The staircase in Bodley Tower leads up to the Ante-Hall, with the Buttery on the left. The Buttery is home to one of the college’s bars where students and guests can enjoy wines, whiskey and beer including those specially produced for Christ Church. It is one of the centres of the lively student life within the college.
From there, the visitor will be directed into the finest surviving section of the college’s original foundation: the Hall. It shows the Renaissance magnificence of Cardinal College, and suggests the scale it might have reached had it not been for Wolsey’s fall. Until the 1870s this was the largest Hall in Oxford, but then the newly-founded Keble College ensured that their hall was slightly larger (legend has it by only a single metre). It was this Renaissance splendour that attracted the makers of the Harry Potter films to build a replica of the Hall in their London studios.
Completed alongside the kitchens in the 1520s, the Hall has been in almost constant use since the sixteenth century. Over the years, it has hosted some spectacular banquets, perhaps none more so than the Duke of Portland’s 1793 banquet, in which guests were treated to turbot in lobster sauce, followed by roast beef, lamb, duck, goose and chicken, a veal pie - and a fruit fool to finish. While the extravagances of Portland’s time are gone, the Hall remains very much in use. Members of the college can eat three daily meals here including a formal dinner in the evenings where gowns must be worn. Visitors are reminded to plan their trips around the Hall’s closures (everyday at lunchtime between 11.45am and 2.00pm).
Be sure to admire the ceiling of the room, a wonderful example of sixteenth-century hammerbeaming built by Humphrey Coke, Henry VIII’s chief carpenter. Its survival was threatened in 1720 when a fire broke out in the Hall. The choristers, up to their usual tricks, had attempted to burn some Christmas decorations in the fireplace, but in the process they managed to set the roof alight! The beams were repaired shortly afterwards and repainted with nearly 600 heraldic devices, many of which celebrate Cardinal Wolsey and ensure his presence remains felt within the college. The Hall still requires regular attention, most recently in 2015 when rot was discovered in one of the beams. The cleaning of the beams allows light to reflect off the paint work as it would have done back when first completed.
The walls are adorned with a number of portraits, each celebrating famous members of the college from Queen Elizabeth to W. H. Auden. At the far end, the founder of Christ Church, Henry VIII, is portrayed above a bust of the current queen, Elizabeth II. The reigning monarch is the Visitor of the joint foundation and has power to inspect both the college and cathedral. The table at the far end of the Hall is known as High Table and it is here that senior members of the college dine. Academic fellows or dons of the college are known as Students, always with a capital S to distinguish them from undergraduate students.
Light enters the Hall through a series of stained glass windows celebrating Christ Church’s vibrant heritage. They were finished in 1985 and designed by the leading contemporary stained glass artist in the country, Patrick Reyntiens. One window celebrates the fantastical work of Charles Dodgson - or Lewis Carroll - and the inspiration for his works, Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of Dean Liddell. Some of the features of the Hall helped to inspire the famous Mad Hatter’s tea party. In the far right corner, perhaps the most eminent of Christ Church men are placed together, with the scholars John Locke and Robert Burton sharing space with the great builder deans of the college, Henry Aldrich and John Fell.