Lady Margaret Hall

Pages 341-343

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.


In this section



Lady Margaret Hall came into existence in 1878. On 4 June Dr. Edward Talbot, Warden of Keble, before a committee of interested persons, moved a resolution 'to attempt the establishment in Oxford of a small Hall … in connexion with the Church of England, for the reception of women desirous of availing themselves of the special privileges which Oxford offers of higher education'. The University, in connexion with the plan of University Extension, had drawn up a scheme of lectures and examinations for women in Oxford, and if others besides residents in the town were to make use of it, the provision of a hostel was necessary. At first one hall only was intended, but to prevent denominational friction, it was judged wiser that there should be two, one (Lady Margaret Hall) conducted on Church of England principles and one non-sectarian (Somerville). By 22 June a complete scheme was drawn up whereby the Association for the Education of Women, a body which was created on that day, undertook the supervision of the educational work of the students in the halls, as well as of the Home Students; and for many years the Halls were officially described as 'approved by the A.E.W.' and it was not intended that they should be anything more than suitable lodgings; but as they grew in size, they inevitably became independent of the A.E.W.

Dr. Talbot's scheme was received with disapproval on many sides. Dr. Liddon thought it 'an educational development which runs counter to the wisdom and experience of all the centuries of Christendom' and, alarmed by the rumour that the hall was to be named after Mr. Keble, said 'nobody who knew Mr. Keble can doubt what he would have thought of bringing young women to Oxford'. Miss Charlotte M. Yonge thought that 'a mere boarding house on good principles where young ladies may be sent to prepare for examinations may be an institution worthy of support but not commanding any enthusiasm.' Miss Elizabeth Sewell disapproved strongly: 'I think the competition with young men highly undesirable, and the unavoidable publicity in a place of comparatively small size dangerous to women at an age so open to vanity and excitement.' Prof. Max Muller thought Oxford was the worst place in the world for a ladies' college; and even Miss Beale, at that early date, 'doubted whether there were at present many women able to profit by any high teaching'. But supported by the encouragement of Professor T. H. Green, Dr. Mackarness, Bishop of Oxford, Mark Pattison, and others, Dr. Talbot's committee sent out a circular to indicate the nature of the proposed hall as 'An Academical House on the principles of the Church of England (with provision for the liberty of members of other religious bodies) which will secure to the students the following advantages: a common life with the ways and tone of a Christian family; the protection of certain rules as to hours, society, Sec; general supervision of studies, definite religious instruction, and the advice and assistance of a lady of experience and other high qualifications, acting as Lady Principal'. (fn. 1) On 21 Nov. 1878 a happy choice gave this post to Miss Elizabeth Wordsworth, daughter of the Bishop of Lincoln, (fn. 2) who by her wisdom, learning, and humour guided the hall through its early uncertainties. At her suggestion the hall was named after Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and mother of Henry VII, who, in her phrase as 'A scholar, a gentlewoman and a saint', might stand as an ideal for the educated English woman. On 16 Oct. 1879 Lady Margaret Hall, housed in a white brick 'family residence', the last house on the south side of Norham Gardens, was opened by the Bishop of Oxford. Nine students were in residence. (fn. 3)

The site was wisely chosen; open meadow land on the east allowed for further expansion, until now Lady Margaret Hall with its buildings, gardens, and playingfields covers rather more than 11 acres between the Parks and the river Cherwell. The white house proved inadequate almost at once.

The first two extensions, in 1881 and 1883, aimed at 'raising the Hall to the final number of about twentyfive students'. (fn. 4) By 1892 the numbers had reached forty-one, (fn. 5) and an extension was necessary. An appeal was launched for funds, and an adjoining freehold site was acquired from St. John's, being a meadow, known in the Middle Ages as Bradmore, bounded by the Cher well on the east and Holywell Manor on the south. On 15 Oct. 1896 the new Wordsworth Building, though as a block incomplete, was opened. (fn. 6) By Michaelmas 1902 there were fifty-four students in residence; the Report speaks of the pressure on space as becoming 'Yearly more inconvenient', (fn. 7) and 1909–10 saw the erection of an important central block, with a dining-hall and library. (fn. 8) In 1915, despite the war, the design was completed by the addition of a new wing, Toynbee Building, named in grateful recognition of the work of Mrs. Arnold Toynbee, the hall's treasurer.

