XXXVI. St Edmund Hall

Commentary
XXXVI. St Edmund Hall

St Edmund Hall is not merely the only medieval academic hall to survive in Oxford to the present day; it also ‘has a claim to be the oldest surviving academic society to house and educate undergraduates in any university’.  Since halls were not endowed, incorporated or vested with statutes, it has no formal date of foundation; and although academic activity took place on the site at an even earlier date, the name Aula sancti Edmundi can be documented from 1317, long before Oxford’s oldest college began admitting undergraduates. 

Its front quadrangle reached its current footprint by about 1469, but the hall’s earliest surviving buildings there – the east part of the north range – date from 1596, by which time it was under the control of Queens (while retaining its own Principal).  The west range dates from  between 1635 and 1659, while the principle building of the quad, in the northern part of the east range, is a surprisingly early essay in classical architecture (for Oxford), from 1680-90. 

By 1903, all the other academic halls had been absorbed into colleges, and the continued existence of St Edmund Hall as an independent community was placed in grave danger when the looming retirement of the Principal, Edward Moore, opened the way for the partial union with Queen’s provided for in the Act of 1877. But since 1877, Oxford opinion had ‘come round to the view that the extinction of small Societies is not in itself desirable’; and instead of dissolution, Oxford’s final medieval academic hall was granted the right of self-0determination in 1913.

Sources: Quoting M. C. Curthoys, ‘The Colleges in the New Era’, in Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 2, ed.  M. G. Brock and M. C. Curthoys [The History of the University of Oxford, Volume VII] (Oxford, 2000).