Merton College, Oxford

Merton College
Missing image

Established 1264
Sister CollegePeterhouse
Warden Dame Jessica Rawson
JCR PresidentAlan Strickland
Graduates 157
Undergraduates 315

</div> Merton College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. The squat, square tower of its chapel is one of the city's landmarks. Mob Quad, built in the 14th century, is the oldest quadrangle (or courtyard) of any Oxford or Cambridge college and set the pattern for collegiate architecture for future generations (though this claim is disputed by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, who say their Old Court is older). The other quads are Front Quad, Fellows Quad (planned by Sir Henry Savile), St. Albans ("Stubbins", built on the site of St Albans Hall which was purchased by Merton in the 19th century due to its habit of taking on Merton students who had been 'sent down', or dismissed), Grove (a Victorian house built after a parliamentary report forced Merton to take on more undergraduate students) and Rose Lane, across the magnificent Fellows Gardens. The garden fills the southeastern corner of the old walled city of Oxford. The walls may be seen from Christ Church Meadows.

Another remarkable, and little known, architectural feature is the tunnel, which has an opening in the old drying room, located in a subterranean realm of the college known as The Underworld, and which leads to a door to the stock room of the college bar. The door is locked and the whereabouts of the keys have been unknown for many years, since a former bar steward left the college.



The foundation of the college

Merton College was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton Arch Chancellor and Bishop of Rochester. It has a claim to be the oldest college in Oxford, although this claim is disputed between Merton College, Balliol College and University College. The substance of Merton's claim to the title of oldest College is that Merton was the first college to be provided with "statutes", a constitution governing the College set out at its founding. Merton's statutes date back to 1274, whereas neither Balliol nor University College had statutes until the 1280s. Merton was also the first to be conceived as a community of scholars working to achieve academic ends, rather than just a place for the scholars to live in. At its founding, Merton consisted of several houses and a farm in Surrey which existed to support students at schools; however, shortly afterwards the College moved to three houses on Merton Street, the site on which it still stands. The oldest buildings in Merton date back to the late 13th century, with the oldest quadrangle (Mob Quad), college chapel (originally the church of John the Baptist) and dining hall in any College in Oxford. The chapel was originally planned to be very large and to function both as a college chapel and as the parish church for that area of Oxford (the original church of John the Baptist was demolished to make way for Merton's dining hall). However, by the 15th century plans to extend the nave of the chapel where dropped due to lack of funds and the land on which it would have been built was leased out to what is now Corpus Christi College. The chapel tower was finished in the 15th century and one side of the original stained glass, as well as the historic rose window, are still intact, providing the longest expanse of original medieval stained glass in Oxford.

Two relics of the College's founding still survive. The number of Postmasters (the word used in Merton to denote what are called Scholars in other colleges) is still set at 25, which was the original number of students at Merton (the first students consisted of Walter de Merton's many nephews). There also exists the original archive room which Walter de Merton had built above the entrance to Mob Quad and which houses, along with the college library, one of the most complete set of college records in Europe which date back to 1264.

The Civil War

During the English Civil War Merton was the only Oxford College to side with Parliament. The reason for this was Merton's annoyance with the uncalled-for interference from their visitor, who has always been the Archbishop of Canterbury. Due to this, the college was moved to London at the start of the Civil War and its buildings were commandeered by the Royalists and used to house many of Charles the First's court when Oxford was used as the Royalists' capital. This included the King's mistress, Henrietta Maria, who was housed in or near what is now the Queen's Room, the room above the arch between Front and Fellows' Quads.

Differences were quickly settled after the war, however, and until very recently a portrait of Charles the First hung in Merton's Hall as a reminder to the role it played in his court. Since the Civil War Merton has been a fairly sleepy place.

Modern times

Since the early 1970s its peaceful nature has been disturbed once a year by the (in)famous Time Ceremony, when students, dressed in formal 'sub-fusc,' walk around Fellows' Quad backwards while drinking port in order to maintain the integrity of the space-time continuum as British Summer Time ends in October. The ceremony was invented by two undergraduates in 1970 as a spoof on other Oxford ceremonies. In recent years, the College has achieved high rankings in the Norrington Table and in the last five years, Merton has been top of the Norrington table five times. It is, thus, the most academically successful College in the last twenty years, with more First Class degrees being awarded to its students than Upper Seconds. Merton has been Head of the River once, in 1950, which makes it one of the least successful Colleges in terms of rowing.

Student life and politics

Merton college admitted its first female students in 1980 (largely due to pressure from the JCR) along with other traditionalist colleges such as Christ Church, leaving Oriel as the only remaining all-male college. Since this time however men have predominated at Merton and it consistently has one of the highest male to female ratios of an Oxford college (around 3:2). However Merton was the second traditionally male college to elect a female Warden in 1994. Merton has the distinction on these grounds also of being the only college to have single sex accommodation as freshmen are sorted with female students going into the Rose Lane buildings and most male students going into 3 houses on Merton Street. Merton has had a reputation for having the best food in Oxford since an old Mertonian left money specifically for the improvement of the kitchens, however after a dominant period spanning over 20 years this reputation is faiding.

In 2003 Merton JCR passed a motion expressing support for student tuition fees making it one of the only pro tuition fee student bodies in the country. However this has generally been put down to an apathy towards the issue not heavy right wing sentiment. This apathy has come to typify Merton politics with no Mertonians rising to the top of either the Oxford Union or OUSU for many years.

Notable former Mertonians

This list of Merton Fellows and alumni is grouped into centuries; where the person's life spans more than one century, the (approximate) date of matriculation is used. The names are alphabetical by surname within each group.

13th century

14th century

16th century

17th century

19th century

20th century

The upper library

The upper library in Mob Quad is very famous as an early example of a chained library. It was planned by Thomas Bodley as an experiment in the new Continental style of libraries which had shelves to keep the books on. As it is still, at least theoretically, possible for students to read the books and part of the library is used as a reference library this is the longest continuously used library in the world. It currently houses a very impressive collection of original Renaissance books as well as two 16th century globes, displayes of early scientific instruments and a bust of T. S. Eliot. The library is occasionally opened to visitors and is claimed to be haunted by the ghost of John Duns Scotus who walks the floor of the original 13th Century library (which lies about a foot below the current one).


The college preprandial grace, always recited before formal dinners in Hall and usually by the senior Postmaster present, is based on verses 15 and 16 of Psalm 145. The precise words of the Latin are:

Oculi omnium in te respiciunt, Domine. Tu das escam illis tempore opportuno. Aperis manum tuam, et imples omne animal benedictione tua. Benedicas nobis, Deus, omnibus donis quae de tua beneficentia accepturi simus. Per Iesum Christum dominum nostrum, Amen.

This is fairly long by Oxford standards, but at least there is no postprandial grace.

Roughly translated it means: "The eyes of the world look up to thee, O Lord. Thou givest them food in due season. Thou openest thy hand and fillest every creature with thy blessing. Thou blessest us, O God, with all the gifts which by thy good works we are about to receive. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen."


  • Bott, A. (1993). Merton College: A Short History of the Buildings. Oxford: Merton College. ISBN 0952231409.
  • Martin, G.H. & Highfield, J.R.L. (1997). A History of Merton College. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199201838.

External links

Colleges of the University of Oxford

Missing image
Arms of the University

All Souls | Balliol | Brasenose | Christ Church | Corpus Christi | Exeter | Green | Harris Manchester | Hertford | Jesus | Keble | Kellogg | Lady Margaret Hall | Linacre | Lincoln | Magdalen | Mansfield | Merton | New College | Nuffield | Oriel | Pembroke | Queen's | St Anne's | St Antony's | St Catherine's | St Cross | St Edmund Hall | St Hilda's | St Hugh's | St John's | St Peter's | Somerville | Templeton | Trinity | University | Wadham | Wolfson | Worcester

Permanent Private Halls at the University of Oxford

Blackfriars | Campion Hall | Greyfriars | Regent's Park College | St Benet's Hall | St Stephen's House | Wycliffe Hall

de:Merton College

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools