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Visiting Harris Manchester College, Oxford: a traditional seeming College with a long history outside Oxford

Updated on December 27, 2014
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Harris Manchester College, Oxford
Harris Manchester College, Oxford | Source
Harris Manchester College, Oxford
Harris Manchester College, Oxford | Source
Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley | Source
Sir Roger Bannister in full academic dress outside the Sheldonian theatre, University of Oxford, after Encaenia 2009.
Sir Roger Bannister in full academic dress outside the Sheldonian theatre, University of Oxford, after Encaenia 2009. | Source

A small and distinguished College

Every Oxford College will regard itself as unique. While purists will say that some being described as more unique than others, is a grammatical stretch, yet Harris Manchester College's unique history — borne out in part by its name — undoubtedly makes it of special interest.

So: the name of the College: the Harris part refers to a large endowment received from Baron Harris of Peckaham. Understandably so. The 'Manchester' part refers to the fact that a precursor of the College was based in Manchester, England, from 1786. In order to understand more of its history, some reference needs to be made to the Glorious Whig Revolution of 1689 and the fact that until the later part of the 19th century, Oxford University was an exclusively Anglican institution. After the coming of William of Orange, and the deposing of Roman Catholic James II, the Anglican Church enjoyed exclusive privileges in many walks of life, not least at England's two Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Thus, Roman Catholics and Nonconformists unwilling to practise occasional 'conformity' to the Church of England were denied access to Oxford and Cambridge. There was, however, a strong tradition of 'Dissenting Academies', whereby non-Anglicans were able to pursue higher education, and one of these Academies lies the origin of Manchester College, as the institution was called for many years.

In 1889, the College moved to Oxford, at first not connected with the University, later acknowledged as a Permanent Private Hall of the University and today as a full College. The building in which the College was housed from 1893 is by Thomas Worthington (1826-1909)(1); in common with many other of his creations, the College building is mainly in Gothic style (2), with the Chapel showing several, prominent flying buttresses, a feature particularly associated with the style, as are also the pointed arches at the College's main entrance door on Mansfield Road and at the principal window of the Chapel.

Harris Manchester remains one of Oxford's smaller Colleges. Its students tend particularly to read Arts-based subjects. (Many of the larger Colleges accept students for all degree subjects.) The College specializes in serving mature students.

Interestingly - and uniquely among Oxford Colleges — the Chapel at Harris Manchester is used by Unitarians.

Noted people

Noted people associated with the College and its precursor include: Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), theologian and natural philosopher whom the discovery of oxygen is usually attributed, who also served as Principal of the former Manchester Academy; John Dalton (1766-1844), chemist and physicist; Sir Roger Bannister (1929-) athlete, neurologist and former Master of Pembroke College, Oxford; Sir Oliver Popplewell (1927-), former British judge, and cricketer; Jocelyn Davies (1959-) Deputy Minister in the National Assembly of Wales; and many others.

December 27, 2014


(1) Architect Thomas Worthington is particularly known for many Gothic style buildings located mainly in the north of England. His son Hubert Worthington (1886-1963) was Slade Lecturer in architecture at Oxford University.

(2) A recent extension to the College, however, incorporates Neo-Classical pillars and pediment. The College Library — very well appointed for a College of its size — has undergone particular expansion.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

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

Also worth seeing

In Oxford itself, included among the numerous visitor sites are: the Bridge of Sighs at Hertford College; the Radcliffe Camera; the Sheldonian Theatre; the Bodleian Library; Keble College Chapel; Oxford Castle; the University's Botanic Gardens; Carfax Tower; Christ Church; Magdalen College Tower and Magdalen Deer Park; the City's numerous spires; and many others.


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 to London Paddington Station. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to contact the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

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


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