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This is the place to search for places and things of interest to visit in Britain, by name, location, type, keyword – or just have a browse. It is a growing directory – over 780 entries as of June 2020. Most entries have links for further information.
Colleges and libraries
All Souls College was founded By Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry VI in 1438. It doesn’t have any students. Its purpose is to allow graduate fellows to undertake further studies and pray for the souls of all the faithful departed. The entrance exam is said to be one of the hardest in the world and is followed up with an interview. Past fellows include Christopher Wren, TE Lawrence, Leo Amery, Cosmo Lang, AL Rowse, Keith Joseph and John Redwood. Many college buildings, including the chapel, date from 15th and 16th centuries. The Codrington Library was completed in 1751.
Every hundred years, All Souls holds the ritual of 'hunting the mallard', in commemoration of the chase after a huge wild duck which flew from a drain during 15th-century building works. Archbishop Chichele is said to have had a premonition about the duck in a dream - as you do. The last commemoration took place in 2001, late at night and allegedly after much drinking and eating, when some of the finest minds in the world marched around their college behind a wooden duck held aloft on a pole.
Balliol is one of the colleges of Oxford University. It was founded by John de Balliol in 1263, has occupied the same site ever since and claims to be the oldest college in Oxford, and the world. Its attractive buildings are predominantly Victorian, however. Balliol's widow Dervorguilla of Galloway, established a permanent endowment and their son, John, was King of Scotland. Balliol has an impressive list of alumni, which includes writers, politicians and scientists. A few random examples: Boris Johnson, Robert Peston, Herbert Asquith, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene and William Beveridge.
Visitors can tour the grounds and some of the buildings, except when college events take place.
The Bodleian Library is the largest of several libraries within the University of Oxford collectively and confusingly known as the Bodleian Libraries. The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, in Britain is second in size only to the British Library and has been a library of legal deposit for 400 years. Together, the Bodleian Libraries hold over 13 million printed items. College libraries, some of which are older than the Bodleian, are entirely independent.
The University’s first library was in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in a room which still exists as a vestry and a meeting room for the church. In the 15th C, Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester and younger brother of King Henry V, gave the University his priceless collection of more than 281 manuscripts, including several important classical texts. The University decided to build a new library for them over the then new Divinity School; it was begun in 1478 and finally opened in 1488. However, the collection was destroyed by the Dean of Christ Church in 1550 as part of an attempt to purge the English church of all traces of Catholicism. Sir Thomas Bodley (1545–1613), a diplomat and Fellow of Merton College, came to the rescue. He had married a rich widow (whose husband had made his fortune in pilchards) and decided to "set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose, than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students". The Bodleian Library opened in 1602, incorporating the earlier 15th century library. Known to many simply as ‘the Bod’, these buildings are still used by students and scholars from all over the world.
There are three buildings across the Bodleian Libraries accessible to visitors: the Old Bodleian Library, the magnificent Georgian Radcliffe Camera and the modern Weston Library. The old Divinity School, with a fabulously intricate vaulted ceiling, is underneath Duke Humfrey's library.
The British Library receives a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland. In addition to books (including early printed books), the collection includes manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazines, prints , drawings, music scores, patents, sound recordings and stamps. Particular treasures include Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, the first edition of The Times from 18 March 1788 and Beatles manuscripts. As well as being open for research, the Library holds free exhibitions and events.
Christ Church College, Oxford, was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII. But this was originally going to be Thomas Wolsey’s Cardinal College. In 1525, when Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York, Wolsey suppressed the Priory of St Frideswide in Oxford and founded Cardinal College on its lands. Frideswide was a Saxon princess and healer who became the Patron Saint of Oxford; her shrine is still in Christ Church Cathedral (see separate entry) today. Anyway, Wolsey fell from grace and died, and the college was instead founded by Henry as Christ Church.
Christ Church is a large college, packed with history, and has several significant features – not least the Cathedral of Christ Church which is part of it (though has a separate entry on A Bit About Britain). Tom Tower was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, Tom Quad is the largest quadrangle in Oxford and the Great Dining Hall was the seat of the parliament assembled by King Charles I during the English Civil War. Several parts of the college have featured in films, including Harry Potter and The Golden Compass. The stairs leading to the Hall will be familiar as the place where Professor Minerva McGonagall greeted the new students.
