From the Archives – The Founding of Nuffield College

This is the first post in a new series which aims to illustrate some of the material held in the archives at Nuffield College Library.

In 1937 Lord Nuffield purchased land at Canal Wharf, offering it (and nearly £100,000,000) to the University of Oxford for the foundation of a new college bearing his name:


The Times, Wednesday 13th October, 1937 – in Nuffield College Papers Archive (Album B4)

Nuffield’s original vision was of a college for engineers and business students. However, after discussions with senior University staff he was persuaded that there was greater need for a postgraduate institution focused on work in the social sciences.

Though it didn’t take long for the University to appoint an architect (Austen Harrison), progress in constructing the physical space of the College was slow; hindered by both the outbreak of the Second World War and by disagreement over the design of the buildings. As a consequence, a licence to begin building work was not obtained until more than ten years later, in 1948. During the intervening period College business took place in offices on Banbury Rd and Woodstock Rd. As will be made apparent in the next post in this series, despite the lack of a permanent home Nuffield College remained very active during WWII.

At a ceremony in April 1949 the Foundation Stone was laid by the Chancellor of the University, Lord Halifax, and work to build a home for the growing group of Fellows and Students associated with Nuffield College finally began.


Photograph of the laying of the Foundation Stone from Nuffield College Papers, album B1

As well as programmes and pictures of the event, the archive also contains the speech delivered by the Chancellor on that occasion. In it, he took time to expound upon the merits and purpose of this new College:


The Chancellor’s Address on the occasion of the Laying of the Foundation Stone, from Nuffield College Papers – A 3/1/20

Due to spiraling costs and Government control of building it would take more than ten years for work to be completed. On June 6th 1958, with construction close to completion, the Duke of Edinburgh landed a helicopter on Christ Church Meadow, participated in the first ever meal held in the Hall of Nuffield College, and – in the presence of the Founder – presented then-Warden Norman Chester with the Royal Charter. In so doing he granted Nuffield College the same independent status as other Colleges of the University, marking the final stage in its foundation.

Photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh with Lord Nuffield and Norman Chester at the ceremony for the presentation of the Royal Charter - from Nuffield College Papers, A3/4/9

Photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh with Lord Nuffield and Norman Chester at the ceremony for the presentation of the Royal Charter – from Nuffield College Papers, A3/4/9

All information in this post came from sources in the ‘Nuffield College Papers’ section of Nuffield College Library Archive (in particular Chester, Norman – Nuffield College – Nuffield College Papers, A5/9/1). More information about the archives, including a guide to their contents and information on how to access them, can be found on the archives pages of our website.


About Nuffield College Library

We are a social sciences library serving Nuffield College and the University of Oxford
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One Response to From the Archives – The Founding of Nuffield College

  1. Pingback: From the archives – G.D.H. Cole and Nuffield College Library | Nuffield College Library's blog

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