Oriel College

College History

In April 1324 Adam de Brome, an official in the Royal Chancery, obtained a licence to endow a small body of scholars to be called the 'House of Blessed Mary'.  Within two years Adam persuaded King Edward II to re-found the college, which the king did on 21st January 1326.  Later that year, with the king facing the rebellion that led to his overthrow, the College prudently sought a new patron in the Bishop of Lincoln.  An early eighteenth century court case to settle a dispute between the Provost and a Fellowship candidate led to a judgement in 1726 which displaced the Bishop as the College's Visitor and reinstated the monarch for the first time since the year of foundation.   The sovereign has been the Visitor of the College ever since.

Oriel was a leader in the intellectual revivals of the nineteenth century, when Fellowships were thrown open to competitive examination and the College became something of an intellectual powerhouse, where critical and rational argument was valued.  Among the Fellows who benefited from this new regime were those associated with the 'Oxford Movement', such as John Henry Newman, John Keble, Edward Pusey and Richard Hurrell Froude, all Fellows of Oriel. 

In 1902, one of the last surviving Oxford halls was united with Oriel College. St Mary Hall was also one of the largest; in 1875 it had 60 undergraduates to Oriel’s 62.

Archives of the College

The archives held at Oriel include constitutional, financial and estate records for the College, with administrative and social records of the undergraduates. Items of particular interest include a fine run of College accounts (1409-1525 and 1583 onwards) and the mediaeval records of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in Oxford.

The College has compiled a collection of hundreds of letters, mostly of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The collection includes letters of Matthew Arnold, John Keble, John Henry Newman, Cecil Rhodes, Gilbert White, William Ewart Gladstone, Walter de la Mare and Sylvia Plath. In addition, Lancelot Ridley Phelps (1853-1936), Provost of Oriel 1914-1930, had an extensive correspondence, and kept virtually all of his letters.  Of particular interest are letters relating to his involvement in Poor Law administration, both locally and nationally.

A larger proportion of the records of St. Mary Hall has survived than is usual for Oxford academic halls. The records include Principal’s log books 1764-1899, buttery books 1715-1874, battels accounts 1773-1898, and papers relating to the Dyke Trust for scholarships 1730-1891.


Archivist: Rob Petre

Opening hours: Monday and Tuesday, 10am -1pm and 2pm -4.30pm (by appointment only)

Address: Oriel College, Oxford, OX1 4EW

Phone:     01865 286545

E-mail:     archives@oriel.ox.ac.uk

Web:       http://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/about-college/library-and-archives/about-archives

Further reading:

D.W.Rannie, Oriel College (London, 1900)

Jeremy Catto (ed), Oriel College: a history (Oxford, 2013)