Although Christ Church attracts nearly half a million visitors each year, its purpose remains twofold: the pursuit of learning and the worship of God. In this sense Christ Church preserves the ethos of Thomas Wolsey’s original Cardinal College, founded here in 1524, which sought to renew both education and spirituality.
The Meadow Building, through which visitors enter, was built expressly for undergraduates in the nineteenth century – a time when Christ Church, like the rest of the University, was undergoing a series of important reforms to strengthen the emphasis on undergraduate education. The famous tutorial system was developed, in which one or two students discuss their work with a tutor each week, a practice which continues to this day. Meanwhile, the curriculum was expanded to encompass a greater variety of subjects, including such disciplines as natural science, law, and modern history. It was agreed that the undergraduates needed more and better housing, and from 1862-5 the college built a new a suite of rooms overlooking the meadows.
Today Christ Church is home to around 420 undergraduates, taught by over 100 academic staff. The rooms throughout the college are still used by students and staff and we ask all visitors to respect the working environment around the college. Like many colleges, rooms are grouped by staircase, each of which is numbered – look out for the numbers on the Meadow building when you have entered. Each staircase has a housekeeper (known as a scout) who looks after the rooms, and once looked after their inhabitants too.
The Meadow Building is in the Venetian Gothic style, popularised in the Victorian period through the writings of one Christ Church alumni, John Ruskin. Ruskin loved the buildings of Venice and sought to encourage a number of their elements within contemporary architecture. Venetian influences can be seen in the pointed shape of the windows and arches (called a lancet arch) and the inclusion of Eastern Mediterranean motifs on the surface of the building (known as polychrome ornament). But the building was designed by an Irish architect, T. N. Deane, well known in Dublin for his work on the National Museum and Library.
If you look up to the wall between the Meadow Building and the Hall, you can see one of the more recent additions to the college: a series of modern grotesques. Whilst work was ongoing elsewhere, it was decided to use some of the spare stone to decorate the wall and a number of long serving Christ Church staff were used as ‘models’. Two former Clerks of Works (Robert Branch and Bill Major) can be seen, next to Alec and Tony Clarke who served as a scout and SCR butler respectively. The latter two both held their positions for over fifty years, a not unusual feat for staff at the college.