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Brasenose College, Oxford

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Location  Radcliffe Square
Named for  Bronze door knocker
Total enrollment  577 (2014)
Principal  John Bowers
Established  1509 (1509)
Previous names  Brazen Nose College
Phone  +44 1865 277830
Colors  Black, Yellow
Brasenose College, Oxford

Full name  The King's Hall and College of Brasenose
Latin name  Aula regia et collegium aenei nasi
Address  Radcliffe Sq, Oxford OX1 4AJ, UK
Sister college  Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Undergraduate tuition and fees  Domestic tuition: 9,000 GBP (2016), International tuition: 18,905 GBP (2016)
Notable alumni  David Cameron, William Golding, William Webb Ellis, Elias Ashmole, Michael Palin
Similar  University of Oxford, Gonville and Caius College, Magdalene College - Cambridge, Trinity Hall - Cambridge, Corpus Christi College

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Brasenose College (abbr. BNC), officially The King's Hall and College of Brasenose, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1509, with the College library and current chapel added in the mid-seventeenth century. The College's New Quadrangle was completed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with additional residence areas completed in the 1960s and 1970s.


As of 2012, it has a financial endowment of £90 million. For the four degree years 2011/2014, Brasenose averaged 10th in the Norrington Table (an unofficial measure of performance in undergraduate degree examinations).

Brasenose is home to one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world, Brasenose College Boat Club.

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The history of Brasenose College, Oxford stretches back to 1509, when the college was founded on the site of Brasenose Hall. Its name is believed to derive from the name of a brass or bronze knocker that adorned the hall's door.

The college was associated with Lancashire and Cheshire, the county origins of its two founders – Sir Richard Sutton and the Bishop of Lincoln, William Smyth – a link which was maintained strongly until the latter half of the twentieth century. The first principals navigated Brasenose, with its Catholic sympathisers, through the reformation and continuing religious reforms.

Most of Brasenose favoured the Royalist side during the English Civil War, although it produced notable generals and clergy on both sides.

The library and chapel were completed in the mid-seventeenth century, despite Brasenose suffering continuing money problems.

Eighteenth century

The post-1785 period would see an era of prosperity of the college under Principal William Cleaver. The college began to be populated by gentlemen, its income doubling between 1790 and 1810, and academic success considerable. Efforts to reconstruct Brasenose were not completed, however, until the second half of the century with the addition of New Quad between 1886 and 1911. Brasenose's financial position remained secure, although under the tenure of Principal Edward Hartopp Cradock Brasenose's academic record waned greatly, with much of its success focussed on sports – where it excelled most notably in cricket and rowing.

The mid-Century Royal Commissions were navigated – although they were opposed in form, their recommendations welcomed including the submission of accounts. The election of Charles Heberden as Principal in 1889 led to a gradual reversal in Brasenose's academic failures, although its sporting performance suffered. Heberden was the first lay Principal, presiding over an increasingly secular college, and opening up the library to undergraduates, instituting an entrance exam for the first time and accepting Rhodes scholarships.

Early twentieth century

Brasenose lost 115 men in the First World War (including a quarter of the 1913 year), with its undergraduate numbers greatly reduced.

Lord Curzon's post-War reforms were successfully instituted. The inter-war period was defined by William Stallybrass, who as fellow and eventual Principal (until 1948) dominated college life. Brasenose once again produced top sportsmen – cricketers, rowers, and others. This came at the cost of falling academic standards and poorly performing finances, which would see Stallybrass' authority challenged. He died in a railway accident before he could be forced out, however.

After the war, sporting achievements waned (although there were notable exceptions) but academic success did not improve significantly, in what was now one of Oxford's largest colleges.

Late twentieth century

The 1970s saw considerable social change in Brasenose, with more post-graduate attendees and fewer domestic staff. In 1974 BNC was one of the first men's colleges to admit women as full members, the others being Jesus College, Hertford, St Catherine's, and Wadham.

There was also considerable construction work to ensure that undergraduates could be housed for the entirety of their degree on the main site and on the Frewin site; this objective was finally achieved in 1997 with the opening of the St Cross Building and Frewin extension.

