Henry Chichele, the son of a merchant of Higham Ferrars, was one of the first roll of scholars whom William of Wykeham nominated at the opening of his great foundation of New College. . . . Chichele (like his successor Laud) was throughout his life a liberal and consistent patron of the University. He presented it with money and books, and, mindful of what he owed to his training at New College, resolved to copy his old master Wykeham in erecting one more well-ordered and well-endowed house of learning, among the obscure and ill-managed halls which still harboured the majority of the members of the University. He first began to build a small College in St. Giles'; but this institution— St. Bernard's as it was called — he handed over unfinished to the Cistercian monks, in whose possession it remained till the Reformation, when it became the nucleus round which Sir Thomas White built up his new foundation of St. John's.
. Left: Main entrance with the Chapel behind. Right: Vertical sundial and pinnacles. Click on images to enlarge them.
Chichele's later and more serious scheme for establishing a College was not taken up till 1437, when he had occupied the Archiepiscopal see for twenty-three years, and was already past the age of seventy. It was one of the darkest moments of the wretched French war ; . . . certainly — whether he felt his responsibility or not — the waste of English lives during the last twenty years lay heavy on his soul. Hence it came that his new college became a chantry as well as a place of education — the inmates were to be devoted as well ad orandum as ad studendum — hence also, we can hardly doubt, came its name. For, as its charter drawn by Henry VI. proceeds to recite — the prayers of the community were to be devoted, " . . . words in the above-cited foundation-charter, became known as the "Collegium Omnium Animarum Fidelium Defunctorum in Oxonia."
To found his College, Chichele purchased a large block of small tenements, among them several halls, forming the angle between Catte Street and the High Street. The longer face was toward the former street, the frontage to "the High" being less than half that which lay along the narrower thoroughfare. The ground lay for the most part within the parish of St. Mary's, with a small corner projecting into that of St. Peter in the East. The buildings which Chicliele proceeded to erect were very simple in plan. They consisted of a single quadrangle with a cloister behind it, and did not occupy more than half the ground which had been purchased: the rest, where Hawkesmore's twin towers and Codrington's library now stand, formed, in the founder's time, and for 250 years after, a small orchard and garden. Chichele's main building, the present "front quadrangle," remains more entirely as the founder left it than does any similar quadrangle in Oxford. Except that some seventeenth century hand has cut square the cusped tops of its windows, it still bears its original aspect unchanged. The north side is formed by the chapel; the south contains the gate-tower with its muniment-room above, and had the Warden's lodgings in its eastern angle; the west side was devoted entirely to the Fellows' rooms, as was also the whole of the east side, save the central part of its first floor, where the original library was situate. Into space which now furnishes seventeen small sets of rooms, the forty Fellows of the original foundation were packed, together with their two chaplains, their porter, and their small establishment of servants.
To the north of this quadrangle lay the cloister, a small square, two of whose sides were formed by an arcade with open perpendicular windows, much like New College cloister; the third by the chapel; while the fourth was occupied by the College hall, an unpretentious building standing exactly at right angles to the site of the modern hall. The cloister-quadrangle's size may be judged from the fact that the chapel formed one entire side of it. It took up not more than a quarter of the present back-quadrangle, and was surrounded to north and east by the garden and orchard of which we have already spoken. For many generations it formed the burial-ground of the Fellows. . . To conclude the account of Chichele's buildings, it must be added that on the east side of the hall the kitchen and storehouses of the College made a small irregular excrescence into the garden; their situation is now occupied by that part of the present hall which lies nearest the door.
Left: All Souls College and the High, Oxford. Right: All Souls College and St. Mary's Church. Both srawn by W. Matthison. c. 1909. Source: Artistic Colored Views of Oxford. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
All Chichele's work was on a small scale save his chapel, on which he lavished special care. His reredos, preserved for two centuries behind a coat of plaster, still remains to witness to his good taste; but its original aspect, blazing with scarlet, gold, and blue, must have been strangely different from that which the nineteenth century knows. Of the figures which adorned it a part only can be identified : at the top was the Last Judgment, of which a considerable fragment was found in situ when the plaster was cleared away, with its inscription, ''Surgite mortui, venite ad judicium " still plainly legible. Immediately above the altar was the Crucifixion; the cross and the wings of the small ministering angels of the modern reproduction being actually parts of the old sculpture. The carver, Richard Tillott, who executed the work, mentions, in his account of expenses sent in for payment to Chichele, "two great stone images over the altar"; these may very probably have been the founder and King Henry VI.; and the restorers of our own generation ventured to fill the two largest niches with their representations. How the central and side portions of the reredos were occupied is unknown; but it would seem that the founder did not leave every niche full, as fifty years after his death, Eobert Este, a Fellow of the College, left £21 18s. 4d. for the completing of the images over the high altar.
In addition to the high altar, the chapel contained no less than seven side altars ; where they were placed it is a little difficult to see, as the stalls bear every mark of being contemporary with the founder, and extend all along the sides of the chapel from the altar-steps to the screen. Probably then the smaller altars — of which we know that one was dedicated to the four Latin Fathers — must have been all, or nearly all, placed in the ante- chapel.
The windows, both in the chapel and ante-chapel, were filled with excellent glass ; all that of the chapel has disappeared, but in the ante-chapel there is much good work remaining. The most interesting window contains an admir- able set of historical figures; the founder, his masters Henry V. and Henry VI., John of Gaunt, and several more being in excellent preservation; but this was not originally placed in the chapel, and seems to have belonged to the old library. The other windows are filled with saints.
The total cost of the foundation of the College to Chichele was about £10,000; that sum covered not only the erection and fitting up of the buildings, but the purchase of some of the lands for its endowment. The two largest pieces of property which the Archbishop devoted to his new institution were situated respectively in Middlesex and Kent. The first estate lay around Edgeware, of which the College became lord of the manor, and extended in the direction of Hendon and Willesden. It was mainly under wood in the founder's day, and formed part of the tract of forest which covered so much of Middlesex down to the last century. The second property consisted of a large stretch of land in Romney Marsh, already noted as a great grazing district in the fifteenth century. Many lesser estates lay scattered about the Midlands; they consisted in no small part of land belonging to the alien priories, which Chichele had assisted Henry V. to abolish, and included at least one of the suppressed houses — Black Abbey in Shropshire. For these confiscated estates the Archbishop paid £1000 to the Crown.
Photographs (2012), formatting, and text by George P. Landow. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Artistic Colored Views of Oxford Being Proof Sheets of the Postcards of Oxford. Oxford: E. Cross, nd. Internet Archive version of a copy in St. Michael's College Toronto. 3 October 2012.
The Colleges of Oxford: Their Histories and Traditions. Ed. Andrew Clarke, M.A. London: Metheuen, 1891. HathiTrust online version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 30 November 2022.
Wells, J. The Charm of Oxford. Illustrated by W. G. Blackall. 2nd ed. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton Kent & Co., [c.1920]. Internet Archive version of a copy in St. Michael's College Toronto. 3 October 2012.
Last modified 30 November 2022