An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Oxford. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1939.
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Old Ashmolean Building
(4) The Old Ashmolean Building stands on the S. side of Broad Street, immediately W. of the Sheldonian Theatre. It is of two storeys with a basement; the walls are ashlar-faced and the roofs are lead-covered. The building was erected, on part of the town ditch, between the years 1679 and 1683, when it was opened by the Duke and Duchess of York; Thomas Wood appears in the accounts as stone-cutter and Richard Frogley as master-carpenter. The design has been attributed to Wren and was no doubt influenced by his work, but it has been pointed out that the details appear too traditional for an actual Wren design of 1679, and it may perhaps have been due to the master-mason. The structure was built to house the Tradescant collection given to the University by Elias Ashmole, a school of Natural History and a Chemical Laboratory. In 1833 the colonnades were inserted in the lower room. The upper part of the building is now that part of the Museum of the History of Science containing the Lewis Evans Collection; the lower floors are used by the compilers of the new English Dictionary, and by the Bodleian Library.
The building is a handsome example of late 17th-century Renaissance design.
The Main block of the building forms a rectangle with fronts to the N. and E. The E. Front (Plate 61) has panelled angle-pilasters with entablatures continued across the front at the first-floor level and below the plain parapet. The central doorway is square-headed, with an enriched frieze and scrolled broken pediment with a cartouche-of-arms of Timothy Halton, Vice-chancellor (1679–82); the door itself is of two panelled leaves with an original lock; the doorway is flanked by coupled Corinthian columns supporting entablatures with carved swags of shells, etc., on the frieze and a continuous modillioned cornice and curved pediment; in the coved tympanum is a cartouche of the arms of the University. The floor above has a central window with architrave, mullion and transom and flanked by pilasters with heavy carved pendants of foliage, flowers, shells, etc., supporting a pediment over the central bay; in the tympanum is a cartouche of the royal Stuart arms with swags. The N. Front (Plate 1) is of five bays with a cornice and balustraded parapet. The main central doorway, now a window, has an eared architrave, consoles, an enriched entablature and a segmental pediment enclosing a cartouche-of-arms of Ashmole; the panelled door has an original lock. The side bays on this and all the bays of the upper floor have windows similar to that on the E. front and surmounted by pediments alternately segmental and triangular; below the middle window, on the first floor, is a panel with the crowned cypher of Charles II. The basement is divided into bays by buttresses and has similar windows without pediments and a central doorway with architrave, cornice and pediment. In front of it is an area formerly crossed by a bridge to the doorway on the ground floor and provided with steps leading down to the Chemical Laboratory in the basement; the area has an enclosure-wall with railings and stone piers; the piers at the E. end have cornices and vases, but those in front are surmounted by busts of philosophers similar to those round the Sheldonian theatre; here, however, they appear to have been renewed and two of the original busts are probably those now in the Provost's garden at Worcester College. The S. Front is finished with a balustraded parapet continued round the S. wing. In the main block are windows of similar form to those on the other fronts but without pediments. The wing has a modern doorway in the E. wall and two altered or modern windows above it. The S. and W. faces of the wing have a number of original windows either similar to the others or with a mullion only. The basement has a series of buttresses carried up the building and having lintels, below the ground-floor level, carried across the area as struts to the outer wall of the area which represents the outer face of the town-wall.
Inside the building, the ground floor has early 19th-century colonnades of the Ionic order. In the S. wall is a doorway with bolection-moulded architraves of stone on the outer face and of oak within; the panelled door, of two leaves, has ornamental brass scutcheon-plates. The basement has a semi-elliptical barrel-vault of stone, groined over the window-heads; in the S. and W. walls are fireplaces with moulded surrounds. The staircase (Plate 45) is of well-type, with heavy turned balusters, moulded strings and hand-rails and square newels with turned pendants; the staircase to the basement was added probably in 1833. On the top landing is a cupboard with a panelled door and original scutcheon and handle. The main room on the upper floor has a doorway in the S. wall; the panelled door in two leaves retains its original iron scutcheon-plate with a pierced design including two birds; inside are the original pierced plates and wrought-iron bolts.