Radcliffe Camera is a neo-classical building inside Oxford University, built from 1737 to 1749 for the Radcliffe Science Library by James Gibbs. Radcliffe Camera is considered one of the finest examples of the architectural style in England. Its location is between the Old Bodleian College to the south, St Mary’s Church to the north, and All Souls College to the east.
With its circular shape, its central location, and its separation from other buildings, the Radcliffe Camera is almost always included in shorthand visual representations of Oxford University. The Radcliffe Camera stands as a testament to John Radcliffe’s philanthropy and the enduring legacy of learning and scholarship at Oxford University. Its distinctive presence continues to inspire and captivate visitors from around the world.
Construction and maintenance of the library were financed by the estate of John Radcliffe, a physician who died in 1714 leaving £40,000. The exterior was complete in 1747 and the interior finished by 1748. The library opened its doors on 13 April 1749.
History of the Radcliffe Camera
The Radcliffe Camera was designed by James Gibbs, an eminent British architect, and its construction was commissioned in the mid-18th century. It was named after John Radcliffe, a physician, and royal physician to Queen Anne, who bequeathed a significant sum of money to the University of Oxford upon his death in 1714.
Radcliffe’s will stipulated that the funds should be used to construct a new library in Oxford. However, it wasn’t until several decades later, in 1737, that the project gained momentum when the Radcliffe Trustees, the group responsible for administering Radcliffe’s legacy, decided to move forward with the construction of a library building.
James Gibbs designed the Radcliffe Camera in a neoclassical style, characterized by its circular shape and impressive dome. Construction began in 1737 and was completed in 1749 under the supervision of architect James Wyatt, who made some alterations to Gibbs’ original plans.
Originally, the Radcliffe Camera served as a reading room for the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It provided additional space for the expanding collections of the Bodleian Library and became a dedicated space for housing scientific and reference books.
The Architecture and Style of the Radcliffe Camera
The exterior of the Radcliffe Camera features classical architectural elements, with Corinthian columns adorning its entrance and an impressive dome rising above.
The dome, constructed with wood and covered in lead, is one of the most recognizable features of the building and adds to its grandeur.
Where is the Radcliffe Camera?
Over the years, the Radcliffe Camera has remained a prominent symbol of academic life at Oxford University. It has also become a popular tourist attraction, admired for its architectural beauty and historical significance.
Today, the Radcliffe Camera is still used as a reading room, primarily for humanities and social sciences. Here is a map to get there: