The Norham Manor Estate

The lengthy search for suitable premises led us to explore the possibilities of the Jam factory, the Fire Station in Rewley Road, Ruskin College in Walton Street, the Acland Hospital, the Radcliffe Infirmary and even Oxford Prison. For one reason or another they were thought unsuitable or beyond our reach and consequently we were delighted to be able to secure our generous site in Banbury Road. It was part of a larger area which had originally been purchased by the University from St John›s College for an ambitious scheme to relocate the Pitt Rivers Museum from its home in the Science Area. The striking circular design by the Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi in collaboration with the British architectural practice of Powell & Moya would have demolished all the existing houses both in Banbury Road and Bradmore Road. It was described by the architectural historian Sir Howard Colvin in his book on Unbuilt Oxford (1983) as “…perhaps, the last chance for the university to build in the twentieth century something that would take its place with the Divinity School, the Radcliffe Library and the Ashmolean Museum as a major work of European architecture.” It was granted planning permission in 1967 but it failed to find sufficient funding and instead the University embarked on a more modest development centred on no. 60 Banbury Road with a single storey gallery at the rear to house part of the Pitt Rivers collection. This was never a success with the public and in 2001 part of the new building was converted to a conservation laboratory and a textile store.

Initially the College purchased only 62 and 64 Banbury Road and 7 Bradmore Road. In order to provide the necessary dining and teaching facilities it commissioned a new building in the gardens from the architectural firm of Fielden Clegg Bradley, but in 2007 it was able to acquire 60 Banbury Road with the Balfour gallery at the rear. This offered sufficient space for the dining room, bar, library and seminar rooms and a sensitive scheme of conversion was carried out in 2008 by the Oxford practice of Berman Guedes Stretton. As the number of full-time residential students expanded, the College has subsequently acquired a number of additional houses in Bradmore and Norham Roads to accommodate them and to consolidate the boundaries of the campus.

Mindful of its location in a conservation area characterised by individual Victorian villas set in spacious gardens, the College has been determined to maintain that special character whilst creating a unified identity of its own. The Norham Manor estate was developed as a residential suburb by St John’s College in the second half of the nineteenth century. The master plan was drawn up in 1860 by William Wilkinson, the architect of the Randolph Hotel, but the individual houses were designed over the subsequent decades by a variety of different architects.

The three villas on the Banbury Road were distinctly grander than the Bradmore Road houses. No. 60, designed by Wilkinson himself, was built in 1865–6 for a chemist, Thomas Cousins who had a shop in Magdalen Street next to the Randolph. Wilkinson was particularly pleased with the design and included the plans and an elevation in his book English Country Houses published in 1870. The rear extension which now houses the student common room was built in 1902.

Nos. 62 and 64 were both designed by another local architect, E. G. Bruton. 62 was built in 1864–5 for the Rev. R. St John Tyrwhitt who was vicar of St Mary Magdalen and a distinguished artist. He was a friend of William Morris and John Ruskin and his paintings can be seen on the walls of the University Museum where he decorated the Geology room, and in the Christ Church collection. The sculpture over the entrance door illustrates a quotation from the Book of Proverbs:

There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in
going: a lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not
away for any; a greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against
whom there is no rising up.

It is a very accomplished work of art and has been attributed to John Hungerford Pollen who designed the entrance to the University Museum and painted the roof of the chapel at Merton College. Quite why Tyrwhitt chose this particular theme for the entrance to his new home is not clear.

No. 64 was built in 1868 and was leased in 1873 to J. W. Weaving, a corn merchant. It was extended in 1891 for Professor J Burdon Sanderson to the designs of the London architect Gerald Horsley.

The northern and eastern boundaries of the College are defined by houses in Bradmore Road and Norham Road. All of them were built between 1872 and 1874 and were designed by John Galpin. Galpin was a colourful character in the business world of Victorian Oxford. By training a carpenter, he became a surveyor, auctioneer and a builders’ merchant. In 1866 he founded the Oxford Building Company which became the biggest developer in the city before collapsing in bankruptcy which attracted a crowd of 6,000 people who planned to burn him in effigy.

