Oxford University - St John's College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.

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St John’s College

A constituent college of the University of Oxford, St John’s College was founded in 1555 as a men’s college, but has been coeducational since 1979. With a financial endowment of £600 million as of 2020, St John’s is the richest college in Oxford, mainly due to its ownership of land in the city of Oxford which was developed in the nineteenth century. It is located in a central location on St Giles’ and has a student body of approximately 390 undergraduates and 250 postgraduates, in addition to over 100 academic staff.

What's the History of St John’s College?

St John’s College was founded in 1555 as a men’s college. Its founder, Sir Thomas White, lately Lord Mayor of London, envisioned it as a source of educated Roman Catholic clerics to support the Counter-Reformation under Queen Mary. 

White bought the buildings on the east side of St Giles’ that had belonged to the former College of St Bernard (north of Balliol and Trinity Colleges). These buildings dated back to 1437. The college was initially small, and the fellows lectured in rhetoric, Greek, and dialectic (not directly in theology). 

The endowments which St John’s was given benefited also from the suburban development of Oxford. The college is today, one of the largest in the city. 

The Buildings of St John’s College

The Front Quadrangle

The Front Quad consists of buildings built for the Cistercian St Bernard’s College, which had began construction in 1437. Much of the exterior was as it is now, although the Eastern range was incomplete. The college founder made major alterations to create the current college hall, and designated the Northern part of the Eastern range to be the lodging of the president. The turret clock, made by John Knibb, dates from 1690. Above the Porters’ Lodge is a statue of St. John the Baptist made by Eric Gill.

The Chapel

The chapel was initially dedicated to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1530) but re-dedicated to St John the Baptist in 1557. In 1840 the chapel’s interior underwent major changes which created the gothic revival pews, roof, wall arcading, and west screen. Thomas White, William Laud, and William Juxon (three presidents of the college) are buried beneath this chapel. Choral services have been sung in the chapel since 1618.

The Canterbury Quadrangle

This quad is a fine example of Italian Renaissance architecture, one of the first in Oxford. It was commissioned by Archbishop Laud and completed in 1636. It contains the college library, which consists of four parts all connected to each other: The Old Library (south side, built 1596–1598), The Laudian Library (built 1631–1635 above the eastern colonnade, overlooking the garden), The Paddy Room (1971–77) and the new Library and Study Centre, which opened in 2019.

The North Quadrangle

The North Quad was not designed but is the irregular product of various buildings constructed since the college was founded. For example, in 1612 the college cook (Thomas Clarke) was given permission to build a college kitchen and residential rooms. In 1676 the first part of today’s Senior Common Room was constructed. Various further additions and renovations took place in 1826, 1900, 1936, and 2004–2005. 

The Dolphin Quadrangle

There were three houses on 2–4 St Giles’ that formed an inn, the Dolphin Inn. In 1947–1948 the college constructed on the site a neo-Georgian Dolphin Quadrangle, designed by Edward Maufe. Although this was right after the war, the college was able to build it using stored its own timber in Bagley Wood, owned by the college to this day.

The Sir Thomas White Quadrangle

Not actually a quadrangle but an L-shaped building, it was built in 1972-75 and its upper floors are predominantly used as student residences. The ground floor contains communal facilities such as the college bar, movie rooms, and JCR. Underground areas contain the Games Room and Erg Room for rowing.

The Garden Quadrangle

The Garden quad is a modern (1993) neo-Italianate design that includes the college auditorium, student rooms and kitchens. It won five architecture awards, and a 2003 poll organised by The Oxford Times voted the £7.5m quadrangle the best building erected in Oxford in the preceding 75 years.

The Kendrew Quadrangle

St John’s most recent quad was completed in 2010 and named after Sir John Kendrew, former president of the college, Nobel Laureate and the college’s greatest benefactor of the twentieth century. The construction has been dubbed “the last great quad in the city centre”. Much of the energy required to heat the building is provided by solar panels on the roof, geothermal pipes below the basement and woodchips from the college wood.

Other Properties

The college also owns almost all the buildings on the Eastern stretch of St Giles’, which are now used for various purposes such as tutoring, diners, and receptions.

What is it Like to Study at St John’s College, Oxford?

St John’s offers onsite accommodation for all undergraduates for the duration of their course, mostly in the Thomas White Quad, but also in the Beehive. All graduate students are members of the Middle Common Room, which represents graduates, organises events and maintains graduate facilities.

St John’s College Boat Club (SJCBC) is the largest of a number of college sports clubs. In 2006 St John’s launched SJCtv, becoming the first Oxford college to start its own television station. The college drama group operates under the banner of St John’s Mummers. 

St John’s also operates a discount scheme, offering discounts at a wide range of local businesses for all undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Where is St John’s College?

St John’s College is located on St Giles’ (OX1 3JP), Oxford. Tel 01865 277300.

St John's College Coat of Arms
Arms: of St John's College, Oxford (arms of Sir Thomas White): Gules, an annulet in chief or on a canton ermine a lion rampant sable a bordure of the fourth charged with eight estoiles of the second.

Can you Visit St John’s College?

Yes, St John’s College is open to the public. 

  • Open: 13.00-17.00 or dusk, whichever is earliest.
  • Charge: Free.
  • Groups: Maximum 14 people in a group, accompanied by a guide. Larger groups will be split into smaller ones.

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