While it is not too demanding to take a bus into Oxford, it makes far more sense to arrange multiple site visits for each trip. The summer months are frantically busy in Oxford with tens of thousands of tourists flocking to the historic attractions every day. Most colleges opened their doors at either 10am or 11am, so it is important to complete as much photographic work as possible prior to the public opening – something the colleges themselves are also keen to achieve.
Today I had lined up four college chapel visits with the opportunity to re-visit two others and the hope to upgrade my Bodleian Reader Card if time allowed.
Merton is one of the oldest colleges in Oxford, founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton. In 1266 the church of St John the Baptist was granted to the scholars of Merton College, but this soon fell into disrepair and by the late 1280s work had begun on the Church of St Mary & St John, now the quire of Merton College Chapel.
The chapel was never completed. What is seen today is no more than the chancel, transept and crossing: the site intended for the nave was leased to Bishop Foxe in 1517 and subsequently developed to become Corpus Christi College. By the seventeenth century the chapel was in need of refurbishment. In 1671 Sir Christopher Wren was employed to fit a new screen, stalls and put right vandalism from the Civil War.
The chapel contains glass of three distinct periods: the original choir glazing is late thirteenth century, late fourteenth century glass of the transepts and later transept glazing of the early fifteenth century. Despite being no more than a small part of the planned chapel, it was nonetheless pleasingly spacious with the East Window being the most obvious choice for photography.
Pembroke College was founded in 1624 by King James I. It incorporates Broadgates Hall, one of the fifteenth century University hostels for law students.
This visit comes only a few weeks after I was singing evensong within the chapel. Throughout that service I found myself distracted by concerns at to how I might best photograph the windows. The chapel is small with large windows rather high on the walls. The Chapel was designed and built (1728-32) by Oxford mason William Townsend. In 1884, stained glass artist and Pembroke alumnus, Charles Kempe, redesigned the interior. After centuries of damage from pollution, the College Chapel was fully restored in 1972 thanks to the generosity of Dr. Damon Wells, whose name it now bears. Part of this work included the addition of severe tie bars on each window, appearing more like brise-soleil, sadly they limit the view of Kempe’s work. Elaborate metal scrolls further mask much of the design at the top of each window.
The choice of an appropriate window was going to be difficult, but play safe I opted to photograph two of the windows on the south side: the nativity scene by the altar and the crucifixion by the door.
I had no knowledge of the existence of Campion Hall prior to my research, which is in itself not too surprising. However, today’s visit revealed that it was the immediate neighbour of Christ Church Cathedral School – my placement school for two terms during my PGCE studies. How had I failed to notice it?!
This was a visit to a location without stained glass and to my surprise, there are three chapels within the Hall.
Run by the Society of Jesus and with origins dating back to 1896, it was not until 1918, when granted Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford status that the establishment was renamed Champion Hall. In 1936 it relocated to its current site which comprises Micklem Hall (formerly part of Hall’s Brewery) and ‘new’ buildings designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and completed in 1936, being the only buildings in Oxford that he designed. The chapel has beauty in its simplicity while being furnished with Lutyens’ attention to detail: the chapel light fittings having red tassels like those of a cardinal’s hat.
Located just above the Lutyens Chapel in Campion Hall, with windows overlooking, is St Joseph’s Chapel. This tiny chapel was designed by Edward Lutyens and is used regularly by the Community as a place for quiet contemplation and prayer. It is a place where Communion is served for individuals or pairs from the Community.
Founded in 1282, Hertford College is best know for its iconic bridge, the Bridge of Sighs. The Chapel is located on the southern side of the Quad, built in 1908 by Thomas Graham Jackson. The day I visited was perfect for stained glass: overcast and very bright… sadly in a chapel with enormous east-end plain glass windows, this proved problematic when photographing the space, with some flaring of the light evident. Perhaps this would benefit from a day of thicker cloud cover?
The chapel featured no stained glass until 1994 when the Tyndale Window was installed into the ante-chapel. Commissioned in 1911 and produced by James Powell, to commemorate the centenary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, this remained in its London home until the society moved in 1985, bequeathing it to Hertford College. The window commemorates William Tyndale (1494–1536), a scholar of Magdalen Hall (which became Hertford College in 1874), who translated the first English Bible from the original languages, and was executed for his troubles. Interestingly, Tyndale’s name is misspelled (Tindale) in the window.
There were just a few meters of space in the ante-chapel, giving no option but for the use of wide-angle lens. I was successful in masking the extraordinarily bright daylight streaming in from east-end plain glass windows, and pleasingly, the window was mounted at an unusually low level, but within a light box that afforded an even but ‘warm’ illumination, rendering the colours in a somewhat sepia hue. Colour correction was going to be one of a number of challenges in this location.
It was gone 4pm that I visited Jesus College, following a late lunch at The University Club.
Jesus College was founded in 1571 by Elizabeth I as a Protestant college for the education of the clergy. From the outset, the college students were predominantly Welsh as were many of the fellows. Even today there is a notable Welsh association with the College housing a Celtic library and being home to the University’s Professor of Celtic.
The chapel was dedicated in 1621 and extended in 1636. Under the watchful eye of Charles Williams, the principal (1857-77), it underwent extensive restoration in 1864 under the architect G.E. Street, which included the addition of a chancel. The Latin inscription above the archway of the entrance porch is Ascendat oratio descendat Gratia (Let prayers ascend, and grace descend).
Within the narthex is a bust of former student T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) by the sculptor Eric Kennington.
With Oxford becoming increasingly busy on this warm summer afternoon, I decided not to do any further photographic work. This would allow time at home to file, review and possibly start editing some of the images today.