Christ Church, Oxford | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Christ Church, Oxford

Sarah Roller

12 May 2021
Image Credit: MR.Travel / Shutterstock

About Christ Church, Oxford

Christ Church College in Oxford is one of the university’s most famous colleges, and attracts thousands of visitors every year.

History of Christ Church

The college is generally said to have been founded by King Henry VIII in 1546, but the original plans for it were drawn up by Thomas Wolsey in 1525, whilst at the zenith of his career. Wolsey had intended to call the college Cardinal College, and had begun building on lands that originally belonged to the Priory of St Frideswide, using funds from the dissolution of other priories. Following his fall from grace in 1529, the partly built college was abandoned, until it was refounded by Henry VIII as Christ Church College, nearly 20 years later: he simultaneously founded Trinity College Cambridge, Christ Church’s sister college the same year.

During the English Civil War, King Charles I moved his court to Oxford, and held his Parliament in Christ Church’s Great Hall throughout his time there in the 1640s. The famous Tom Quad was finished during the 1660s, following the restoration of Charles II to the English throne. Tom Tower was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1680s. At the centre of the quad stands an ornamental pond with a statue of Mercury in the centre: walking on Tom Quad’s grass or paddling in the fountain results in heavy fines for undergraduates.

Christ Church has long had associations with people of influence: 13 of Britain’s Prime Ministers have been educated at Christ Church, including William Gladstone. An assortment of famous intellectuals have taught at Christ Church, including the philosopher John Locke, and Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland during his tenure at Christ Church.

In more recent years, the college has appeared in novels such as Brideshead Revisited and Zuleika Dobson, and shot to fame as one of the locations used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films and in Philip Pulman’s The Northern Lights. The first female students matriculated at Christ Church in 1980.

Christ Church today

The college remains part of the university, and has around 650 students at any one time. Christ Church is open to visitors every day – although only afternoons on Sundays – but given it is still very much a working academic institution, areas can be shut with little or no notice. Closures are usually listed a few days in advance on the college website – it’s worth checking if you’ve got your heart set on a visit.

In the summer, there can be long queues to enter. Expect students to be somewhat harried in term time and respect the fact that they do need to get around, and that their rooms are often just off the tourist route – respect their privacy and resist the urge to have a nose around anywhere that’s marked ‘No entry’.

G&Ds, Oxford’s most famous ice cream shop, is just across St Aldates. Make sure to pay it a visit!

Getting to Christ Church

Christ Church is in the centre of Oxford – enter via St Aldates. The city centre gets notoriously snarled and parking is scarce: you’re best off using the Park & Ride – several of the buses stop on St Aldates so it’s extremely convenient. Otherwise, they stop on the High Street, which is a 5-10 minute walk from the college.

Trains run regularly to and from London, Bristol and the North: it’s about a 15 minute walk from the station to Christ Church.