A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3, the University of Oxford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1954.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
ST. PETER'S HALL
St. Peter's Hall, in New Inn Hall Street, (fn. 1) was founded in 1928. It comprises three properties—the parochial buildings of St. Peter-le-Bailey Church, a Methodist Chapel and School to the north, and part of old New Inn Hall to the south.
Its situation and associations are interesting. The hall stands high on 'The Mounts' cast up, probably, from the digging of the Castle moat, and looks westward, across New Road, to St. George's Tower and the Castle Motte. Its northern boundary is the old city wall which at this point, formerly, descended steeply into the waters of the Castle moat. In the Middle Ages the land at the north end was Elm Hall, which was acquired by Oseney in 1270 and was held by Christ Church until 1796. (fn. 2) In earlier times the lane which ran within the city walls passed through it, and Oseney paid to the city 2s. a year for the closed road. (fn. 3) Next on the south was land which was given to the city in 1432. (fn. 4) In 1796 Christ Church and the city agreed to sell their holdings which formed a block 103 yds. from east to west, 66 yds. on the east side and 86 yds. on the west side. The southern half of this was acquired by the Oxford Canal Company, and the northern half by the Wesleyans. Next on the south was a property called Rose Hall, which was given to New College by William of Wykeham. It was not an Academic Hall at that time, and soon it was nothing but a garden. In later times New College built two houses on the site, and in 1819 it was recorded that it measured 75 ft. north to south, and 99 ft. east to west, being bounded by the road on the east and land belonging to the Oxford Canal Company on the west; (fn. 5) New College sold it in two parts in 1859 and 1868, and Canon Henry Linton acquired both as a site for the new St. Peter-le-Bailey Church. Southward again was Trilleck's Inn or New Inn Hall, which measured about 60 yds. each way; it must have been formed by the union of several tenements about 1300. At a very early time a lane, known as Pennard's Lane, passed through it, no doubt the continuation of Sewy's Lane, and in 1392 and subsequently it is recorded that the city received 2s. a year for the closing of the lane. (fn. 6) The greater part of this extent of land passed into the possession of St. Peter's Hall in the following way. In 1817, on the raised ground within the wall, was built the Methodist Chapel which replaced the Meeting House, across New Inn Hall St., where John Wesley himself used to preach. (fn. 7) This chapel, superesed by the Wesley Memorial Church built upon the street in 1878, was acquired by St. Peter's and converted into a lecture room and rooms for undergraduates in 1933: the school behind it (erected 1831) was pulled down in 1929. Thence St. Peter's extends southward, the Rectory and Church of St. Peter-le-Bailey and the remaining part of New Inn Hall forming its frontage along New Inn Hall St. Behind, as far back as Bulwark's Lane, are two quadrangles composed of new blocks of buildings for the accommodation of undergraduates. One of them, the Emily Morris building, was given by Lord Nuffield and commemorates his mother. They are of multi-coloured red-brick, with stone facings, in the neo-Georgian style; and were designed by Mr. Fielding Dodd, with Sir Herbert Baker, R.A., as consulting architect. Of the older stone buildings on the street, the entrance to the hall, with the library above, is a severe Georgian residence built in 1797 by the Oxford Canal Company for their offices, and named Wyaston House. It was bought in 1878 by Canon Henry Linton to be the rectory of the church, and now bears the name of its donor. Next to Linton House comes the parish church itself, which in term time is used as the chapel of the hall. This is a Gothic building, of good proportions, built in 1874 to the design of Mr. Basil Champneys, his first work in Oxford. The church looks older than its age because a large proportion of its stones came from a former St. Peter's which stood at the corner of New Inn Hall Street and New Road (where is now a public garden) until it was demolished for street widening. The ancient foundation of St. Peter-le-Bailey also explains the interesting brasses, monuments, and furniture which the church contains. For example, a tablet (1667) by Simon White commemorates William Northern, a Mayor of Oxford, who attended the coronation of Richard II; and preserved in the wall of the tower-porch are some corbels and mouldings from the Norman church that served the parish in the 12th century. Shortly after the founding of the hall, the pulpit and reredos (beautiful examples of the work of the late Mr. F. E. Howard) were given in memory of Bishop Chavasse and his wife. Dr. F. J. Chavasse (1846–1928) had been rector of St. Peter-le-Bailey from 1879 to 1899. When he resigned the diocese of Liverpool in 1923, he retired to his old rectory which was vacant, as the living was held in plurality with St. Ebbe's from 1914 to 1926. On his return to Oxford he found a church becoming derelict and bereft of parishioners, whose homes had been converted into offices and shops. Nothing daunted, he conceived the idea of turning this extensive parochial property into a hall, urgently demanded by the growth of the University; and one, moreover, which by its low fees would make an Oxford course possible for poor men, especially candidates for Holy Orders. On his death in 1928 his project became his memorial, to perpetuate the tradition of his teaching and influence in Oxford; and the founder of St. Peter's Hall is commemorated in his old church by a replica of his memorial bas-relief on the back of the episcopal throne in Liverpool Cathedral.