The original leaseholders of the College houses were a characteristic mix of businessmen and clergymen. There was a photographer at 38 Norham Road, a timber merchant at 7 Bradmore Road and a postmaster at no. 9. No. 10 was occupied by the Rev William Bebb, and no. 11 by the sole don, the Rev. Henry DeBrisay, Fellow of the University College. The leaseholder for no. 12 was Galpin himself.

The last of the College buildings – and the only one built in the twentieth century – is the single storey building with its distinctive ‘egg box’ roof at the rear of 60 and 62 Banbury Road. Designed by the University Surveyor, it was opened in 1986 as the Balfour Building (after the first curator of the Museum) to house part of the Pitt-Rivers Collection.

The communal facilities of the College are housed in two of the three villas on the Banbury Road frontage. The entrance and reception are in the single storey building which links nos. 60 and 62. No. 60 was named as the Geoffrey Thomas Building on the occasion of his retirement as founding President and a list of the benefactors who made this possible is placed next to the staircase. It houses the College library in four rooms on the ground and first floors. The two first floor rooms are named after benefactors who have supported the College – Herbert Lane (the founder of the Association of Small Historic Towns and Villages) and Marjorie Metcalfe (née Stopforth).

The dining hall is in the Balfour Building. It is deliberately non-hierarchical as a reflection of the ethos of the College with no raised dais for a high table. The furniture was especially commissioned and made by the local firm of Bates and Lambourne of Milton Common. Hanging on the west wall is the College grace which has the distinction of being the only grace in the Welsh language in the University. It was chosen to commemorate the foundation of the College on St David’s Day. The Welsh text, written by W.D.Williams, reads:

O Dad, yn deulu dedwydd – y deuwn
A diolch o newydd,
Cans o’th law y daw bob dydd
Ein lluniaeth a’n llawenydd

Which can be translated as:

O Father, as a happy family – we come
With thanks anew,
For from thy hand we receive each day
Our sustenance and our joy.

The representation, which also shows the entrance sculpture over no. 62, was designed and executed in 2008 by the calligrapher Andy Moore and was presented to the College by Professor Malcolm Airs.

On the south wall of the dining hall is a carving of the College coat of arms executed by John Acton and marking the opening of the new College facilities by Joseph Stewart, Chairman of the Trustees of the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, on 8 June 2009.

In heraldic terms it is described as Per pale indented argent and azure on the argent a chevron enhanced gules in base a book azure leaved argent on the azure an ear of wheat palewise or the whole within a bordure gules.

The chevron on the left hand side is a stylised depiction of a gothic arch from Rewley Abbey which gave its name to the original home of the College in Wellington Square. Passing through the arch is the open book of learning symbolising the access to knowledge which is at the heart of Kellogg’s mission. On the right is an ear of wheat in recognition of the original benefactor of the College. The jagged line that divides the two halves represents the marriage between benefaction and learning and the points add up to the number of the 11 Founding Fellows.

The official opening of the College on its new site by the Rt. Hon. Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of the University, is marked by the plaque in the reception area opposite the entrance. The striking digital print on canvas that hangs adjacent to the plaque commemorates the visit to the College of Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, on 10 May 2010. It was donated by Navlika Ramjee, founding President of the MCR. The portrait hanging on the opposite wall is of Dr G.P. Thomas, the founding President who served the College from 1990 to 2007 and whose vision secured its present site. It was executed at the time of his retirement by the distinguished portrait painter, Keith Breedon. The large seminar room opening off the reception area is named in honour of Dr Russell Mawby who, as Chairman of the Trustees of the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, did so much to enable the College to be established. A portrait bronze cast of W.K.Kellogg himself is located on the wall of the entrance hall to No. 60.

Malcolm Airs
Emeritus Fellow and Emeritus Professor of Conservation and the Historic Environment