Agnes's College Tour (St John's College, Oxford)
Created on June 4, 2020
Take a tour of St John's College, Oxford with Agnes the Access Lamb!
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Welcome to St John's College!
A college tour with Agnes the Access Lamb
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Hi! I'm Agnes, the mascot of the St John's Access & Admissions Office! I'm excited to show you around our beautiful college!
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Welcome to St John's College!
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The Lodge is the way in and out and it is home to the most important people in the whole College: The Porters. In the old days they would have kept out bandits and wild beasts and, although security is an important part of their job, they also look after the keys, sort out the post and meet & greet visitors. They know everyone and where everything is! If you need your questions answered this is the best place to start.
During the Siege of Oxford in 1644, the Lodge was attacked by Roundhead artillery. One of the cannon balls is still kept in the Library.
Front Quad’s imaginative name reflects the fact that it is at the front of the College. St John’s College was founded in 1555 but most of the buildings here date from about 100 years earlier and were part of St Bernard’s Hall. Henry VIII had St Bernard’s closed down and the building fell into ruin. Then in 1555 along came our founder, Sir Thomas White, or as we know him, Tommy White. He snapped up the site for a very good price and founded a college - we have been here ever since.
So why are we St John’s? The reason lies with how Tommy White made his money. He was in the tailoring and cloth trade and St John the Baptist is the patron saint of tailors and cloth makers.
Why Dolphin Quad? There isn’t even a pond! Well, this quad was built in the late 1940s on the site of the Dolphin Inn. The small, neo-Georgian style quad with Ionic colonnades includes an exhibition gallery and lecture room.
Also of interest here is the mulberry tree. King James I was very keen on mulberry trees and many of these really old trees date from his reign. The fruit is delicious but don’t step on the fallen berries!
Dolphin Quad is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of a barmaid who worked in the old Dolphin Inn. Sometimes she flits across the mirror in the loos and has even been seen looking out of the Biology tutor’s window.
This is our showpiece quad, but what is the connection with Canterbury? It is named in honour of one of our former college presidents, William Laud, who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Charles I. Archbishop Laud, once exalted to high office, still kept up his connection with St John’s and he was the driving force behind the building of this splendid quad.
It was opened in 1636 (the opening party went on for three days!) and very little has changed here since. The architecture is remarkable because it shows a very rare example of English Baroque. The two large bronze statues at either end are Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria.
Even with his head, Charles I was a very short man (barely 5ft tall), whereas Henrietta Maria was exceptionally tall (about 6ft). Despite this theirs was a very happy marriage. The bottom right picture on this page is of Henrietta's statue. You can learn more about Henrietta via our Library's virtual 40 Years of Women exhibition!
Library & Study Centre
Here we have a remarkable blending of old and new. The Old Library dates from the 17th century and our library extension and study centre was opened in 2019.
Altogether there are over 70,000 books in our Library and there are many rare examples of texts dating back as far the 10th century. You can explore some notable pieces from our collections at the library's website, linked on the right..
Another imaginatively named quad, as it is found to the north of the Lodge. This is the business end of the College and is home to buildings in a very wide range of styles. The Senior Common Room (where the tutors hang out) dates from the mid-17th century. On the eastern edge, there is the Beehive (late 1950s), so called because the building plan is hexagonal, including all student rooms in this building!
North Quad is also home to the Estates Office, the Domestic Office, College Office and Bursary. At St John’s we take pride in the level of support we can offer to our students, and you can read more about this via the links below.
Food is a big thing here at St John’s. There’s lots of it, the quality is excellent, the prices are very reasonable and most special diets can be accommodated. Meals are purchased on a pay as you go basis with a swipe card that you load up at the beginning for term. Mostly, it is a cafeteria system but if you are feeling fancy you can book yourself, and a guest or two, in for our Formal Halls. Here there is a Latin grace, waiter service and a chance wear your gown.
The Hall itself dates mostly form the 16th century but was extensively refurbished in the 18th century. It features a number of portraits, which are all of former college presidents with the exception of the woman in pink on the far wall. This is Professor Elizabeth Fallaize, who was the first woman to become a fellow of the College. You can see this portrait in the centre photo on the right,
During the 18th century refurbishment, the Hall's fireplace was replaced. The old one had a rather unfortunate story associated with it: it is said that King James I visited St John’s and a play was performed for him in the Hall. It was really boring, and the King fell asleep and tumbled into the fireplace. The Royal clothing was singed.
There has been a chapel on this site since the foundation of St Bernard’s Hall and our current chapel has undergone many transformations over the years. What you see today is essentially a 19th century gothic revival restoration. It is not Oxford’s grandest chapel but has many interesting features. If you look to the right of the altar you will see a shaded gallery with a door behind it. This is where the President’s wife could attend services without being seen by students (see the photo on the left below).
Like most chapels we have a choir (open to all voices) and a mightily impressive pipe organ. This is actually quite new and dates from around 2008.
The organ was made in France and had to be transported to Oxford in pieces. When they unpacked the first box there were cries of horror: the wood was brilliant white and certainly no match for the wood in the rest of the chapel! The organ builder calmed everyone with the assurance that over the years the wood would darken to the perfect shade - we are very nearly there.
This quad was named in honour of our founder and, as you can see, dates from the 1970s. This is where a very large number of our students are accommodated and you will also find here the JCR (Junior Common Room), TV room and the Bar.
You will also see a number of what look like coats of arms chalked up on the walls. This is how Oxford Colleges like to celebrate their sporting triumphs. So, if your rowers, footballers or rugby team do well, this is how you tell the world about it.
Here is proof that not all modern architecture needs to look like a Brutalist car park. This award-winning area of St John's made very inventive use of a sliver of land that ran along the northern edge of the gardens, hence Garden Quad. Finished in the early 1990s, this is possibly one of Oxford’s only double decker quads. Down below we have our Auditorium and adjacent reception rooms while upstairs there is spacious accommodation and beds of herbs and flowers. The views across the gardens are spectacular and, to cap it all, we have a giant chess set in a glass summer house.
At St John’s students like to get involved in music and all manner of performing arts. Garden Quad has excellent facilities for this, including soundproofed music rooms and a concert standard Steinway D.
This is our newest quad and was finished in 2010. Here you will find high-quality modern accommodation, our very own Kendrew Café, modern teaching rooms and, right down in the cellar, a gym bristling with all manner of state-of-the-art machines. Gym membership at St John’s is free, so there are absolutely no excuses for not getting stuck in.
When they were building Kendrew Quad, there were some interesting archaeological finds which included a pit of mangled skeletons! First thoughts turned to the Black Death (1340s) and the many plague pits that are to be found in Oxford, but closer inspection revealed that these folk died violently: heads smashed in, cut marks on bones, etc. It turned out that they were, in fact, Vikings. We put them back where we found them and carried on building. They are still there!
Other virtual tours
Thanks so much for joining me on this tour! I hope you had fun and learned some things about St John's. Here are some links to more info and other 3D virtual tours around Oxford...
Stay in touch!
Click here to go back to the St John's College Virtual Open Day!