Oxford History: The High


74, 75, & 76: Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art

74 High Street

This building on the corner of Merton Street, now occupied by the Ruskin School, was designed by T. G. Jackson and completed in 1887, five years after the adjoining Examination Schools. It was built of Caen and Gibraltar with Corsham and Doulton stone, and Taynton slates for the roof.

It is a Grade II listed building (List Entry No. 1369365), and the previous shops on this site and the Ruskin School were in St Peter-in-the East parish until that parish was united with St Cross parish in 1957. .

This building and the Examination Schools together necessitated the destruction of nine shops. Although the present Ruskin School is officially numbered 74, it is 66 feet wide and in fact occupies the site of three former shops at Nos. 74–76 High Street.

Jackson's Oxford Journal of 15 October 1887 reported as follows on the new building:

The blank space which was left at the east end of the new Examination Schools in the High-street at the time of their creation has now been filled in with the block to be placed at the disposal of the Delegacy for Unattached Students, Mr. T. G. Jackson being the architect. The building consists of basement, ground floor, and two stories above, 68ft. long, facing the “High,” and 83ft. over all from north to south. In the basement are porter's lodgings, a day room for non-collegiate students, lavatory, kitchen, Offices, &c. On the ground floor are examination rooms for the Oxford Local Examination and the Delegacy, with a clerk's room. The largest of these is 33ft. by 15ft., and the smaller 26ft. by 15ft. The first floor is mainly devoted to the library, which is approached by a wide and handsome staircase, the dividing walls being opened by arches with circular heads. The library itself is 33ft. by 35ft., and is divided by an arcade of three bays, with five pillars on moulded bases, and the arches resting upon boldly-moulded caps. The remainder of the space is occupied by a Censor's room 24ft. square, and on the top floor there are Tutors' rooms, the largest 23ft. by 24ft. The King-street [Merton Street] front is certainly effective, the leading feature being the octagonal oriel at the south-east angle. Caen and Gibraltar stone with Corsham and Doulton have been employed, and the roof is covered with Taynton slates. The old building which obstructed the view of the east front of the Schools has been removed, and a low stone wall with moulded coping, surmounted by wrought-iron work is to be erected. The building is heated with a similar apparatus to that employed successfully in the Schools.

The two original occupants of this new building from 1888 were:

  • The Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board, founded in 1873 to provide external examinations for pupils at public schools. It was based in this building from 1888 to 1964, when it moved to Elsfield Way. In the late 1990s it moved to Cambridge when it joined OCRA (the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations Board)
  • The Non-Collegiate Students’ Delegacy. Non-collegiate (formerly known as unattached) students were admitted to the University from 1867, to open it up to “a much larger and poorer class”. The Delegacy became known as St Catherine’s Society in 1931, and remained in the building until 1936, when it moved to St Aldate's Street (the building now occupied by the Faculty of Music).

Here is a description of the new building from Kelly’s Directory for 1891:

Adjoining the east end of the Examination Schools, and facing the High street, is the new building, erected during the years 1887–8, for the Delegacy of Unattached Students, from the designs of T. G. Jackson esq. M.A.; it accords in style with that of the schools, and is arranged in three floors, with three gabled bays towards High street; the King Street [Merton Street] front being relieved at the angle by a fine circular oriel supported on octagonal corbelling, and terminating upwards in a cupola with finial; on the ground floor are examination rooms for the Delegacy and the Oxford Local Examination Board, with a clerk’s room; the first floor is mainly devoted to the library, 31 by 35 feet, divided by an arcade of three bays, with fine pillars on moulded bases; and the remaining space is occupied by a Censor’s room; on the top floor are tutors’ rooms, and in the basement the porter’s lodgings, a day-room for non-collegiate students, lavatory, kitchen, offices &c.

The 1891 and 1901 censuses shows the porter, William Biggs, living in this building with his wife and son. By 1911 the porter living here with his wife was William James Rutherford (36).

The present occupant of the building, the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, was founded by John Ruskin (then Professor of Fine Art) in 1871 and was based in the Ashmolean Museum until it moved here in 1975.

Former shops on this site

The Revd W. Tuckwell in his Reminiscences of Oxford describes two of the shops that were on this site in the 1830s, saying,

From Coach and Horse Lane [Merton Street] to the Angel stretched a great block of shops, swept away to make room for the new schools. The corner house (No 74] was tenanted by James, a confectioner, cook of Alban Hall, where the traditional dinner grace ran, ‘For what James allows us make us truly thankful’: another [No. 75] exhibited the graceful plaster casts of Guidotti, an Italian image-seller with an extremely handsome English wife.

The 1851 census shows Vicenzo Guidotti (40) living at No. 75 with his wife Harriett, aged 35, and his children Harriett, Clementina, Antonio, Vicenzo, Rafello, and Angelina. They had a male cook and three lodgers (a widowed schoolmistress and her two daughters).

Occupiers of the site of former 74–76 High Street
Darker background = former buildings on this site, now demolished


74 High Street

75 High Street

76 High Street

By 1846–1852

Robert James

Vincent Guidotti
Figure maker

Thomas Harris
 Boot & shoe maker 


Miss James
(to 1874)

James French,
Butcher & greengrocer


Joseph Colegrove 

J. H. Brewer
Cab & fly office


Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board (to 1914 only)
Non-Collegiate Students’ Delegacy


Delegates for the Examination of Schools,
Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board


Oxford University Registry Annexe


Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 30 June, 2018

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