Southward, again, a pair of wrought-iron gates connects the church with a classical building called Hannington Hall, containing the dining-hall and common room of St. Peter's. This is the only surviving part of New Inn Hall, whose history goes back to the 14th century. Vertue's allegorical picture for the Oxford Almanack of 1750 portrays the origin of the hall, and shows how Trilleck's Inn for students passed (through the executors of Bishop John Trilleck of Hereford and his brother, Bishop Thomas of Rochester) into the hands of William of Wykeham, who conveyed it and other adjoining properties to New College in 1392. After having been used by Cistercian students for some years about 1400 to 1420, the hall was entirely rebuilt shortly before 1476–so gaining its name of the New Inn. (fn. 8) Thenceforth the hall became noted for its jurists, as, for example, Alberico Gentili (1552–1608), Regius Professor of Civil Law, and 'the first writer of a work which can properly be called a work on international law'; Sir Daniel Dunne, D.C.L., the first burgess elected to represent the University in Parliament, and Principal of the hall (1580–1); and another Principal (1609–14), Dr. John Budden, Regius Professor of Civil Law. Students, however, did not abound at the hall till Christopher Rogers, 'a noted Puritan', and rector of St. Peter-le-Bailey (where the hall worshipped from 1455 to 1868), (fn. 9) became Principal in 1626 and matriculated as many as 40 members a year. In his time New Inn Hall and Magdalen Hall were known as 'the two nests of Precisians and Puritans'. The Principal and students fled when Charles I made Oxford his headquarters during the Civil War, and the vacated hall was used as the royal mint for melting down the plate given up by the colleges in the service of their king (1642–6). On the settings up of the Commonwealth, Mr. Rogers returned together with his 'Seekers'—that is, those who, in their turn, were waiting for the expulsion of loyalists. (fn. 10) After the Restoration the Hall gradually became little more than the sinecure of Principals who were eminent jurists, such as the Rev. William Stone, B.C.L. (1663–84), who founded the almshouses in St. Clement's; Sir William Blackstone, D.C.L. (1761–6); Sir Robert Chambers (1766–1803), who was a judge in India (1774–99) while still retaining his principalship; and Dr. James Blackstone (1803–31). Mention of Sir Robert Chambers recalls Lord Eldon's reminiscence of a walk in the garden of the hall, with the Principal and Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson was a close friend of Sir Robert and stayed frequently with him at Oxford. On this occasion the doctor reproached his friend for his 'unmanerly and unneighbourly conduct' in gathering snails and throwing them over the wall. 'Sir,' said Sir Robert, 'my neighbour is a Dissenter.' 'Oh!' said the doctor, 'if so, Chambers, toss away, toss away, as hard as you can.' (fn. 11)
With the advent of Dr. John Anthony Cramer (Principal 1831–47) the fortunes of the hall took their last turn upward. Dr. Cramer was Regius Professor of History, Public Orator, and afterwards Dean of Carlisle; and he 'erected at his own expense a fair mansion of freestone for the accommodation of academical students'. (fn. 12) When in 1887 (Under a statute for the suppression of halls made in 1881) New Inn Hall was united with Balliol, the latter sold the Principal's Lodgings (the older part of the hall) to the city, who pulled it down to build a school. Cramer's building, however, survived. It was purchased by public subscription raised by the Rev. and Hon. W. Talbot Rice, rector of St. Peter-le-Bailey, and reconstructed in 1897 to form a large hall in memory of James Hannington, the first Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, who was killed by savages in 1855. Mr. Talbot Rice also bought the land behind, and built upon it a parochial school. Both these properties were conveyed to the Trustees of St. Peter's Hall in 1928; and, while the Church School disappeared, Hannington Hall, after complete remodelling, became the dining hall of St. Peter's. On its panelled walls hang, beside a portrait of the founder (1929), another (1937) by the late Mr. Philip de László of Lord Nuffield, the benefactor of the hall; and a third (1938) by Mr. Oswald Birley of the first Master, the Rev. C. M. Chavasse, the founder's son, later Bishop of Rochester.
St. Peter's Hall was opened as a Permanent Private Hall in October 1929; a small nucleus of undergraduates had already been in residence for one year as non-collegiate students in what was then called St. Peter's House. By 1933 there were 90 undergraduates, by 1950 over 150. In October 1947, by decree of Convocation, St. Peter's Hall was granted the status of a New Foundation.