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The opening of Blue Boar Quad and the Picture Gallery

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Document of the month - May 2018

On 2 May 1968, Queen Elizabeth II came to visit Oxford. Arriving by train at 2.10, she was taken first to admire the plans for the redevelopment of St Ebbe’s and to see the archaeological excavations taking place before work on the Westgate Centre began. But that only took twenty minutes, and Her Majesty was soon in the car once more on her way to lay the foundation stone for Wolfson College, designed by the architects, Powell and Moya.

Detail from a Powell & Moya drawing showing a possible design for a room in Blue Boar Quad.It was to be a red-letter day for Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya for, after a flying visit to Somerville College, the Queen came on to Christ Church to open both Blue Boar Quad and the Picture Gallery. Click the small detail on the right to view the full version.

Blue Boar Quad was a project with a long gestation. The site had been gardens, then a stable yard, and eventually a coal yard but, as Peckwater Quad was wired for electricity, the need for solid fuel declined and, in the years immediately after the War, the area became little more than an overgrown waste land. The City Council began to make noises about widening Blue Boar Street, needing new offices for the Corporation, and somewhere to park the cars belonging to the mayor and the town clerk. The Governing Body were anxious not to allow the Council to take the initiative, and set up the inevitable committee to decide what to do.

One plan was to build modern canonries to ‘free up’ Tom Quad; another was to provide new offices, library storage, and lecture rooms. But, in the end, the decision was made to provide new student accommodation so that more undergraduates could remain within the walls of Christ Church during their time here. It took until 1959 for definite plans to be settled, and another three years after that before the trendy architects, Powell and Moya, were selected.

The company had designed the Skylon tower for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and had made their names with their designs for hospitals and schools for the new Welfare State.  Brasenose College was the first in Oxford to commission Powell and Moya, and the Christ Church Governing Body asked them to do something similar here.

The fundraising campaign was successful. In June 1963 it was announced that construction would start in August 1965 to be completed by May 1967. At the same time, Powell and Moya were employed to design a new Picture Gallery to house Christ Church’s extraordinary collection of paintings and drawings.

At one point, the Gallery was to be a part of the Blue Boar development but the architects wisely suggested that it would make the site too crowded. The proposal to build virtually under the Dean’s garden was agreed almost unanimously. The project was put on hold for a short time while the appeal for Blue Boar was still active, but in October 1963, Charles Forte gave £50,000 – two thirds of the estimated cost – towards the Gallery.

Blue Boar was in use by Michaelmas 1967 and the Gallery early in 1968.

The only dispute – at least in 1968 – was whether the commemorative plaques to be unveiled by Her Majesty on 2 May would be in English or Latin.