Law continued to be a strong subject for Brasenose (following on from Stallybrass through Principals Herbert Hart and Barry Nicholas), as was the emerging subject of Politics, Philosophy and Economics, starting with the fellowship of Vernon Bogdanor. Brasenose's finances were secured, and it thus entered the twenty-first century in a good position with regards financial, extracurricular and academic success.

Location and buildings

Brasenose faces the west side of Radcliffe Square opposite the Radcliffe Camera in the centre of Oxford. The north side is defined by Brasenose Lane, while the south side reaches the High Street. To the west is Lincoln College. At its south-east end, the college is separated from the University Church by St Mary's Passage. The main entrance of the College can be found on Radcliffe Square. Although not located on Turl Street the college has informal links with the three Turl Street colleges (Lincoln, Jesus, and Exeter). The College is also physically linked to Lincoln College through a connecting door, through which Brasenose College members are permitted to enter Lincoln College on Ascension Day each year. The door is opened for five minutes and it is the only time during the year that this door is unlocked. Brasenose members are then served an ale by Lincoln College, which is traditionally flavoured with ground ivy.

The main college site comprises three quads, the original Old Quad, a small quad known as the Deer Park, and the large New Quad, as well as collection of smaller houses facing Radcliffe Square and the High Street. The original college buildings comprised a single two storey quad, incorporating the original kitchen of Brasenose Hall on the south side. In the 17th century a third floor was added to the quad to form the current Old Quad. A separate chapel was also built to the south, connected to the quad by a library built over a cloister as shown in a 1670 print, thus enclosing the Deer Park. The cloister was for a time the college burial ground, and evidence suggests there were at least 59 people buried there, with the last recorded burial being in 1754. The cloister was filled in to make two or three chambers in around 1807, used as student bedrooms or administrative offices until 1971, when the space was converted into the graduate common room. More recently the graduate common moved to the Old Quad, and the space, still known as the "Old Cloisters" has been used as a library overspill area, a teaching room and, in 2010-11, as the temporary Senior Common Room. In January 2015, archaeological investigations began as a prelude to a major building project that will restore the stone work and integrate the lower and upper reading rooms, greatly enhancing the college's library provision. The nickname for the Chapel Quad is often thought to be a friendly jibe at Magdalen College which has a genuine deer park known as The Grove.

Dining hall

During the sixteenth century the dining hall was heated by an open fire in the centre of the room, supplemented by movable braziers. In the 1680s the hall was renovated, with a raised floor to accommodate a wine cellar below and a reconstructed roof. Another renovation phase in the mid-eighteenth century included a new chimneypiece, a new ceiling to cover the original timber beams and two gilded chandeliers. The original brazen nose was placed above high table in 1890.

Chapel and library

Building began on the current chapel in 1656, and it replaced an old chapel which was located in a space now occupied by the Senior Common Room. Building materials were taken from a disused chapel at the site of St Mary’s College (now Frewin Hall), transported piece by piece by horse-and-cart to Brasenose College. The chapel, a mix of Gothic and Baroque styles, features a hanging fan vault ceiling of wood and plaster, and was consecrated in 1666. The internal fittings are largely 18th and 19th century, and include chandeliers presented to the college in 1749. These were donated to a parish church and later converted to gas but then returned to Brasenose when the church switched to electric lights. The chandeliers were then converted back to their original state so that candles could be used in them once again.

Various alterations were made to the Chapel after completion. Although repairs were undertaken in the meantime, the interior of the Chapel was renovated (having fallen into a poor state) in 1819, and the exterior beginning in 1841. In 1892–3 a new organ was purchased and fitted, paid for by the then Principal Charles Buller Heberden; the current organ was installed in 1973, and rebuilt in 2002–3.

The current library was begun in 1658 and received its first books in 1664. It replaced a smaller library on Staircase IV, which is now used as a meeting room. The books in the current library were fixed by chains, which were only removed in the 1780s, over a hundred years later.

New Quad

New Quad was designed by Jackson and finished in 1911, replacing a number of existing buildings. The current site was completed in 1961 with new buildings, used largely for first year undergraduate accommodation, designed by the architects Powell and Moya.