By 1921 numbers had risen to 105; and in 1923 the council was compelled to embark on a further extension, this time with a block to link up Old Hall and Wordsworth Building. This addition, commemorating the devoted service to the hall of Dr. Eleanor Lodge, was opened in 1926. (fn. 9) But two hostels still were necessary, and the dining-hall, kitchens, and library had long become inadequate. Once more a building plan was discussed, but with little hope, for the finances of the hall did not justify so heavy an outlay; but it was made possible by the munificence of Mrs. Edward S. Harkness of New York, who, in Oct. 1930, crowned her other benefactions by one of £35,000 to build the necessary accommodation for all the out-living students and tutors. (fn. 10) This generous gift was made through Miss Margaret Deneke, then in America on one of her many musical tours on behalf of the hall funds, and was a fitting climax to her work for the hall. The council now felt justified in raising a sum sufficient to complete the extension. This new wing, adjoining Toynbee and named Deneke at Mrs. Harkness's special request, 'After those who worked for it and not after those who merely gave money', (fn. 11) was opened in 1932. At last the Principal, the fellows and tutors, the administrative officers, the 156 students, and the domestic staff were housed under one roof. The total number of undergraduates permitted by University Statute to be in residence is 160, but under various concessions to meet conditions arising from the war there are at present 195 students in residence, reading for Honours Degrees, including a number of war-time graduates now reading for a full degree. Of these 172 are housed in the hall.

The provision of a chapel was always regarded as of paramount importance. Originally, one room fitted up as a chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford on the Feast of the Purification, 1886, and served until 1921, when increased numbers made some fresh development essential. The chapel fund, long inaugurated by Old Students, being still insufficient for a worthy building, an army hut was set up in the grounds as a temporary measure in 1921. (fn. 12) At length, by gifts from many friends and by bequest—notably from Mrs. Toynbee in 1931, and from Miss Tidd-Pratt and Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth (fn. 13) in 1932–funds permitted the erection of a chapel as part of the 1930–2 buildingscheme. On 27 Jan. 1932 the foundation-stone was laid by the hall's founder, Bishop Talbot, and on 14 Jan. 1933, in the last year of his life, he dedicated it. (fn. 14)

The library, built in 1909 as part of Talbot Building, has overflowed its original domain, and after Deneke was built in 1932 the whole of the central block was adapted for library purposes. At present it houses about 24,500 volumes.

Lady Margaret Hall was constituted under a Deed of Trust in 1892 and its property vested in three trustees. In 1913 it became a Limited Liability Company, though not for profit, under the Companies Act (1908), and in 1926 was incorporated by Royal Charter under the name of 'The Principal, Council, and Members of Lady Margaret Hall'. The charter is unique in incorporating not only the Principal and council, but also the students—past, present, and future members of the body corporate. (fn. 15) By a decree of Convocation 15 June 1920 the hall was admitted to the privileges of Stat. Tit. XXIII of Women Students.

The government of the hall is vested in a council consisting of twenty-four members, which includes the Principal, treasurer, official and professorial fellows, and not less than six elected members called 'councillors'.

The council may elect as Visitor any person holding high judicial or ecclesiastical office, or a member of the Privy Council. The office is at present held by the Chancellor of the University, the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Halifax.

It was in the years 1892–4 that the halls, by general agreement, became independent of the A.E.W. in most matters. At that time they contained about 100 members, and with the Home Students the numbers were such that the Secretary of A.E.W. could not superintend their studies individually. The heads of the halls now undertook this work, and by this time there were women capable of acting as tutors. At Lady Margaret the first resident tutor was for history; there are now eleven full-time tutors attached to the hall, as well as several lecturers and part-time tutors.

There are twelve endowed scholarships; the Armorel Daphne Heron-Allen of £300 (for Physiology, Zoology or Biochemistry); the Nuffield, £100 (for Medicine); the Mary Stillman Harkness, £60; the Joan Ashdown, £60 (for Classics); two Clara Sophie Deneke Scholarships, £40 each (one for Music); two James Cropper Scholarships, £40 each; the Mary Talbot, £40 (for members of the Church of England); the Kathailin M'Gonigle, £40 (for Modern Languages); the Tullis, £40 (for daughters of professional men); the Maud Hay, £40. There are scholarships not endowed: the John Malcolm Mitchell or John Edwin Cooney, £80 (given alternately); two Old Students' Scholarships (or exhibitions), given annually by subscription. There is one endowed exhibition and the hall provides further scholarships and exhibitions out of its revenues; the names of various benefactors of the hall are attached to some of these from time to time: John Gamble, Jephson, &c. There is a Resident Research Fellowship of £300 (endowed); the Sir Ernest Cassel Tutorial Fellowship of £300; the Susette Taylor Fellowship of £150 (for study abroad); two Senior Scholarships for research, each of £100, pardy provided from special funds. The hall is virtually without endowment, beyond the scholarships and fellowships mentioned above.

In 69 years there have been only four Principals. Miss Wordsworth, appointed in 1878, resigned in 1909, by which time the hall was firmly established, to which her own work had contributed not a little. She was followed by Miss Henrietta Jex-Blake, whose twelve years covered the difficult war and post-war period. To her succeeded in 1921 Miss Lynda Grier whose 24 years' reign saw an unexampled growth in the size and prosperity of the hall. She was succeeded in 1945 by Miss Lucy Sutherland.

