north was the tobacconist Joseph Bickerton and his family. In July 1855 Smith was fined for selling beer on a Sunday but his wine licence continued to be renewed. Jackson's Oxford Journal on 26 April 1856 reports that he had to call the police at 11.30pm to turn out two man who were refusing to leave..

By the time of the 1861 census the innkeeper was Benjamin Haywood, and Bickerton still had the north side of the premises.

By 1863 John Henry Sleath is listed as the publican here, but he died at the age of 30 in September 1866, and Mrs Emily Sleath obtained a wine licence in her own name and continued to run the pub.

At the time of the 1871 census the City Arms at 1 Radcliffe Street was occupied by the innkeeper Mrs Sleath, a widow of 41, with her daughter Emily Martha Sleath (6) and one servant; and to the north at 2 Radcliffe Street was John George Betteris (37), who was a billiard keeper employing two young men and two boys, his 22-year-old sister who was a governess. and one servant.

Both Mrs Sleath and Betteris were still here at the time of the 1881 census.

The pub closed down soon after 1881.


Right (above): One of the two gilded fauns that support the overhang above the door.

Right (below): Part of the ornate front door of the City Arms pub, with a Green Man

Below: Four carved wooden figures above the fireplace in one of the first-floor rooms of the former City Arms, framing a large mirror divided into three sections


1884–c.1919: Private house in former pub called “St Mary's Entry”

Jackson's Oxford Journal reported as follows on 11 October 1884 (p. 8d):

In Radcliffe-street the old premises formerly occupied by Betteris's billiard rooms and the City Arms public-house have been completely transformed, by being converted into a private residence for the Rev. Canon Wordsworth. Several interesting bits of old work were brought to light during the alterations, including some fine stone mantelpieces and doorways, showing evidences of late Tudor work, and the commencement of the Jacobean era. In all cases, where practicable, these have been carefully made good and re-used, the new fittings also being designed as far as possible to harmonise therewith. Messrs Wilkinson and Moore were the architects, and Mr. Thomas Selby, of Worcester-place, the contractor.

Canon Wordsworth only lived in the house for a matter of months. He is presumably the Revd John Wordsworth, Fellow of Brasenose College and Canon of Rochester Cathedral, who was appointed Bishop of Salisbury in August 1885.

For the next 35 years the house is listed with the name of St Mary's Entry under Radcliffe Square in Kelly's Directory.

By October 1886 the house was occupied by Falconer Madan, Fellow of Brasenose College, who was then Sub-Librarian at the Bodleian Library.

At the time of the 1891 census the house was occupied by the physician William Collier (35), his wife Anna (24), and three servants. In 1915 it was still occupied by Dr Collier, who was now the Litchfield lecturer in Medicine.

The two images below show the house when Dr Collier lived there: the caption “St Mary's Entry” refers to the name of the house, not the street, which was then deemed to be part of Radcliffe Square. Both are postcards: the first is a photograph, and the second a painting by William Matthison.

St Mary's Passage

St Mary's Entry painted by Matthison

Photograph of St Mary's Entry in 1912 by Francis Frith

c.1919–present: The pub as part of Brasenose College

The building was converted to college rooms by Brasenose College after the First World War. It was described as the Principal's Lodgings in January 1954 when it was listed by English Heritage.

(2) Stamford House

Stamford House was designed by Harry Wilkinson Moore and was built in 1894 by Brasenose College on the site of a shop it owned .

That shop, whose address was 3 Radcliffe Street in the nineteenth century, was then occupied as follows:

  • 1841 & 1851: Harriet Gadney (confectioner)
  • 1861: Sarah Gadney (confectioner)
  • 1871: William Samuel Powell (confectioner)
  • 1881 and 1891: James H. Darwood (grocer).

From 1895 Brasenose let out the new building Stamford House, and then in 1946 took it over.

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 January, 2021

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