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What is Keble College Oxford known for?

Discover the interesting history that lies behind the first Oxford College to broaden the social depth of the student body.

We respect our past, but also seek to inspire the future. These words have been the guiding mantra of Keble College for the last 150 years. Whilst a visit to Keble College will have you marvelling at its fantastic and unusual brickwork, Gothic Dining hall and grounds, its origins lie in an aspiration to inspire a different future.

The first Oxford College of the modern era, Keble was founded in memory of John Keble (1792-1866), well known for his best-selling Christian verse and a key member of the so-called Oxford Movement which sought to recover the Catholic heritage of the Church of England.

Its aim was to make an Oxford education available to ‘gentleman wishing to live economically’. Perhaps not what we would call an ‘access agenda’ these days but an early attempt to broaden the social depth of the student body. Over time this philosophy has extended to welcome people from all backgrounds.

It was one of the key principles of the College founders that it should cater to those who could not afford to attend the traditional colleges. In fact, a large part of the expense of attending such colleges was not actually due to the educational aspect of students’ time there, but rather to the lifestyle choices and traditions in place. Students were expected to furnish their own rooms (buying furniture at inflated prices from local suppliers); they paid their scouts directly, commissioned personal meals and ate in their own “sets” of rooms, and were expected to throw lavish parties to entertain guests.

Keble was the first college to offer a collegiate education at an “all-in” charge. The £80 a year fee would cover rooms, furniture, facilities – everything except laundry and lights. Food was supplied, but no meals were to be taken privately – everyone would eat together in hall. As a further cost-saving measure it was agreed to provide a room for undergraduates to use as a reading room (saving personal expenditure on books) but this was to be supported at their own expense. In this, Keble proved to be a template for other colleges and their attempts to reduce costs.

Today Keble is one of the largest colleges in Oxford, with over 800 students, around 50 Fellows, another 50 lecturers and over 100 support staff. We are proud of our reputation as one of the friendliest and most inclusive colleges and aim to make a place where everyone feels valued and welcome.

Our unique architecture and the symbolism of Keble College’s Buildings

When Keble was built in the 1870’s, William Butterfield, a friend of the late John Keble, was controversially chosen as the architect.

Keble College’s brickwork is a ‘zebra’ style, the hallmark of Butterfield, who wanted to mark out the college as different from its predecessors. Butterfield famously claimed that he had ‘a mission to give dignity to brick’. His design resulted in residential rooms arranged along corridors rather than around staircases as was traditional in Oxford.

The Chapel is one of the most stunning cathedrals of all the Oxford Colleges. Butterfield is said to have spent hours studying at St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice2, inspiring the mosaics inside Keble College Chapel. Unusually, it was built in brick so to have ‘ornaments growing out of the building’, a signal of truth and beauty.

The Gothic Dining Hall features stained glass windows, long tables and walls lined with paintings. At the time it opened, this was the heart of the College where all who studied here, ate together every day.

For decades, people viewed the buildings as a joke, and kept it hidden behind ivy. However, it is now widely regarded as one of the best examples of Victorian Gothic architecture.

Did you know…

➤Keble College has continued the ‘Brick’ theme, giving graduates a red ‘Keble’ brick with their diploma.

➤Keble College was the first college to issue stamps. In 1871, only 1 year after it was founded, the college issued their own stamps to be sold to members of the college so that they could pre-pay the cost of a college messenger delivering their mail. Sadly, this service was stopped in 1886 by the British Post Office.

Keble College Chapel is home to a painting by William Holman Hunt, called ‘Light of the World’. Many people visit Keble just for a chance to see this fine example from the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

➤The Keble College Hall is the longest hall in Oxford and can seat 300 diners. It’s said to be the inspiration to the hall seen in the Harry Potter series.

An offer not to miss

This summer we’re launching #keblestaycations where you can create your own unique, authentically Oxford experience. Keble College is opening its historic doors this summer to offer you the chance to stay in the college, with a choice of single, double or twin room, deep cleaned and ready for the UK Staycation of 2021 AND including a delicious breakfast in the Gothic Dining Hall (said to be an inspiration for the great hall in the Harry Potter series).

Bookings are now open for August and September 2021!