ST CATHERINE'S COLLEGE
Heritage Category: Park and Garden
List Entry Number: 1001388
Date first listed: 27-Jul-1998
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Oxford (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SP 52231 06649
Mid C20 college buildings with contemporary gardens and quadrangle, the whole by Arne Jacobsen, and remarkable for its unity of landscape and architecture.
St Catherine's College was founded as St Catherine's Society in 1868, the students living in private lodgings throughout Oxford. The Society became a college in 1963 following an appeal for funds to build new college buildings launched by its founding Master, Alan Bullock, in 1956. The Danish architect Arne Jacobsen (1902-71) was employed, and designed the college holistically, including not only the buildings, gardens and associated spaces, but also the furniture, fittings and cutlery. The college buildings were largely erected between 1960 and 1964, accommodation being offered from 1962. The buildings designed by Jacobsen were completed later in the decade, but the entrance was reorganised and additional buildings provided subsequently. Much of Jacobsen's planting was subsequently replaced with subjects more suitable for the soil and situation, which are now (1998) growing well. The site remains in college use.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING St Catherine's College lies to the east of the centre of Oxford, at the east end of Manor Road. The c 4ha college and its gardens lie largely on level ground, in the south-west quarter of an island bounded by arms of the River Cherwell and Holywell Mill Stream. The island remained flood meadow until the 1930s, the area now occupied by the college subsequently being used as a corporation rubbish dump. The college is bounded to the west by the canalised mill stream, and beyond this residential and college buildings, to the south by Magdalen College meadow, to the north by later college buildings and to the east by Merton College playing fields. The college is set outside the medieval city, at the edge of a group of college and university buildings, with various college playing fields and pleasure grounds close by. Long views extend east across the playing fields towards Headington Hill and Park on the hillside, these being particularly prominent from the east side of the site.
ENTRANCES, APPROACHES AND QUADRANGLES The college is approached from the north-west, off St Cross Road, via Manor Road, across Nappers Bridge over the mill stream. A short approach road runs east along the north side of the college, turning south between massive bronze gates to enter the college 100m north of the porters' lodge. From here a view extends south, over a low brick wall, along the entire length of the water garden, framed by the River Block to the east and the Master's Lodgings to the west. At this point the drive divides into two. That to the east leads to the service areas and offices along the north boundary of the main college buildings, whilst that to the west runs between the brick Alan Bullock Building on the north boundary (1982-3) and a high brick wall to the south, turning south beyond the circular, brick bicycle shed (Arne Jacobsen 1961-6, listed grade I). The drive continues south, flanked on the east by the high brick wall of the Master's Lodgings' Garden, and on the west by a low brick wall, over which the mill stream is visible, the boundary being continued south beyond the wall by a tall beech hedge. A pedestrian entrance from the bridge runs south along the west side of the Alan Bullock Building, opening onto the main drive by the bicycle shed. At its south end, 50m west of the porters' lodge, the drive opens out, surrounding a small, grassed turning circle, with views south over a low brick wall and across the west, lower side of the water garden. A pedestrian path leads east from here, flanked by the water garden lawn, on which, to the south, stands Barbara Hepworth's bronze statue 'Archaean'. The path crosses the moat-like canal via a concrete bridge, rising up at the east end to enter the River Block towards the north end, arriving at the porters' lodge within an entrance vestibule walled with glass to west and east, affording views back across the water garden and through into the quad.
The main college buildings were constructed on a 200m long x 100m wide podium raised above the surrounding land, bounded to the west and east by the Meadow and River Blocks, and to the north by the common rooms and associated structures, including the Dining Hall which projects between the accommodation blocks (the whole construction upon the podium Arne Jacobsen 1961-6, listed grade I). Jacobsen used much concrete and glass on the major structures, particularly the two long accommodation blocks, but the smaller buildings and structures were built of a narrow, 50mm high, sand-coloured brick laid only in stretcher bond.
