College charter rolled up in patterned box

History of the College

Worcester College was founded in 1714, but there has been an institution of learning on the site since the late 13th century. Its predecessor, Gloucester College, was founded in 1283 by the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter at Gloucester as a place of study for 13 monks. The other Benedictine Houses recognised the advantages of bringing their students together and obtained permission from the Abbey at Gloucester to share the House, adding several lodgings to the existing buildings. Fifteen abbeys in total had lodgings in Gloucester College. The dissolution of the monasteries in about 1539 ended the existence of Gloucester College, but the buildings remaining from this period include the row of medieval 'cottages' on the south side of the main quad, Pump Quad and Staircases 1 and 2.

In 1542 the College buildings were granted to Robert King, the first bishop of Oxford, and he probably occupied them as his palace until he moved into the Palace at St Aldate's. In 1560 the buildings were purchased by Sir Thomas White, the founder of St John's College, and they became Gloucester Hall. For the next 150 years the Hall had a chequered history and from 1660 its fortunes steadily declined.

In 1714 the Hall was re-founded as Worcester College after a Worcestershire baronet, Sir Thomas Cookes, left a benefaction for the foundation of a new college. Building began in 1720, but because of a lack of funds proceeded in fits and starts. George Clarke, together with his friend Nicholas Hawksmoor, designed the central group comprising the Hall, Chapel and a magnificent Library, to which Clarke left his collection of books and manuscripts. The medieval cottages on the front quad were to have been demolished and replaced by a further classical range, but survived because money for this purpose never became available. The Hall and Chapel, with interiors by James Wyatt, were completed in approximately 1770. Wyatt also designed the northern 'Terrace' building, which was completed with the Provost's Lodgings by Henry Keene, in 1776. In 1864 the Chapel was extensively redecorated and refurbished by William Burges. One of Worcester's architectural distinctions is therefore that it brings together on a single site the work of four major architects: Hawksmoor, Wyatt, Keene and Burges.

Over the past 50 years several residential buildings for undergraduates and graduates have been added, largely thanks to a series of generous benefactions. The newest building in the college is the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre, home to an auditorium, meeting rooms and dance studio. Designed by Niall McLaughlin and shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, this building was donated to the college by old member and Honorary Fellow HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah (PPE, 1976).

Women students first came to Worcester in 1979; to mark the 40th anniversary of this a new flagstone has recently been unveiled in the main entrance, marking the spot where women first crossed the threshold as students.

Although Worcester is close to the centre of Oxford today, it was on the edge of the city in the 18th century. This has proved to be a great asset and has enabled the College to have its sports fields within the grounds and to retain very extensive gardens, which are as much of an attraction to visitors as our architecture.