Keble College, Oxford: (left) the Chapel and (right) Pusey Quad. Click on images to large them and to obtain additional views of these buildings.

The first ranges in the north quadrangle were built in 1868-70, with a temporary hall and chapel, and part of the west side of the south quadrangle followed in 1872-3. William Gibbs had by then decided to pay for the chapel, so that this was built in 1873-6 to a larger scale than first intended. The hall and library range followed in 1875-8, and apart from a small block added to the north side in 1955, the main quadrangle was then complete. The south quadrangle, however, was never properly enclosed, for after most of the east side had been built in 1874-5 it was decided to use the end site for the ambitious Warden's House. This was built in 1876-7. Finally, in 1879-83, the bursary block was added to the buildings of the west side of the south quadrangle. The total cost was about £150,000, of which £80,000 was spent on the hall, library and chapel. Enough has already been said of the composition of these buildings and of the great chapel interior; but it should be added that the interiors of the library and hall are scarcely less ambitious: approached by a splendid broad staircase, the first richly timbered, the second with patterned brick walls, a painted ceiling and Gibbs glass. — Paul Thompson, 394

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Contemporary and later judgments of Keble College — Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1958)

The most strident example of Victorian Gothic architecture at Oxford, fortunately on an isolated site opposite the Parks, where it had no neighbours earlier than the Museum, is Butterfleld's Keble College, a complete entity in itself, largely built in 1868-70. With its walls so violently striated with bricks of various colours, Keble would have been a most disturbing increment to any existing college; on the other hand, Butterfield's quietly stone-banded chapel at Balliol of 1857 is that college's happiest feature, the rest being largely the work of Waterhouse.

Since Keble was founded by Butterfield's pious High Church friends for clerical students, the chapel, which was added to the group in 1873-6, understandably dominates the whole. Tall and richly decorated, this has many of Butterfield's virtues, but it quite lacks the directness and the poignance of his best work of the fifties and early sixties.

The hall and library are less monumental than the chapel, fitting more easily into the ranges of sets that surround the two quadrangles. The over-all composition is fairly regular, and there is less coarse or fussy detailing than Scott and Waterhouse used for their 'Collegiate Gothic'. Moreover, the scale of Keble is modestly domestic and, despite its considerable size, the features are simple and crisp; but in the relatively clean air of Oxford Butterfield's polychromy has received less of the desirable mellowing than it gets in London. The banded walls certainly lack the harmony that the softer colours of the materials used in his country church interiors generally produced. [186-87]

Contemporary and later judgments of Keble College — Charles L. Eastlake (1872)

[Butterfield] ventured on a more emphatic departure from local traditions of style than Oxford has yet seen, either in the decadence or the Revival of Gothic, applied to buildings of a similar class. Perhaps it is hardly fair to judge of this building so soon after its erection, when the horizontal bands of stone, of black brick, and of white brick, oppose each other so crudely that in looking at the various fronts — east, west, north, or south — one can see nothing but stripes. Yet, even when time has toned down the colour of the materials, they will be always predominant in the design, and if such an innovation be tolerated at Oxford — once the head-quarters of Mediaeval taste — we need not be surprised to find it imitated elsewhere. Indeed, this mode of surface decoration has been long practised in other works, though by no means with equal skill. In Keble College the main mass of the walls is executed in red brick, and the architect has cunningly broken up his black bands with white bricks and his white bands with black ones. In order to relieve each other from monotony and heaviness. The window dressings and mullions are of stone, and the general design — except in the particulars mentioned — is distinguished by intense simplicity. [p. 262]

References

Eastlake, Charles L. A History of the Gothic Revival. London: Longmans, Green; N.Y. Scribner, Welford, 1972. Facing p. 261. [Copy in Brown University's Rockefeller Library]

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. “The Pelican History of Art.” Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1963.

Thompson, Paul. William Butterfield, Victorian Architect. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971.


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Last modified 4 May 2012