St Edmund Hall

History of the Hall

Medieval halls were established to house and educate undergraduates, many of them predating Oxford’s colleges. The first documented reference to St Edmund Hall is in 1317, but it may be considerably older.

The Hall takes its name from St Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury (1234–40), who traditionally resided and taught in a house at the western end of the present front quadrangle when he was a Regent Master in the Arts, probably in the 1190s.

In the early decades of the sixteenth century the Hall came into a close relationship with its neighbour The Queen's College, who appointed as Principals a number of its Fellows; this relationship ensured the future and separate identity of the Hall were assured.

Subject to the Aularian Statutes of the University which prevailed from the late fifteenth century until 1937, the Principals exercised full control; from the late sixteenth century they were usually assisted by Vice-Principals.

There was no real change regarding its position until the period of University reform in the later nineteenth century. The Oxford University Commissioners of 1850 had already suggested that the Hall ought to gain its independence, but this was strenuously rebutted by William Thompson, the Bursar of Queen's College. By 1870 the introduction of an "unattached students" system deprived the remaining Halls of a main justification - their cheapness as places of University education.  The Statutory Commissioners of 1887 provided for the suppression of the remaining Halls of the University and suggested that the Hall become a dependency of Queen's when its Principalship next became vacant. In 1903 Principal Moore announced that he intended to resign. Queen's sought to persuade the University to enact the amending statute effecting the absorption of the Hall but University opinion rallied in the Hall’s defence as the last surviving medieval hall which, under Moore, had shown vigorous life. Moore postponed his resignation for ten years, and from 1907 the Hall found a champion in Lord Curzon who, as Chancellor of the University, was ex officio its Visitor. In 1912 a University Statute provided "for the continuance of the Hall as a place of education, religion and learning separate from The Queen's College, while preserving the right of the College to appoint the Principal of the Hall".

Between the First World War and 1957 the Hall underwent transformation from its circumstances as a Hall to its present status as a College. The original intention was that the Hall would expand and be reconstituted to meet modern needs, but remain the oldest surviving Hall, rather than becoming the youngest of the Colleges. But changing opinions meant that in 1957 Queen Elizabeth II approved the grant to the Hall of its charter of incorporation as a College, which H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh presented to it on 6 June 1958. From respect for a history extending over eight centuries it has kept the name St Edmund Hall.

Archives of the Hall

Some records relating to the Hall may be found in the University Archives.

The Hall’s archives are mainly those of the administration of the Hall only, including:

  • Buttery books, 1694-1920
  • Register of oaths of obedience to the regulations, 1801-1851
  • Benefactors’ books, 1660-2001

However, there are fine series of records relating to the Junior Common Room and to St Edmund Hall Boat Club.

In addition, the sermons preached by H P Liddon, the leading Tractarian who was Vice-Principal of the Hall 1859-1862, may be found in the Special Collections at the Bodleian Library.


Archivist: Rob Petre

Opening hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 10 until 5 (by appointment only)

Address: St Edmund Hall, Queen's Lane, Oxford, OX1 4AR



Further Reading:

Emden, A.B., An Oxford Hall in Medieval Times (2nd edn. Oxford, 1968)

Emden, A.B., An Account of the Chapel and Library Building, St Edmund Hall, Oxford (Oxford, 1932)

Emden, A.B., "St Edmund Hall", in: The Victoria History of the Counties of England, volume 3 (London and Oxford, 1954), pp 319-335

Kelly, J.N.D., St. Edmund Hall: almost 700 years (Oxford, 1989)

Jenkins, A. (editor), Hall:memoirs of St Edmund Hall undergraduates 1920-1980 (London, 1989)