Astoft

The architecture of

Worcester College, Oxford

Click on photos to enlarge.
Notes in italics from Oxfordshire by Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner (1974)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London.


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Founded in c.1283 as the monastic Gloucester College, refounded in 1714 as Worcester College by Sir Thomas Cookes, a Worcestershire landowner. Substantial medieval parts remain but the main buildings are 18th century. Hawksmoor was consulted by Dr Clarke of All Souls, benefactor of Worcester, who probably made the designs. But they were not strictly followed. William Townesend was, it seems, mason rather than architect.


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The facade towards Beaumont Street consists of a centre deeply receding behind projecting wings, i.e. a quad open to the town. In the centre is the library, in the wings hall and chapel. The wings end each in a large Venetian window with unfluted Ionic columns. Above is a circular recess for a bust, and long horizontally hung garlands above that. Nothing else to the W; to the S and N three windows on one and a half floors above a windowless base. The centre has different window levels and an attic with short, squat coupled pilasters carrying a broken pediment, the most Hawksmorian motif.
But turn r. from the r. wing or turn l. from the l. wing, and you will find medieval masonry - on the r. the end gable of a range and then a broad gateway with a four-centred arch, on the l. a whole range the windows of which are later. The oldest is one of the C17.


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Entering into the Quad, it is open on the far side, 18th century on the north and east, and medieval on the south side. The centre block has a stately arcade or cloister all along the ground floor, Hawksmorian also, with its groin-vaults on basket arches and its big, plain, unmoulded blocks instead of capitals for the piers. ... Above the arcade the composition divides into a three-bay centre with arched windows and coupled pilasters carrying a pediment, and three-bay side parts of simple treatment.
The North Range was finally built only in 1753-9, and its W pavilion, the Provost's Lodgings, only in 1773-6. The former were still done to the Clarke plans, the latter are by Henry Keene. ...


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The Medieval S range is two-storeyed, and though nearly all the windows no longer have the arches and cusping of the original lights, the state of preservation is astonishing. ...The range dates entirely from the C15. At the back the range is all picturesque ...


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The Chapel was completed only in 1791, and the designer of the interior was James Wyatt, who had succeeded after Keene's death in 1776. However, William Burges, one of the most potent High Victorian architects, redecorated the chapel in 1864. He did not obliterate Wyatt's work entirely but he swamped it. Wyatt's are the screen of columns between lobby and chapel, the characteristic fan-like penetrations by the window-tops, and even the delicate foliage pattern in the corners of the coving. But the centre of the ceiling with its heavier relief is Burges's, and nearly all the rest is. The wall decoration is Raphaelesque, remarkable in so convinced a Goth as Burges was. The stalls with the inlay and beasties on the ends are Burges indeed. The floor pattern with saints is Early Christian, not Renaissance. ... 


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