Doors from the vestibule lead out into the centre of the west side of the quad. It is bounded to the east by the Meadow Block, and to the west by the River Block, both accommodation buildings being largely glass-walled at first- and second-floor levels, with a walkway at ground-floor level covered by the projecting rooms above. The quad is bounded by the brick Dining Hall to the north and the concrete Library to the south, both detached from the two adjacent accommodation blocks, but partially connected to them by free-standing, glass-covered walkways leading from the adjacent walkways beneath the blocks. The glass is supported by cantilevered beams projecting from parallel brick walls standing at right angles to the quad. Between the walls grow clipped yew hedges mirroring the walls themselves. These 'fin-wise' (Pevsner 1974) parallel walls occur elsewhere in the college. Here they are used to screen the quad from the SCR and JCR gardens flanking the Dining Hall to the north, and the gardens flanking the Library and Bernard Sunley Building to the south. The quad encloses a large, central circular lawn, planted with two semi-mature cedar trees offset towards the east side, surrounded with concrete slab paving.
East of Meadow Block the podium is bounded by staggered lengths of low brick walling, set at the edge of the concrete-paved terrace overhung by the upper floors of the building. Sets of low steps, in the north and south-facing spaces between the staggered walls, give access to Merton College playing field below.
GARDENS The water garden runs north/south along the whole length of the west side of the college, divided west to east by the access path from the turning circle to the porters' lodge vestibule. The Long Lawn runs the whole length of the garden, bounded to the east, parallel to the River Block, by the rectangular, concrete canal. On the east side, the canal is bounded by a concrete-paved terrace at a higher level than the lawn to the west, part of the college podium. The terrace is covered by the projecting upper floors of the building, mirroring the device on the courtyard side of the building. Glass-walled Fellows' rooms overlook, and open out onto this terrace at ground-floor level. The terrace is divided from the canal by a sequence of low, staggered brick walls, overlapping at the ends. The paved area extends obliquely into the spaces between the overlapping walls, to give direct access to the water.
In the north half of the garden the Long Lawn is bounded to the west by the Master's Lodgings and brick-wall enclosed garden (Arne Jacobsen 1961-6, listed grade I). In the south half the Long Lawn is bounded to the west by a lower, informal lawn running down to the mill stream. Here the two lawns are separated by a low, brick terrace wall (Arne Jacobsen 1961-6, listed grade I) with a small, semicircular bastion towards the south end. The wall incorporates wooden benches, the stretches of wall behind them being built up so that the higher walls form back rests for the seats overlooking the mill stream. A concrete slab path runs along the base of the terrace wall. At the south end of this lower lawn stands the hexagonal, brick Music House (Arne Jacobsen 1961-6, listed grade I), and beyond this, on the side of the millstream to the south, stands the two-storey, brick punthouse (Arne Jacobsen 1961-6, listed grade II).
The SCR and JCR gardens at the north end of the college are largely enclosed by buildings, and to the south by the glass-covered walkways and related planting. These garden spaces mirror each other, being separated by the Dining Hall, differing in the internal detail of paths, lawn and borders. They are laid largely to lawn with concrete-slab paths laid obliquely from the entrances from the north side of the quad to the common room entrances adjacent to the north side of the Hall. The gardens incorporate clipped yew hedges, together with free-standing lengths of wall running north to south, set in the lawns, supporting wooden benches. They are overlooked, and entered directly from, the respective common rooms which form the north boundary.
The remainder of the gardens run south from the quad in two linear sections between the accommodation blocks, separated by the Library and Bernard Sunley Building. Informally laid out, they contain small lawns surrounded by shrub and tree planting. Each section is terminated at the south end by a further group of 'fin-wise' parallel brick walls set in concrete slabs on the south terrace, mirroring those supporting the glass-covered walkways to the north, but without the yew hedges. The concrete-slab south terrace extends along the whole of the south side of the podium. Two central sets of steps, standing adjacent to the Bernard Sunley Building, lead south, down from the terrace to a lawn encircled to the south by an amphitheatre formed from shallow, concrete steps backed by clipped yew hedges. The building and amphitheatre were constructed in the late 1960s, slightly later than the majority of the college, to the designs of Jacobsen. Beyond, an informal lawn planted with trees and shrubs contains, at the south-east corner, the brick squash court building (Arne Jacobsen 1961-6, listed grade I).
N Pevsner and J Sherwood, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (1974), pp 240-4 M Batey, Oxford Gardens (1982), pp 229-32 St Catherine's Silver Jubilee Yearbook (1987), pp 38-9 A Guide to the Gardens of St Catherine's College, Oxford, guidebook, (S Craig 1995)
Maps College location map, 1990s
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1965 edition
Description written: March 1998 Register Inspector: SR Edited: March 2000
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 4046
Legacy System: Parks and Gardens
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing