A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3, the University of Oxford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1954.
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ST. BENET'S HALL
St. Benet's Hall is a Permanent Private Hall, according to the University Statute of 1918. It is a foundation of the English Benedictine Abbey of Ampleforth in the county of York, and the abbot and council of that abbey form its governing body. Its students are for the most part junior monks of the Ampleforth Community. The foundation, in fact, bears a close resemblance to the Benedictine Colleges: Gloucester College, Durham College, and Canterbury College, which existed at Oxford in the period before the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
St. Benet's Hall, though obtaining permanent status and its present title only in 1918, was founded in the year 1897. For the first two years the members of the foundation belonged to the Non-Collegiate Body (now St. Catherine's Society). In the year 1899 the foundation became a Private Hall, its first Master being the Rt. Rev. Sir David Oswald Hunter Blair, O.S.B., Bt. (1899–1908), and the foundation being known as Hunter Blair's Hall. Under its second Master, the Rev. Stanislaus Anselm Parker, O.S.B. (1908–20), the foundation was known as Parker's Hall (1908–18), and then obtained its present, permanent title. The Master since 1920 has been the Very Rev. Philip Justin McCann, O.S.B.
The hall has twice changed its locality. For seven years (1897–1904) it was established at no. 103 Woodstock Road. For the succeeding eighteen years (1904–22) it occupied nos. 8 and 9 Beaumont St., where now is the Oxford Playhouse. Since 1922 it has been established at nos. 38 and 39 St. Giles's St. On both its previous sites its premises were held on lease from St. John's College; it is now established on its own freehold premises.
The two houses which form the hall are built on part of an estate, extending to the north and south of them, which at the end of the 18th century belonged to Vincent Shortland, esq., of Kidlington. The only houses on the estate at that time were the old houses, nos. 40 and 41, which still survive. The whole property was sold in the year 1821 to an Oxford printer, Samuel Collingwood. The new owner sold the land to the north, on which is no. 37, and erected the two houses nos. 38 and 39. These houses were built shortly before the year 1838, perhaps in the year of Queen Victoria's accession, so that they may fairly be described as 'very early Victorian'. Samuel Collingwood died in 1841 and his wife in 1848. There ensued (24 Apr. 1849) an auction sale at the Star Hotel (now the Clarendon). In the bill of sale no. 39 is described as 'All that noble and spacious modern-built freehold residence … replete with every appointment suitable for a family of the first distinction'. There is a similar description of no. 38. The houses then passed into separate private ownership and remained so (with various tenants) for the remainder of the 19th century until they were acquired successively (no. 38 in 1897, no. 39 in 1909) by a community of French Ursuline nuns who conducted a boarding and day school for girls. During their occupation of the houses these nuns added the mansard story to each, and in 1911 built a chapel in the garden in the rear of no. 39.
The community of French nuns returned in 1922 to France (Versailles) and the two houses were purchased from them by the Benedictines of Ampleforth Abbey in the summer of that year. The hall was then transferred to the new premises and began to function there with the beginning of the Michaelmas Term. Under its Benedictine occupation, though undergoing considerable internal changes to adapt it for its new purpose, the property has suffered no external alterations. The building can provide accommodation for 20 students.