Oxford University - Exeter College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.

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Exeter College

A constituent college of the University of Oxford in England, Exeter College is the fourth-oldest college of the university and was founded in 1314 by Devon-born Bishop of Exeter Walter de Stapledon. 

Exeter was popular with the sons of Devonshire gentry when it was founded, but it has since been associated with a wide range of prominent alumni, such as William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, Richard Burton, Roger Bannister, Alan Bennett, and Philip Pullman.

Women were not permitted to study at Exeter College until 1979. In 1993 Exeter became the first of the former all-male colleges to elect a woman, Marilyn Butler, as its rector. The college motto is “Floreat Exon“, meaning “Let Exeter Flourish“.

What's the History of Exeter College?

Exeter College was founded in 1314 on its original location on Turl Street by Walter de Stapledon of Devon, Bishop of Exeter and later treasurer to Edward II. It was initially a school to educate clergy.

During its first century, Exeter College was known as Stapeldon Hall and had just twelve to fourteen students. The college began growing significantly from the 15th century onward when it started offering rooms to its students. 

Sir John Acland, a Devonshire gentleman, knight, and philanthropist, donated £800 in the 16th century, which largely financed the building of a new dining hall and two scholarships for poor students. A significant number of noble Roman Catholic students were also invited to enroll at the enlarged college. Over time, Exeter became one of the leading colleges in the University of Oxford.

Exeter and Lincoln College, Oxford; panoramic views. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Famous Alumni of Exeter College

William Morris

William Morris was a British poet, artist, and textile designer, as well as a conservationist, translator, printer, and social activist linked with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He studied Classics at Oxford University and entered Exeter College in 1852.

J. R. R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an English writer, poet, academic, and philologist and the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien studied classics, English language and literature at Exeter College and graduated in 1913 with first-class honours. Read more about Tolkien at Oxford here.

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The Buildings of Exeter College

The Front Quadrangle

Exeter College’s Front Quad sits on the site of the medieval college. Only Palmer’s Tower in the north-eastern corner, built in 1432, is the only structure that remains from the early buildings. The tower was once the primary entrance to the college and now houses offices and lodgings for fellows. The quadrangle is dominated by the chapel, constructed in 1854–1860, and heavily inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The hall was constructed in 1618 and is notable for its vaulted ceilings and numerous fine portraits. The Front Quad also houses the Junior, Middle, and Senior Common Rooms, and lodgings for fellows and undergraduates.

The Margary Quadrangle

The Margary Quad was finished in 1964 to commemorate the 650th anniversary of the college. It’s named after Ivan Margary, who paid for its restoration. This quad has the rector’s lodgings, and staircases nine, ten, and eleven, also erected during the 19th century.

The Fellow's Garden

This garden is part of a passageway from Exeter’s Front Quadrangle. In it stands the library, designed in the 13th-century style. Other buildings here include the Convocation House, the Divinity School, and the Bodleian Library. The Mound at the end of the Garden offers views over Radcliffe Square, including All Souls College and the Radcliffe Camera.

The Cohen Quad

Exeter college purchased the main site of Ruskin College in 2007-2008. The buildings here (and around the COhen Quad) were redeveloped to provide a range of student bedrooms, teaching rooms, and study spaces.

What is it Like to Study at Exeter College, Oxford?

Exeter is one of Oxford’s smallest colleges and is seen as many as having a close-knit student body. Emphasis is placed on tradition, especially during special occasions such as the annual Burns Night, a dinner in honor of the Scottish poet Robert Burns

Exeter College’s Choir

Exeter has a mixed-voice choir, made up of 24 singers. It is accompanied by the Organ Scholars. They run three services a week and have been featured on a number of BBC Radio 4’s Daily Service. Exeter College also offers Choral and Parry–Wood Organ Scholarships.

Exeter College’s Sports

The students also compete at a university level on the varsity teams in rowing, rugby, hockey, netball, and cricket. In 2010, Exeter College won the men’s intra-university cricket division and in 2014 they defeated St Catherine’s College 2-1 in the Football Cuppers tournament final. 

Where is Exeter College?

Exeter College is located on Turl Street (OX1 3DP), Oxford. Tel 01865 279600.

Exeter College Coat of Arms
Arms: Argent, two bends nebuly sable (arms of Stapledon) within a bordure of the last charged with eight pairs of keys, addorsed and interlaced in the rings, the wards upwards.

Can you Visit Exeter College?

Yes, Exeter College is open to the public. 

  • Open: Open daily between 14:00 and 17:00 during term time and between 13:00 and 17:00 outside of term time. 
  • Charge: Adults £3, free for children up to the age of 12, all prospective students, Bodleian Card holders, and Oxford alumni.
  • Groups: Tour guides must book a time slot in advance.

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