In 2010, a project was begun to renovate the kitchens, servery, dining hall and some other areas of college. The project included the installation of under floor heating and a new timber floor in the dining hall, new kitchen equipment, a new servery area, additional dining and meeting places, and disabled access to the dining hall. During the project, the Old Quad housed a temporary dining hall and kitchen, while the New Quad was used to store building materials.

The dining hall refurbishment was completed by September 2010, whilst the remaining work was completed around Easter 2012. The new catering facilities were unveiled during a ceremony on 14 March 2012. During the ceremony, college members gathered in a restored 15th century building in the heart of college, originally the college kitchens and most recently used as the servery. This room, to be known as the Mediaeval Kitchen, will be used as a new dining space in addition to the main dining hall, which will remain the usual location for student meals. The temporary kitchen and builder's yard were removed and the Quads restored to their normal state during the Easter 2012 vacation.

In recent years the Junior Common Room (JCR) and Bar have also been renovated.


The college also has a large undergraduate annexe situated on St Michael's Street, developed from Frewin Hall in the 1940s, and a graduate annexe shared with St Cross College was completed in 1995. The St Cross annex is laid out in clusters of five bed-sitting rooms, sharing two shower rooms and a well equipped kitchen. A second graduate annexe, Hollybush Row, was opened in September 2008 and is located close to the railway station and Said Business School. It consists of single rooms with en-suite bathrooms and shared kitchens. There are also a small number of other graduate houses offered by the college.

Coat of arms

Brasenose College's coat of arms is quite complex, since it incorporates the personal arms of the founders and the arms of the See of Lincoln.

Its blazon (description in formal heraldic terms) is: Tierced in pale: (1) Argent, a chevron sable between three roses gules seeded or, barbed vert (for Smyth); (2) or, an escutcheon of the arms of the See of Lincoln (gules, two lions of England in pale or, on a chief azure Our Lady crowned seated on a tombstone issuant from the chief, in her dexter arm the Infant Jesus, in her sinister arm a sceptre, all or) ensigned with a mitre proper; (3) quarterly, first and fourth argent, a chevron between three bugle-horns stringed sable; second and third argent, a chevron between three crosses crosslet sable (for Sutton).

Within the college a simpler form is sometimes used where the central tierce simply contains the arms of the See of Lincoln, rather than displaying them on a mitred escutcheon.

Because of the complexity of the arms they are not suitable for use on items such as the college crested tie, where the brazen nose is used instead.

College prayer

The college prayer is read by the principal or a fellow at evensong on Sundays during term and at gaudies.

Almighty and heavenly Father, we desire thy loving-kindness upon this, our well loved Society. We implore thy blessing on those of its members who now serve thee in their several callings. Strengthen them, O Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest, and, as thou hast called them to thy service, make them worthy of their calling. And we keep for ever before thee in grateful remembrance of their lives and their sacrifice, those of our body who fell in the Wars; and into thy hands we commend them, thou God with whom do live the spirits of just men made perfect. And we pray for ourselves, that we may learn here to know and do thy will; that through thy protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul, through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

O Lord God, in whose name are gathered here the memorials of many generations, we give thanks for all former members of this College, who have served thee with faithful labour in thy Church and Kingdom; as thou didst enable them to add their portion to thy work, so teach and strengthen us, we pray thee, to do the tasks awaiting us in this our generation; through him who offered himself to do thy will and finish thy work, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O eternal God, the Resurrection and the Life of all them that believe in thee, trust in thee, and serve thee; thou that art always to be praised, as well for the dead as those that are alive; We give thee most hearty thanks for our Founders and Benefactors, by whose Bounty and Charity we are brought up to religion and the studies of good learning, and particularly for William Smyth and Richard Sutton our Founders; beseeching thee, that we may so well use these thy blessings to the praise and honour of thy holy Name, that at last, we, with them, may be brought to the immortal glory of the Resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Individual benefactors are commemorated in an annual pattern, with the founders being commemorated (as shown above) on the first Sunday of Michaelmas Term, and at all gaudies.


The following preprandial grace is read by the Bible Clerk at Formal Hall:

The grace after dinner is only read on special occasions, and the list of benefactors included in this grace is quite variable.

