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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).
Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court which have the exclusive right to call students to the Bar. The education and training of advocates lies at the heart of the Inn, but it is also a professional society with a worldwide membership. The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, to give it its full name, is based on the site of the headquarters of the medieval Knights Templar. Though very little survives from this period - and the area was also extensively bombed in the 1940s - walking through Middle Temple is like walking through history, with links to Magna Carta and the exploration of the New World. Visits inside the Elizabethan Great Hall can be arranged in advance - most of the buildings contain barristers' chambers. Middle Temple is also responsible, with the Inner Temple, for the historic Temple Church.
Oriel College was founded by Edward II in 1326. Though the majority of Oriel’s buildings date from the 17th century onwards, its student halls are medieval and one, Tackley's Inn, is the oldest hall in Oxford. Soon after its foundation, the ‘College of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ was given a property called ‘La Oriole’, on the site of the present Front Quadrangle, and gradually the college came to be called by that name. During the English Civil War, the college housed part of King Charles I’s government when Oxford was his capital. Later, the college was at the heart of the Oxford Movement. In 1985, the college became the last all-male college in Oxford to admit women undergraduates. Its alumni include Thomas More, Walter Raleigh, Gilbert White, Thomas Arnold, John Henry Newman and Cecil Rhodes.
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Britain and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. It was founded in 1621 as a physic garden growing plants for medicinal research. Before Edward I expelled England’s Jews in 1290, it had been Oxford’s Jewish cemetery (there is still a footpath today called Deadman’s Walk south of Merton College which probably marks the route from the synagogue where Christ Church is now, outside the city walls to the burial ground). Today, the Botanic Garden contains over 6,000 different plant species in 4 ½ acres adjacent to Merton Field and the River Cherwell. You can wander along paths between flowers and the river, where punts glide gently along. There are herbaceous borders, a rock garden, walled garden and glasshouses. In the lower garden is a bench where, in Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, the characters Will and Lyra meet between their respective worlds.
The University acquired Harcourt Arboretum in 1947, a 15 minute drive from Oxford. This contains some of the finest conifer collections in the UK set within 130 acres of historic picturesque landscape. Together, the Garden and Arboretum are an incredible resource for research, education, conservation and inspiration for botanists.
Pembroke College was founded in 1347 by Mary de St Pol, the widow of Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. In 1360, she sought permission from the Pope to build a college chapel – the first in Cambridge. The original chapel is still there – it is now a library – but the current chapel is the first completed building designed by Christopher Wren. It includes some notable features, not least an exquisite 15th century alabaster representation of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael depicting the judgement of a soul. Next to the chapel is a cloister where memorials commemorate the 450 Pembroke men who fell in the wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45. Around a third of the young men who joined the college between 1911 and 1917 were dead by 1919.
Notable alumni include William Pitt the Younger, Peter Cook, Eric Idle, Clive James, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Roger Bushell, Naomie Harris, Robert Macfarlane and Jo Cox.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is the archaeological and anthropological museum of the University of Oxford in England. The collection includes some 500,000 objects, photographs and manuscripts from all over the world, and from all periods of human existence.
The museum was founded in 1884, when General Pitt-Rivers gave his collection to the University. Pitt-Rivers began life as Augustus Henry Lane Fox and inherited the name Pitt-Rivers, as well as a substantial estate, from an uncle in 1880. In 1882 Pitt-Rivers was appointed the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments. He had collected objects – initially varieties of weapons – whilst on service overseas with the army. Most objects in his collection, however, were acquired from dealers, auction houses and people he knew. The collection was given to the University on condition that a museum was built to house it and a lecturer appointed to teach about it and look after it. The Museum first opened to visitors in 1887. In most ethnographic and archaeological museums, the objects are arranged according to geographical or cultural areas. At the Pitt Rivers Museum, objects are not arranged by geographical or cultural taxonomy, but by type: musical instruments, weapons, masks, textiles, jewellery and tools are all displayed to illustrate diversity in solving common problems in different times and by different peoples.
The royal founders of Queen’s College Cambridge were Margaret of Anjou (1430 – 1482) in 1448 and Elizabeth Woodville (c1437 – 1492) in 1465. Margaret was the wife of King Henry VI and Elizabeth was the wife of King Edward IV. The has also enjoyed the patronage of three further queens - Anne Neville (1456 – 1485), who was married to King Richard III, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900 – 2002), the late Queen Mother and HM Queen Elizabeth II. Queens’ College Cambridge is the only Oxbridge college to have the Queen as Patroness. Particular features of the College include the 15th century Old Court, Hall and Cloister. Walnut Tree Court is located on the site of a 13th century Carmelite Monastery. The Wooden Bridge – wrongly called ‘the Mathematical Bridge’ – dates from 1749, though the current version was completed in 1905. Famous alumni include Bishop John Fisher, Stephen Fry, Richard Dearlove and Emily Maitlis.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded in 1682 by Charles II as a retirement home for soldiers. The architect was Christopher Wren. Today, it is home to about 300 veterans, who have served in the British Army all over the world over the last 60 years or so. Known as Chelsea Pensioners, they can be seen out and about in London in their distinctive red uniforms and three-cornered hats. Tours of the hospital can be arranged, and there is a museum. Particular highlights include the great hall and the Wren chapel. Among those buried on the site are ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis, in the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary, which opened in 2009. The Royal Hospital's extensive grounds are also the location for the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Sidney Sussex College was founded on St. Valentine's Day in 1596 by legacy of Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex. It is built on the site of a Franciscan friary and has a reputation as a Protestant college; arguably, it’s most famous old boy is Oliver Cromwell, whose skull is buried in the college ante-chapel – where his ghost is said to hang around. The main buildings of the College were built in the closing years of the 16th century, with additions in the 17th. The Chapel dates from 1780 and there were considerable changes in the 19th century. The college has an impressive art collection and a particular reputation for mathematics, history, engineering and law. Apart from Lord Protector Cromwell, notable alumni include David (Lord) Owen, David Lidington, several Bletchley Park codebreakers, including the historian Asa Briggs, the journalist Andrew Rawnsley and TV personality Carol Vorderman.
St John’s College is the third largest college of the University of Cambridge and is located on the site of a 13th century monastic hospital of St John. The college was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, and dates from 1511. It is her arms that are carved on the enormous Great Gate; the arms include yales – mythical beasts with elephants’ tails, antelopes’ bodies, goats’ heads and horns that swivel from back to front. Wander through the various courts – many buildings date from the Tudor period. Significant features include the chapel, Bridge of Sighs and New Court. Alumni are known as ‘Johnians’. Famous ones include Lord Palmerston, William Wilberforce, William Wordsworth, Douglas Adams, Fred Sanger, Hugh Dennis, Derek Jacobi, Rob Andrew and Mike Brierley.
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