No. 38: St Benet’s Hall

St Benet's Hall

St Benet’s Hall comprises a pair of semi-detached large houses that were originally numbered 38 and 39 St Giles’ Street. (The number 39 has now been transferred to a the smaller house to the south that was built thirty years later).

When they were built in about 1830 these two houses were advertised as residences for persons of the first distinction.They were originally just three-storey houses with basements: the top storey and attic rooms were added by St Ursula’s Convent in 1910.

The houses have cast-iron balconies and railings, the latter with lotus finials.

The two houses are jointly Grade II listed (List Entry No. 1369418) and lie in St Giles' parish.

At the time of the 1772 Survey of Oxford, the site of both the present St Benet’s Hall and No. 39a to the south was occupied by Coster’s yard and stable, with a frontage measuring 32 yards 2 feet 6 inches. The present buildings were erected on the site in about 1830.

On 31 March 1849 a forthcoming sale by public competition of eight houses that had belonged to Samuel Collingwood was announced in Jackson’s Oxford Journal. Nos. 38 & 39 were in this group and were described thus:

Lot 3 [No. 39]—All that noble and spacious modern-built FREEHOLD RESIDENCE, adjoining Lot 2, replete with every appointment suitable for the abode of a family of the first distinction. It contains spacious entrance hall, noble staircase and landings; lofty and well-proportioned dining room, 24 feet by 18 feet; elegant drawing room, 23 feet by 18 feet, with three lofty windows opening on to a wide balcony, protected with handsome and massive balustrades; ante room, breakfast room; and four  excellent, large, and commodious bed rooms, with a dressing room to each; three secondary  bed rooms, two water closets, housekeeper’s room, store rooms, &c. &c. The domestic offices (in the basement) are approached by a flight of steps through a front area, which is inclosed with handsome palisades, and include two large kitchens, butler’s pantry, larder, and all convenient offices, together with very extensive and capital cellarage; also a garden, planted with the choicest flowers, shrubs, and walled fruit trees, the whole extending a depth from the street of nearly 200 feet. The stable yard has a carriage entrance from the street, and contains capital stalled stabling for six horses, with lofts over, three lock-up coach houses, saddle rooms, and man servants’ room. The hole is well supplied with excellent spring water, and forms, collectively, a most desirable property either for residence or investment.

Lot 4 [No. 38]— All that noble and spacious modern-built FREEHOLD RESIDENCE, of the same elevation and adjoining Lot 3 [No. 39]; containing spacious entrance hall, noble staircase and landing; lofty and well proportioned dining room, 24 feet by 13 feet; elegant drawing room, 30  feet by 18 feet, with four lofty windows opening on to a balcony similar to Lot 3; breakfast room, fronting the garden; which, together with the sleeping apartments, water closets, and domestic offices, are in all respects similar to Lot 3.This lot is let to the Rev. Dr. Bliss for a term, of which three years were unexpired at Christmas last.

Former No. 38 (north side of St Benet’s Hall)

At the time of the 1841 census, No. 38 was occupied by the Revd Philip Bliss, his wife Sophia, and their four servants. In 1851 it was occupied by Richard Michell, the Public Orator of the University, his wife Amelia, and six children aged eight and under. They were looked after by two nurses, a cook, a housemaid, and a footman. Ten years later they were still there, with two more children. When in 1848 Bliss was appointed Principal of St Mary Hall, he moved from here to the Principal's Lodgings there, where he died the age of 69 on 18 November 1857.

The house was then occupied by Richard Michell, who in 1848 had been appointed Vice-Principal of Magdalen Hall. When he was appointed Principal there in 1868, he too moved out of this house.

In October 1878 Oxford High School, which had been at 16 St Giles, negotiated a two-year lease on the building until it could move into its new premises at 21 Banbury Road in early 1881. By the time of the census in the spring of that year, the house was occupied by Charlotte Cotton, a widow of 73 with an income from real estate, her spinster daughter, and their five servants.

By the time of the 1891 census this was St Ursula's Convent. Marguerite de Leobardy, the Lady Superior, was living here with her father and seven female boarders aged between 11 and 19. Nine members of the teaching staff lived on the premises: teachers of French (2), Arithmetic (2), Music, Painting, Drawing, English, and German. There were also six servants (a housekeeper,cook, laundress, two housemaids, and a kitchen maid).

Former No. 39 (south side of St Benet’s Hall)

At the time of the 1841 census, No. 39 was occupied by Letitia Pett andher four servants. In 1851 it was occupied by Maria Brown (a widowed fundholder) and her two sons (students at Worcester College), plus their two servants.

In 1861 the occupant was Richard Greswell (a clergyman without cure of souls), his wife Joanna, and their daughters Joanna (23) and Helen (20), plus their four servants. Greswell was still in the house at the time of the 1881 census, aged 80, with his two daughters: their servants then comprised a butler, under-butler, nurse, cook, and two housemaids. By 1891 just the daughers Joana Julia Greswell (52) and Helen Margaret Greswell (50), lived here with three servants.

Occupants of 38 & 39 St Giles' Street listed in censuses and directories


38 St Giles

39 St Giles


Philip Bliss, D.C.L.

Mrs Letitia Pett


Rev. Richard Michell
Vice Principal of Magdalen Hall

Mrs Maria Brown


Mrs Greswell (1861)
Revd Richard Greswell (1866–81)
Miss/Misses Greswell (1882–94)


Miss Macbride


Oxford High School


Mrs Charlotte Cotton
(née Pusey, widow of the Revd Richard Lynch Cotton, former Provost of Worcester College)


Rev. S.J. Hulme


Oxford Eye Hospital


St Ursula’s Convent
(Madame de Leobardy)


Charles William Chadwick Oman, M.A.
Fellow of All Souls College
Chichele Professor
of Modern History


Madame de Leobardy


St Ursula’s Convent (Catholic)
High Class Boarding and Day School


St Benet’s Hall (now numbered just 38)

St Giles’ home

Stephanie Jenkins

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