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The Hall: Advent Doors 2018

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Saturday, December 1, 2018

Behind these unassuming doors lies one of the oldest and most famous parts of Christ Church – its magnificent Tudor Hall, built along with the kitchens in the 1520s and still in use today, with students eating up to three meals a day here. Portraits of former members of the college, from kings and queens to authors and politicians, line the walls, and if you look closely you might spot some literary references in the beautiful stained glass…

View of the Hall, Christ ChurchThis doorway dates from 1799, but what it leads to is much older. The Hall and kitchens were the first parts of the college to be built in the 1520s – Cardinal College, as it was known at this time, was founded by Cardinal Wolsey, who clearly felt that food was more important than providing his students with a library (and how many students would disagree?).

From its scale and magnificence alone you can see the grand ambitions Wolsey had for his college, and until the 1870s this was the largest Hall in Oxford (we definitely don’t begrudge Keble College making theirs only slightly larger. Of course not. Not a problem at all).

So, let’s take a look around. The ceiling also dates from the 16th century, and was built by Humphrey Coke, Henry VIII’s chief carpenter. It survived a fire in 1720 (which might possibly have had something to do with the choristers attempting to burn some Christmas decorations in one of the fireplaces…), but once the beams were repaired they were repainted with nearly 600 heraldic devices, many of which celebrate Wolsey.

Many other illustrious former members of the college are celebrated in the Hall, in the portraits that line its walls. Our students have the pleasure of dining with W H Auden, Gladstone, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, amongst many others. Also on the wall is a portrait of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, who was first a student here and later a Mathematics tutor, and who was living in Christ Church when he wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written with Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean, in mind.

Charles and the ‘real’ Alice, along with many characters from the book, including Alice and the Red Queen, can also be found after a bit of searching in the stained glass, designed by Patrick Reyntiens and installed in 1985. We’re sure many a Mad Hatter’s tea party has taken place within the four walls of this historic Hall.

Our Hall may also be familiar for another reason – it was the inspiration for Hogwarts’ Great Hall in the Harry Potter films, and Harry and the other first years make their way up the Hall stairs when they first arrive at Hogwarts in the first film. There certainly seems to be an air of magic about the place…