Student life

The JCR plays a central part in the life of the undergraduate community. Offering social, recreational and welfare support to the students, the elected committee addresses many aspects of student life and liaises with the governing body and graduate student representatives.

Unlike most Oxford colleges, the graduate common room is known as the Hulme Common Room (HCR), named after a past benefactor, rather than the Middle Common Room (MCR).

The college also organises an annual summer arts festival, one of the largest in the University. First staged in 1994, it features plays, pantomimes, comedy evenings, musical performances, and a keenly-contested bake-off. In 2015, the College held its 21st summer arts festival, which featured six days of open-air plays, music concerts, a life drawing class, poetry readings and exhibitions as well as an outdoor summer bar, all organised by Brasenose students. In 2015 Brasenose also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the admission of women into the College through an exhibition, which modelled the portraits in the Dining Hall, by filling the JCR with a series of portraits of female alumnae ` years women.


The college has a Director of Music, who directs the chapel choir with the assistance of three organ scholars. The Director of Music also facilitates a range of concerts, which usually happen on a weekly basis. These include the professional Platnauer Concerts, held in memory of Maurice Platnauer, Principal of Brasenose (1956–1960). Other concerts are designed to highlight talented soloists or groups of performers in College. The college awards up to four music scholarships at any one time through auditions in the year prior to entry or at the beginning of the academic year.

Brasenose College has a non-auditioned choir, although up to eight choral scholarships are offered to members of Brasenose, again, through auditions in the year prior to entry or at the beginning of the academic year. The choir sings Evensong every Sunday, and also sings for various special services and events, including two carol services, the annual joint service with Lincoln College and other occasions. Recently there has been the inauguration of a biennial Alumni and Music Reunion Dinner, with a Festal Evensong for all attendees preceding this. The choir regularly goes on tour, for instance to Paris in 2006, Lombardy in 2009, Rome in 2010 and Belgium in 2013, and sings at cathedrals near Oxford during term-time.

In 2010 and 2011 the college ran the Wondrous Machine event, where local Primary School children were invited to Brasenose for interactive sessions to learn about the pipe organ and the science behind the musical instrument.


Brasenose College Boat Club (commonly abbreviated to BNCBC) is the rowing club of the college and is believed to be one of the oldest boat clubs in the world. The date of formation of the club is impossible to verify: a boat from the college took part in the earliest recorded race between rowing clubs anywhere in the world. This was a head race in Oxford in 1815, beating Jesus College Boat Club. A number of college members have rowed for the university against Cambridge University in the Boat Race and the Women's Boat Race. Notably, Walter Woodgate, a Boat Race winner, eleven-time Henley champion and inventor of the coxless four, John (Con) Cherry who represented Great Britain at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin and Andrew Lindsay who won a gold medal in rowing at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and participated in the Boat race in 1998 and 1999. Other students who rowed while at the college have achieved success in other fields, including James John Hornby who became headmaster of Eton College.

The college boathouse, which is shared with Exeter College Boat Club, is in Christ Church Meadow, on the Isis (as the River Thames is called in Oxford). It replaced a moored barge used by club-member and spectators.

Brasenose College Rugby Football Club (abbreviated to BNCRFC) can draw association with William Webb Ellis, who is often credited as the inventor of the game, founder of BNCRFC and the club's first captain.

People associated with the College

Notable former students of the college have included politicians, scientists, writers, entertainers and academics.

Among the best known living Brasenose alumni are former Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull, the comedian Michael Palin as well as Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey, Bruce Kent, active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, J. Michael Kosterlitz, Nobel laureate in Physics in 2016, and George Monbiot, environmental and political activist.

Earlier alumni include Henry Addington, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Gorton, Prime Minister of Australia, Elias Ashmole founder of the Ashmolean Museum, John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Clavell, highwayman and author, Colin Cowdrey, English Test batsman, William Webb Ellis, often credited with the invention of Rugby football, John Foxe author of Actes and Monuments popularly abridged as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, William Golding, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, William White and Richard Wildye, both amongst those who disappeared with the lost Roanoke Colony.

See also: Alumni of Brasenose College, Oxford and Fellows of Brasenose College, Oxford


Brasenose College, Oxford Wikipedia