Brasenose College, Oxford

Brasenose College in Oxford was founded in 1509 and consists of three attractive quads with a 17th-century chapel notable for its colorful fan-vault ceiling.


History of Brasenose College

Founded in 1509 by William Smythe, Bishop of Lincoln, and Sir Richard Sutton, Brasenose College was the successor to an academic hall of the same name. The hall's last principal became the first head of the new college. The kitchen and chapel were also retained, at least for a century or two.

The college's odd nameis believed to derive from a 12th/13th-century brass knocker with a lion-like face that adorned the original academic hall. This "brazen-nose" was swiped in 1333 and taken to Stamford by a group of Oxford dons and students who wanted to found a rival university there. It was only recovered in 1890, when the college purchased the house on which the knocker was displayed.

The Old Quadrangle was built first, beginning in 1509. The gables and outer battlements were added a century later. A new chapel and library and were built during the Interregnum of the 1650s, and the final addition was the New Quadrangle (1882-1911) by T.G. Jackson, who also restored the chapel.

In about 1613, a Lancashire giant named John Middleton, better known as "The Childe of Hale," visited Brasenose (which was then full of Lancashire students). A life-sized portrait of him was painted and his huge hand was carved on a stone. The Brasenose College boat is always named Childe of Hale after him.

Famous members of Brasenose College over the centuries include:

What to See at Brasenose College

Brasenose College has an intimate and cozy feel that is typical of the smaller late medieval colleges. It is clustered around three main quadrangles, none very large.

Entrance to the college is from Radcliffe Square, which leads through a stout gate tower into the Old Quadrangle (1509-18). The north wall has a large and attractive sundial (1719). Instructions for reading are on an aluminum panel at the entrance to the Hall, on the south side of the Old Quad.

Hanging over the high table in the Hall is the namesake brazen nose door knocker, dating from the 12th century.

A gateway to the left (southeast corner of the Old Quad) leads into the small and leafy Chapel Quadrangle, also known as the Deer Park, which contains the library and chapel. Both were built in 1656-63 and are considered the most ambitious Oxford buildings constructed during the Interregnum. They were designed by the mason John Jackson in an unusual Gothic-Classical hybrid.

Brasenose College Chapel (1656-63) was the last of the Oxford chapels to be built on the traditional T-plan (chancel or choir with crossing antechapel). It replaced an earlier chapel alongside the Hall, which now serves as the Senior Common Room.

The chapel roof is made of 15th-century timbers brought from the Augustinian College of St. Mary in New Inn Hall Street, but most of this is concealed by a newer ceiling. This is not as lamentable as it might be, for it is concealed by a magnificent plaster fan vault (1659), which was brightly painted in 1895 by C.E. Kempe as part of a full Victorian restoration.

The antechapel includes an interesting memorial to Walter Pater (Fellow 1864-94), flanked by figures of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Plato and Dante. There is also a fine bust of John Kaye, Bishop of Lincoln, from 1884. The choir screen and organ case are both by T.G. Jackson in 1892.

The stained glass of the west window of the chapel is by James Pearson to designs by J.R. Mortimer, from 1776. The rest is Victorian. The reredos behind the altar is made of various marbles and dates from 1738-48.

The Chapel Quad leads into the New Quadrangle (1882-1911), from which there is a fine view of the west end of the chapel and the tower of St. Mary's Church, which is perfectly framed between the buildings. The architecture of the quadrangle itself is best appreciated from its facade on the High Street.

Quick Facts on Brasenose College

Site Information
Names:B.N.C. · Brasenose College · King's Hall and College of Brasenose
Categories:academic buildings; colleges
Dates:1509-18; 1656-63; 1882-1911
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:51.753055° N, 1.254668° W
Address:Radcliffe Square
Oxford, England
Phone:01865 277 830
Email:[email protected]
Hours:Daily 2-5pm
Lodging:View hotels near Brasenose College
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visits (2005-07).
  2. Geoffrey Tyack, Blue Guide Oxford and Cambridge, 6th ed. (2004), 57-58.
  3. Geoffrey Tyack, Oxford: An Architectural Guide, 71-72.
  4. Nikolaus Pevsner and Jennifer Sherwood, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (Yale University Press, 2002), 105-07.

More Information

The facade of Brasenose College on the High Street, added as part of the New Quad in 1882-1911. © Holly Hayes
The Old Quad (1509-18), looking northeast towards the entrance. © Holly Hayes
Northeast corner of the Old Quad (1509-18). © Holly Hayes
Sundial of 1719 in the Old Quadrangle. © Holly Hayes
Brasenose College Chapel (1656-63), viewed from the west in the New Quad (1882-1911). © Holly Hayes
Brasenose College Chapel (1656-63). © Holly Hayes
Entrance porch to Brasenose Chapel (1656-63). © Holly Hayes
Choir screen by T.G. Jackson (1892). © Holly Hayes
Chapel choir. © Holly Hayes
© Google

Map of Brasenose College, Oxford

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