This post continues our series on the library’s archives and is accompanied by a display on the college’s architecture, which is currently available to view in the library.
In 1937, Lord Nuffield gave £900,000 and the site that Nuffield College now sits on to the University of Oxford so that a new college could be created. In 1938, distinguished architect Austen Harrison was appointed and began to draw up plans.
The library holds in its archive, Nuffield College Papers, details on the appointment of Harrison to design Nuffield College, original plans, information on compromises and changes that had to be made, as well as an interview with the architect conducted by former warden Norman Chester.
Interesting finds include a detailed plan for the layout of plants in the college beer garden and photographs of lightning damage to the roof in 1992.
Harrison’s original plans for the college were very Middle Eastern in their appearance but disliked by Lord Nuffield who is reported to have wanted something more in keeping with Oxford with “domes and pinnacles and things” (interview with Harrison, box A8, track 2 below). A more Cotswold-like plan was created after Harrison and his co-workers, Piers Hubbard and Thomas Barnes, took a cycle through the Cotswolds for inspiration. Work continued once the second World War ended, although material had since become more expensive and the project had to become more economical. Plans for a college building across the road where Worcester Street car park is now were abandoned, for example.
Nuffield College Library was never originally supposed to be housed in the tower as it is now but in the additional building in Worcester Street car park that was never constructed. However, financial constraints called a halt to construction and led to the decision that the library be housed in the tower. Indeed, the tower was originally designed to be octagonal in shape rather than square. It was thought that the shorter octagonal tower would be too low in relation to the castle mound opposite and a taller tower, that we see today, would “lift the College out of its sunken site on to the skyline of Oxford” (box A8/1/7).
The interview between Norman Chester and Austen Harrison conducted in 1970 is available below via SoundCloud, split into four tracks because of the original recording technique.