Postponed: Visit to Worcester College, Oxford

Postponed: Visit to Worcester College, Oxford

New Date TBC

An introduction to the College, the origins of the site and its connection to Gloucester Cathedral.

A visit by the Friends of Gloucester Cathedral to Worcester College has been arranged for when the current Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted. 

This article introduces Worcester College, and outlines the important links between the site it occupies and the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter, Gloucester. Worcester College was founded in 1714, but the first scholars came to study on the site over 700 years ago. During the 13th century the confidence of some of the great Benedictine monasteries of England began to be shaken, for two reasons. The rise of the universities (in particular Oxford) meant that some of the Benedictine houses were becoming less important as centres of intellectual life. In addition, in the 1220s, Dominican and Franciscan friars came to England and soon flourished. By the time of the Dissolution in 1539, Oxford had the greatest aggregation of monasteries in England, including houses founded by the Augustinians (Osney and St Frideswide’s), Carmelites, Dominicans,
Franciscans and Cistercians (Rewley). In 1277 it was agreed at a Benedictine chapter at Abingdon that a house for Black Monk students should be established. In 1283 Sir John Giffard of Brimpsfield Castle in Gloucestershire bought the nucleus of the current site and gifted it to St Peter’s Gloucester, and Gloucester College was born.

The founders intended that the College should be known as St Benedict, but this never caught on. Significantly, although it was assumed that the College would become a corporation, headed by a prior, this never happened, and legally Gloucester College remained a collection of camerae (small houses, the vestiges of which can still be seen on the south side of the Main Quad). In due course, novices and students from 23 separate Benedictine houses attended the College. However, because it was deemed to be a religious rather than a secular institution, the College fell prey to the Dissolution and became Crown property in 1541.

After some 20 years of varied ownership, the site was acquired by Sir Thomas White, founder of St John’s College, as an independent hall. It was known from this time, until 1714, as Gloucester Hall. Its fortunes and buildings followed a path of steady decline over that
period, athough a good idea of the layout can be seen in Loggan’s 1675 engraving above. In 1714, as a result of a legacy of Sir Thomas Cookes, a Worcestershire baronet (who had founded Bromsgrove School) and the enthusiasm of Dr George Clarke, the decaying Gloucester Hall was
refounded on the site as Worcester College. The charter incorporating it was one of the final acts carried out by Queen Anne, in July 1714. It took a further 70 years to create the core of the College which can be seen today, following a master plan devised by George Clarke and influuenced by his friend Nicholas Hawksmoor. Funding was always somewhat precarious, and development of the site ceased on completion of the Lodgings in c.1776. The neo-classical masterplan was not finished, resulting in (to modern eyes) the happy outcome of the juxtaposition
of the remaining medieval camerae with the more imposing 18th-century structures.

This history and architecture will be further explored, in conjunction with the extensive Grade II* gardens, next June, when we look
forward to seeing you.

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