Visiting St Antony's College, Oxford, England: modern instance of an ecclesiastical building adapted for scholarly use

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Map location of Oxford, in Oxfordshire
Map location of Oxford, in Oxfordshire | Source

Gothic Revival appropriated

The history of many of the older Oxford Colleges and their buildings shows how what originally began as ecclesiastical foundations developed in time, either institutionally or through use of real estate put to different use, into scholarly institutions. The modern history of the University of Oxford also provides examples of this. Linacre College, for one, is housed in a building once used as a convent. A similar instance has occurred in the history of St Antony's College.

A Gothic Revival architect (and his dog)

Situated at 62 Woodstock Road, the main building in stone at St Antony's, in Gothic Revival style, dates from 1866-68. This building was originally for Holy Trinity Convent. Its architect was Charles Buckeridge (1832/3-1873), known for his work on many 19th century churches; he also supervised the building of Exeter College Chapel under the direction of Giles Gilbert Scott. At the former convent, the stonework is characterized by simple window tracery and walls with rugged hammer dressing.

Interestingly, on completion of the building of Holy Trinity Convent, the architect felt concern for the personal safety of the Mother Superior, who had started sleeping in the building, and offered her his dog for protection. It is recorded that the Mother Superior declined this extra service offered by the architect, but whether the Mother Superior was surprised by this instance of proposed munificence is less easy to ascertain.

Foundation of St Antony's College and some features

The convent survived until World War Two, when its members migrated elsewhere. Following an endowment by Antonin Besse (for whom a later building was named), St Antony's College was founded in 1950, and was housed in the former convent building. The study of international relations, economics, politics, history and area studies are the main strengths of the College, and staff and students specializing in these fields are principally recruited.

Distinguished scholars and alumni have been associated with St Antony's College. These include the following, former heads of the College (in the case of St Antony's, known as Warden): Sir William Deakin, historian and literary assistant to Sir Winston Churchill; historian Sir Raymond Carr; former European Commissioner Ralf, Lord Dahrendorf; former Ambassador Sir Marrack Goulding. Canadians will note that former Toronto history Professor Margaret MacMillan was appointed Warden of the College in 2007. Faculty has included historian Albert Hourani, former director of the College's Middle East Centre and historian Timothy Garton Ash. Alumni include: former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Beni-Ami; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Appelbaum; economist Dambisa Moyo; former minister John Redwood; and many other distinguished figures.

Also worth seeing

A few of Oxford 's many sights include: the Bridge of Sighs at Hartford College; the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera; Oxford Castle.

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How to get there : United Airlines flies from New York Newark to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Oxford : 77 kilometres. Oxford links by rail with London Paddington station. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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