Merton College

Merton College

Merton College was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester, for twenty graduate fellows.  Undergraduates were formally admitted in the early 1380s, when John Wyliot, a former fellow and sub-warden, endowed a number of scholarships, known at Merton as postmasterships.  These were later augmented by additional scholarships and exhibitions.  A Choral Foundation with scholarships for members of the chapel choir was established in 2008, and a Girls’ Choir in 2016, with its members drawn from pupils of local schools.  The college now has approximately 70 fellows and over 600 undergraduate and graduate students.  Eminent old members include Sir Thomas Bodley, JRR Tolkien, TS Eliot, Lennox Berkeley, Leonard Cheshire and Sir Roger Bannister.

The archives comprise administrative records of the college and its estates, and papers created by a small number of former members; notably Max Beerbohm (1890), Basil Blackwell (1907) and John Roberts (Warden 1984-1994).  Records of the college proper begin with the foundation statutes of 1264, bursarial accounts, 1277, and decisions of the governing body, 1483. Records of college estates include deeds, surveys, court rolls and maps, and date from the twelfth century onwards.  Student activities are represented from the late nineteenth century onwards by records of a number of clubs and societies including the Bodley Club (from 1894), the Junior Common Room (from 1912) and the Merton Floats drama society (from 1922).  Written records are supplemented by photographs, often professional photos of a formal nature.

St. Alban Hall

According to the Oxford historian Anthony Wood, St Alban Hall was established during the reign of King John (d.1216), and given to the priory of Littlemore just outside Oxford.  During the medieval period Merton College leased the hall from the nuns of Littlemore, and subsequently purchased the hall in 1548.  Until the late sixteenth century the principals of the hall were frequently drawn from the fellows of Merton, although in principle it remained a separate academic institution.  Merton annexed the hall in 1881 to provide accommodation for its increasing numbers of students, when the remaining eighteen Hall students were absorbed into the college.  The buildings were largely rebuilt as St. Alban Quad between 1905 and 1910, although the Elizabethan entrance onto Merton Street still survives.  Noteworthy members of St Alban Hall include the future Cardinal John Henry Newman (Vice-Principal 1825) and George FitzErnest (c.1815-17) natural son of Ernest, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover. 

As an academic hall, St Alban Hall had no fellows or estates. Surviving records include the admission register, 1856-77, with retrospective lists of members from 1661; account books, 1856-79; and an incomplete series of buttery books, 1758-1847.


Archive enquiries

The Archivist is normally in college Wednesday-Friday, when archives are made available 10:00-12:00 and 13:30-16:30. An appointment is essential and appropriate picture ID must be produced. To schedule an appointment, please fill out the Research Visit request form or email the Archives.

Address: Julian Reid, The Archivist, Merton College, Merton Street, Oxford, OX1 4JD

Phone: 01865 286315



A Brief Bibliography

Printed sources on the history of Merton College:

A History of Merton College, G.H. Martin and J.R.L. Highfield, (OUP, 1997)

A Short History of the Buildings of Merton College, A. Bott, (Merton College, 1993)

Merton College: A Longer History of the Buildings and Furnishings, A. Bott, (Merton College, 2016)

The Early Rolls of Merton College, J.R.L. Highfield (ed.), (OUP, 1964)

Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1483-1521, H.E. Salter (ed.), (OUP, 1923)

Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1521-1567, J.M. Fletcher, ed., (OUP, 1974)

Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1567-1603, J.M. Fletcher, ed., (OUP, 1976)

Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1603-1660, J.R.L. Highfield, ed., (The Boydell Press, 2006)

Biographical information on members of both Merton and St Alban's Hall:

A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, A.B. Emden, 3 vols., Clarendon Press, (1957-9)

A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford A.D. 1501-1540, A.B. Emden, (Clarendon Press, 1974)

Alumni Oxonienses, 1500-1714, Joseph Foster, 4 vols., (Oxford, 1891)

Alumni Oxonienses, 1715-1886, Joseph Foster, 4 vols., (Oxford, 1888)

Merton College Register, 1900-1964, (Oxford, 1964)

Merton College Register II, 1891-1989, R.H.C. Davis, (Oxford, 1990).