HAHG Talk: A Short History of the University of Oxford

Beam Hall, Merton Street, Oxford


The new season of Henley Archaeological and Historical Group’s regular talks started on 4 October with Alastair Lack, a Green Badge Guide, on a ‘Short History of the University of Oxford’.

Oxford started as a centre of learning in the late Saxon period, helped by its position on the borders of the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex and its relatively good access to London and continental Europe. It began as a collection of some 150 ‘halls of residence’ (such as Beam Hall in Merton Street, pictured) and most tuition took place in the church of St Mary the Virgin. The University benefited from the generosity of the rich and powerful and more substantial colleges were founded, starting with University College in 1249 (initially with 4 students), followed by Balliol (1263) and Merton (1264). The founding of New College by the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, set the standard for academia.

Besides other colleges, the University comprises other early institutions, notably the Ashmolean Museum, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Radcliffe Camera and the Clarendon Building, originally the home of the Oxford University Press. Oxford continues to establish new institutions, including the recent Oxford Internet Institute.

The student body now numbers around 24,000; the proportion of women students has increased to about half this total and postgraduate students (many of whom are from overseas) also now account for around 50%.

The next talk will be given at the Kings Arms Barn, on 1 November at 7.45, by Bill King on ‘The Roman Invasions, Occupation and Colonisation of Britain’.