Among Christ Church notable alumni are (allegedly) thirteen British prime ministers (more than any other Oxbridge college), including Robert Peel, WE Gladstone, Anthony Eden and Alec Douglas-Home, as well as (in no particular order) King Edward VII, William Penn, Lewis Carroll, CS Lewis, WH Auden, Richard Curtis, John Ruskin, Hugh Trevor-Roper and David Dimbleby.
Christ Church College is extremely popular with tourists. Its sister college in the University of Cambridge is Trinity College, also founded in 1546 by Henry VIII. See separate entry.
Christ's College was first established as God's House in 1437 by William Byngham, a London parish priest, for training grammar school masters. However, its site was needed for King’s College, so it had to move to its present location in 1448. Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, decided to enlarge God's House and in 1505 the College was re-founded as Christ's College. Lady Margaret has been honoured ever since as the Foundress. You can spot her coat of arms on the gatehouse and as pictured. Christ's became one of the leading Puritan colleges of Elizabethan Cambridge. In 1625 it admitted the young John Milton. The Garden still boasts what is known as 'Milton's Mulberry Tree'. Charles Darwin is another famous old boy. Further noted alumni include JH Plumb, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Simon Schama, Roy Porter, Colin Dexter, CP Snow, Rowan Williams and Sacha Baron Cohen.
The John Rylands Library holds the special collections of the University of Manchester's library. The library was built by Enriqueta Rylands, the widow of wealthy industrialist John Rylands, who died in 1888. It is a fantastic neo-Gothic building, designed by Basil Champneys (with help from Mrs Rylands) and opened to the public in 1900. One of its first acquisitions was the 40,000 volume Spencer Collection, which includes about 3,000 early printed books - including a Gutenberg Bible. The library has undergone various refurbishments. Although a research library, it is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Manchester.
King's College was founded by King Henry VI in 1441, the year after he founded Eton College, originally a sister college which sent scholars on to King's. It is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge and parts are open to the public. The highlight is undoubtedly the chapel, begun by Henry VI but finished by Henry VIII in 1544. The ceiling, windows and carving are breathtaking. It is also famous for the annual Christmas Eve service of Nine Lessons and Carols, introduced by Eric Milner-White in 1919 and now broadcast all over the world.
Magdalen College (generally pronounced 'maudlin' - but stick with Mary Magdalen for the person!), was founded in 1458. Its founder was William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, and Lord Chancellor. He wanted a College on the grandest scale, and his foundation was the largest in Oxford, with 40 Fellows, 30 scholars (known at Magdalen as 'Demies'), and a large choir for his Chapel. Waynflete lived to a great age, dying in 1486, by which time Magdalen was equipped with a large income, splendid buildings, and a set of statutes. Magdalen soon became one of Oxford’s most prominent Colleges. Kings and Princes visited, including Edward IV, Richard III and James I. Famous alumni include Thomas Wolsey, Edward Gibbon, Oscar Wilde, TE Lawrence, CS Lewis, AJP Taylor, Dudley Moore and Ian Hislop. Parts of the college are often open to visitors - the hall, chapel and old kitchen (where you can buy lunch). There is a lovely circular walk by the River Cherwell and, in the opposite direction, deer can be seen in parkland from the path.
Merton College claims to have been the first fully self-governing College in the University and founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, sometime Chancellor of England and later Bishop of Rochester. Mob Quadrangle is the oldest quadrangle in the University and dates from c1288-91. Mob Library, built 1373-8, is the oldest continuously-functioning library for university academics and students in the world. The Gatehouse dates from the early fifteenth century, when Henry V granted a royal licence to crenellate, which allowed for the construction of the battlement tower above the present-day Lodge. Merton Chapel dates from the late 1280s; the transepts were added in the 14th and early 15th centuries and the tower was completed in 1450. The lectern dates from 1504 and a screen by Christopher Wren was added in 1673. Notable alumni include JRR Tolkien, TS Eliot, Naruhito, Emperor of Japan, William Harvey and Sir Thomas Bodley (who established the Bodleian Library in 1602).