In addition mention should be made of Mrs. Arnold Toynbee, a devoted House-Treasurer from 1883 to 1920, whose active interest ceased only with her death in 1931. Toynbee Building commemorates her, as does the chapel; for her legacy made its completion possible. Other good friends were Mrs. Arthur Johnson, the secretary of the Association for the Education of Women from 1883 to 1894 and of the hall from 1880 to 1914, and Dr. Eleanor Lodge, sometime Principal of Westfield College, whose service to the hall as tutor and Vice-Principal covered twenty-six years and is commemorated in the building that bears her name.

It was a matter of congratulation that both the founder, Bishop Talbot, and the first Principal, Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth, were able to be present at the hall's jubilee in 1928. She lived to see the completion of Deneke and the first beginnings of the chapel, but died on 30 Nov. 1932: a year later Bishop Talbot's long life came to an end. The sixty-nine years of the hall's existence have seen developments never expected by its founders, viz. its evolution from small beginnings, with their pleasant suggestion of chaperoned family life, to the status of an official college, fully recognized by, and taking an active part in, the University.

The Buildings

The original house, opened in 1878, though reflecting the architectural taste of the period, is, with the exception of a cumbersome porch, pleasantly free from the excesses of 'domestic Gothic'. It is a white-brick 'family residence'; undistinguished but with a look of comfort. Rather more graceful additions were made in 1881 and 1883 in the then fashionable red brick and terra-cotta from the design of Mr. Basil Champneys. In 1896 a detached wing, Wordsworth Building, lying in line with the original hall, was erected as part of a homogeneous block to be created later. The design, by Sir Reginald Blomfield, is more formal and spacious, and the whole building, to which in 1909 was added a handsome central block, is in red brick, with stone facings, in the late 17th-century French style. It is known as Talbot Building and contains a large hall, panelled in oak in commemoration of Miss Wordsworth's principalship, and used until 1931 as the dining-hall, with a handsome library above it, divided into bays by pillars. In 1915 a balancing wing, Toynbee Building, was added by Sir Reginald as formerly planned. In 1926 Sir Reginald was also responsible for Lodge Building, a wing in a similar style, to link Wordsworth with Old Hall. Deneke, the last extension, adjoining Toynbee, was erected in 1931 from the design of Sir Giles Scott. The building, in multicoloured brick in which a greyish tone predominates, contains a new dining-hall, panelled in dark oak, with a ceiling of light oak.

The chapel, in the Byzantine style, in the form of a Greek cross, is in the same multi-coloured brick, with dressings of Clipsham stone. It was built in 1932, from the design of Sir Giles Scott. The brick walls support a concrete dome of 28 ft. span, pierced with twentyfour lights, and carried directly on the pendentives. The arches and pendentives are of reinforced concrete. The apsidal east end is covered by a plaster semidome. At the west end is an organ gallery approached by two flights of steps. The organ case, stalls, and lectern are all in light oak, while the detail of the west door is particularly pleasing. The baldacchino, altar candlesticks, and the sedilia in the chancel all form part of the Wordsworth Memorial. The original communion plate was given by Bishop and Mrs. Talbot, and a second very beautiful chalice and paten in memory of Frances Vera Kempe. Over the altar is a 15th-century painting in tempera of the Flagellation, ascribed to Taddeo Gaddi. It was presented by Miss E. Edwards. There is also a triptych in water-colour of the Annunciation, Nativity, and Flight into Egypt, by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and a plaster cast of the recumbent effigy of the Lady Margaret in Westminster Abbey.

The hall possesses the following portraits: Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth, by Charles Shannon, 1894; Miss Henrietta Jex-Blake, by Philip de Laszlo; Dr. Edward Stuart Talbot, after George Richmond, by Mrs. Lee-Merrit; Mrs. Arnold Toynbee, by Mrs. LeeMerrit; Dr. Eleanor Constance Lodge, by John Souter; Miss Lynda Grier, by James Gunn; Miss Evelyn Jamison, by Janet Robertson; Dr. Janet Spens, by E. Plachter; Mrs. Edward S. Harkness, by Frank O. Salisbury.

The arms of the Hall are: Or on a chevron between two talbots in chief and a bell in base azure a portcullis of the field. Thus is combined the portcullis of the Lady Margaret, talbots, which appear as supporters of the Talbot arms, and the bell from the Wordsworth coat. Remembrance of the Lady Margaret is emphasized by the adoption of the Beaufort Motto: 'Souvent me Souviens'.


  • 1. Lady Margaret Hall Report, i, 1.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid, i, 5.
  • 4. Ibid, i, 1.
  • 5. Ibid, i, 143.
  • 6. Lady Margaret Hall Report, i, 166 and 192.
  • 7. Ibid, ii, 139; iii 173.
  • 8. Ibid, iii, 173–4.
  • 9. Ibid, v, 667–8.
  • 10. Ibid, vii, 859.
  • 11. Ibid. v, 64.
  • 12. Ibid, v, 6.
  • 13. a Miss Wordsworth was created a Dame of the British Empire for her services to education in 1928.
  • 14. Ibid, vii, 10.
  • 15. Ibid, vi, 663–4.