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Visiting Wolfson College, Oxford: among the least traditional Colleges architecturally, but with a most scenic setting

Updated on September 18, 2014
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Wolfson College from across the Cherwell River
Wolfson College from across the Cherwell River | Source
Photo of River Quad, punt harbour, island and the Cherwell River behind it, at Wolfson College Oxford.
Photo of River Quad, punt harbour, island and the Cherwell River behind it, at Wolfson College Oxford. | Source
Nico Tinbergen,1978
Nico Tinbergen,1978 | Source
Map location of Oxford, in Oxfordshire.
Map location of Oxford, in Oxfordshire. | Source

Quiet study ambiance by the banks of the Cherwell River

Wolfson College has one of the most scenic settings among all the Oxford Colleges. This modern College, situated at Linton Road in the city, it is built on the banks of the Cherwell River, and possesses its own harbour, where punts are often berthed (1). As at Cambridge, punting is a favourite pass-time among many students and visitors to Oxford.

The College buildings are designed with three quadrangles: Berlin Quad, River Quad and Tree Quad. The main building work was completed in 1974, with Powell and Moya Architects being responsible. The Ford Foundation contributed generously to the College, as did the Wolfson Foundation: having previously been known as Iffley College, it was renamed Wolfson College (2).

The College also possesses its own private bridge and island in the Cherwell River. The grounds of the College are noted for the presence of many trees. Thus, despite its city location, its seclusion and closeness to nature give the College an exceptionally peaceful situation, making for a quiet, study environment among many weeping willows (3).

Named for Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), FRS, the College's student body is taken from graduates; this practice became an innovation at a number of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges which were founded in the 20th century.

Distinguished alumni of the College include: geneticist Dame Kay Davies; former Brazilian foreign minister Francisco Rezek; former New Zeland government minister Simon Upton. Notable scholars who have held fellowships at the College include: Physiology/Medicine Nobel prizewinner Nico Tinbergen; virologist Sir Anthony Epstein; endocrinologist Sir Raymond Hoffenberg, and many other distinguished figures.


(1) Curiously, a person known as the Admiral of Punts is appointed from the student body: one of many quaint traditions with which Oxford University abounds.

(2) As with this Oxford College, Wolfson College, Cambridge received a generous endowment from the Wolfson Foundation; prior to this, this Cambridge College had been known as University College.

(3) In recent years, the disappearance of some of Oxford's willows has given rise to press comment; see, for example: Chris Koenig, Weeping for the willow and its past,The Oxford Times, November 16, 2006,

Also worth seeing

Oxford 's many visitor attractions include the Bridge of Sighs, the Radcliffe Camera and Oxford Castle. Its numerous bookstores, especially the renowned Blackwell's, attracts numerous students and visitors alike.


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. Please check with 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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