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

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Jesus College

Jesus College is in the centre of the city of Oxford, on a site between Turl Street, Ship Street, Cornmarket Street and Market Street. The college was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571 and covers a broad range of secular subjects. Its oldest buildings date back to the 16th and early 17th centuries. There are about 475 students at Jesus College at any one time. 

What's the History of Jesus College?

Jesus College was founded on 27 June 1571 by Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I and is the only Oxford college from her reign. The foundation charter named a principal, eight fellows, eight scholars, and eight commissioners that drew up the statutes for the college. One of the commissioners was Hugh Price, a Welsh lawyer and clergyman who had petitioned the Queen to found a college to “bestow his estate of the maintenance of certain scholars of Wales to be trained up in good letters.

Jesus College was initially intended for the education of clergy, in particular those that wanted to promote the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, or the arrangements made for England to bring the English Reformation to a conclusion. However, the subjects covered broadened to soon include medicine and law, and now offers the full range of subjects taught at the university.

The college saw an important disturbance in its activities during the English Civil War (1642-1651), followed by a comparatively quiet time during the 18th century. The number of students was reduced during the Napoleonic Wars as well as some new entries for the purchase of muskets and items for serving college members. After the war, numbers rose again. 

During the First World War, Jesus College almost ceased to exit. Numbers dropped from 129 students in the summer of 1914 to 36 in the spring of 1916. Refugee students from Belgium and Serbia were lodged in empty rooms during 1916. Afte the war, the college added the subjects of history, theology, physics, chemistry, and modern languages. This led to greater success in university examinations and prizes. During the Second World War, many fellows served in the armed forces or carried out war work in Oxford – however, the college remained full of students and continued to provide lodging for students from other colleges that had had their buildings requisitioned. 

The Buildings of Jesus College

The Main Building

Jesus College’s main building is located in the centre of Oxford, between Ship Street, Cornmarket Street, Turl Street and Market Street. The buildings are arranged in three quadrangles.

The First Quadrangle

The First Quad contains the oldest college buildings. It includes the chapel, dedicated in 1621 and extended in 1636. This Gothic Revival building has a large window with stained glass made by George Hedgeland, a widened arch, and several improvements made by architect George Edmund Street. The principal of the college inhabits a Grade I listed building on the north side of the quad. To the west is the hall, considered amongst the most impressive of all the Oxford college halls. Built between 1613 and 1620, it has fine panelling and many notable paintings, as well as elaborately decorated columns and dragons along the frieze. The hall also contains a portrait of Elizabeth I and the college’s former principals and benefactors.

The Second Quadrangle

The second quad was constructed by Francis Mansell, principal appointed in 1630, in 1640. It has buildings along the north and south sides. The project was completed just after his death in 1712. This quad is of uniform composition, with regular windows with round-arched lights, hood moulds and a continuous frize. Writer Simon Jenkins said of the quadrangle that it has “the familiar Oxford Tudor windows and decorative Dutch gables, crowding the skyline like Welsh dragons’ teeth and lightened by exuberant flower boxes“.

The Fellow’s Library

The library contains strapwork bookcases from 1628 and is very picturesque. It’s said to be “one of the most charming of Oxford libraries, and one of the least frequented“. It houses 11,000 antiquarian books and many rare texts, including a Greek bible from 1545 signed by German Lutheran reformer Philipp Melanchthon.

The Third Quadrangle

In the 18th century, the third quad was home to the college stables. This area contained the college’s science laboratories (which are now closed), a gate-tower, and living accommodation as well as the Meyricke Library, named after a donor. The Old Members’ Building contains a music room, 24 study-bedrooms, and some lecture rooms.

The Fourth Quadrangle and Other Buildings

A new commercial property, Northgate House, was established in 2019 to provide more student accommodation. The college also purchased 10 acres of land in east Oxford for use as a sports ground.  

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

Jesus College has an average of 320 undergraduate and 150 postgraduate students. About 10% of the undergraduates are from overseas. 

Students regularly participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. In conjunction with Exeter College and Lincoln College, Jesus College holds an annual Arts Festival. The festival takes place on the Fifth Week of Hilary Term and includes plays, exhibitions adn concerts. Every three years, Jesus College also co-organises the Somerville-Jesus Ball on the grounds of Somerville College.  

Where is Jesus College?

Jesus College is located on Turl Street (OX1 3DW), Oxford. Tel 01865 279700.

Jesus College Coat of Arms
Arms: Vert, three stags trippant argent attired.

Can you Visit Jesus College?

Yes, Jesus College is open to the public. 

  • Open: 14.00-16.30 daily.
  • Charge: Adults £2, seniors and children over 5 £1.
  • Groups: Maximum 20 people in a group. Groups must book in advance.
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