A short guide to Hart Hall & the first Hertford College

Today’s Hertford College is the successor of two medieval halls of the University of Oxford. The site has been the home of Hart Hall, Magdalen Hall (not to be confused with the separate institution of Magdalen College) and a previous ‘Hertford College’ which existed from 1740–1818. Hart Hall was originally established around the 1280s as an academic hall for students studying at the University. It carried on in this form until 1740 when Principal Richard Newton re-formed Hart Hall as an independent college. This first Hertford College was not successful and it was forced to close in 1816.

Hart Hall in the Middle Ages

Towards the end of the 13th century Hart Hall was one of five academic halls, or student lodging houses, that were situated around the piece of land in Oxford now occupied by Hertford College. The origins of these halls are unclear, but it is known that at some time in the 1280s Hart Hall, which was situated between Black Hall and Shield Hall, was purchased by Elias of Hertford. In 1312 Walter of Stapledon, the Bishop of Exeter, bought the hall and its land, along with the neighbouring Arthur Hall.

This map of the centre of Oxford shows the site of the present day Hertford College with the locations of Hart Hall & Black Hall shown in the hatched areas. Reproduced by kind permission of the British Historic Towns Atlas © Historic Towns Trust

Bishop Stapledon planned to found a new college, and 1314 he obtained a licence to establish a hall for twelve poor scholars and for a short period Hart Hall housed these students and was known as Stapledon Hall. However the scholars soon moved to the newly founded Exeter College on Turl Street and Hart Hall reverted to its former status. Exeter College retained the freehold and rented Hart Hall as accommodation for much of the 14th century.

During the 15th century the Hall to some extent began to develop as a separate institution, but Exeter College remained the owner of the freehold and continued to exert its influence over the appointment of the Principal, who was usually an Exeter Fellow. Subsequent Principals paid rent to Exeter College until well into the 18th century.

Sydney Hamilton’s sketch of the medieval site, made c. 1896 during his time as Hertford Librarian ©Hertford College Archives

During this period the Hall seems to have been one of the larger and more successful halls; it was, for example, one of the few late medieval halls to have its own library. From the beginning of the 16th century other halls declined as the colleges began to allow more of their students to live in. Hart Hall maintained its numbers, recording 45 students in 1551 but with only one endowment finances were always a struggle.

Hart Hall after the Reformation

David Loggan’s engraving of Hart Hall made in 1675 for his book Oxonia Illustrata. ©Hertford College Archives

The patronage of Exeter College enabled Hart Hall to survive the shocks of the Reformation and absorb its nearby competitors, including Black Hall and Cat Hall. Although it lost the income from Sir John Bignell’s endowment, the Hall flourished under the tenure of Principal Richard Randall (1559–1599) who carried out substantial alterations and new buildings. He was also the first to make a break with Exeter College, by resigning his fellowship whilst remaining Principal of Hart Hall.

The years leading up to the Civil War saw a decline in numbers at the Hall, and by 1646 it was almost deserted. Following a visitation from the Parliamentary Commissioners Oliver Cromwell took the unusual step of directly appointing Dr Philip Stephens as Principal, who succeeded in restoring the fortunes of the Hall until he was ejected at the Restoration in 1660.

From Hart Hall to Hertford College

Dr Richard Newton from a portrait in Hertford College Collections, artist unknown, c. 1740 ©Hertford College Archives

In July 1710 Dr Richard Newton, a former pupil of Westminster School and tutor at Oxford’s Christ Church, became Principal of Hart Hall. This ambitious man immediately began to put his interest in educational and university reform into practice by planning the transformation of Hart Hall. He intended to promote its academic credentials and standing of the students and to create an impressive new set of buildings on the site, although most of these building plans were never carried out. However within six years he had paid off the college’s debts and added some new buildings on the south-eastern corner of the site, as well as a new chapel consecrated in November 1716.

Frontispiece from Dr Newton’s proposed statutes for his new college, published in 1739 & revised in 1747 ©Hertford College Archives

More successful were his plans to incorporate the Hall as a College. In 1739 Newton published his famous ‘Scheme of Disciplines with Statutes intended to be established by a Royal Charter for the education of youth in Hart Hall, in the University of Oxford’. Although these were fiercely opposed by many individuals in Oxford as well as by Exeter College which claimed partial ownership of the site, in 1740 Newton finally obtained a charter and statutes that would allow Hart Hall to be incorporated as an Oxford College. The Statutes were revised in 1748.

Dr Newton’s reforms

A lack of endowments meant that the college’s financial position was always precarious. Right from the start as Principal of Hart Hall, Newton exercised a ruthless control over college administration and finances. As a large proportion of his students were studying for Holy Orders, and so did not generate much of an income for the college, he was keen to attract Gentlemen Commoners and the higher fees that they paid. To this end he was also determined to make his college a model of learning, good behaviour and Christian morality.

“It is injoined, That no Person be continued a Member of this House, whose Iregular, Immoral, or Irreligious Behaviour in it shall render the Methods of Education described in these Statutes Fruitless to Himself, and his Conversation Dangerous to the Rest of the society; And that the Principal and Tutors be watchful to observe the First Steps which young Men take to any Evil Habits, and endeavour, by proper Representations and Penalties, to prevent their Ruin.”

Newton’s Rules & Statutes, Sect. X: Of Behaviour
The oath of admission to be made by each student, as set out in Newton’s Statutes ©Hertford College Archives

All of the students, including Gentlemen Commoners, had to agree to abide by Newton’s rules for governing the college. They were closely supervised and expected to work hard and live frugally in college, avoiding the temptations of the town and its coffee houses, of which he particularly disapproved.

Newton’s reintroduction of twice-weekly disputations, numerous lectures and a weekly speech day and essay, kept the students more than fully occupied — to the extent that in 1725, a group of students rebelled against his strict regime and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to migrate to other colleges.

The decline of the first Hertford College

Although Dr Newton eventually won the battle for incorporation and was able to a certain extent impose his model of academic life, he never obtained enough endowments to sustain this incarnation of Hertford College. After his death in 1753 the college declined, the number of Fellows and tutors was reduced and by 1810 there were virtually no matriculations. Eventually the underfunding and inability to attract Fellows and even a Principal led to the de facto collapse of the college. Any kind of meaningful academic and college life, and even the buildings themselves, deteriorated.

Detail from Joseph Skelton’s engraving of the ruined Hertford College in 1822 ©Hertford College Archives

The Fellows of Magdalen College, who had long been looking for a means of taking back the site occupied by Magdalen Hall, saw their opportunity and on 4 May 1816 a University Inquisition dissolved Hertford College. The college and its assets were transferred to the Crown, and the last remaining Fellow was pensioned off.

In due course an Act of Parliament granted the property to the University in trust for Magdalen Hall, which moved to the Catte Street site after a fire destroyed its own buildings next to Magdalen College in 1820. Magdalen Hall continued until its incorporation as a full college in 1874 when it once again took the name of Hertford College.

The Archives

Sadly only a small collection survives from this period, and this relates primarily to the Principal Newton’s Hertford College. It includes the Foundation Statutes and Rules devised by Newton, and most importantly the early 19th century library catalogues. Descriptions for these records can be viewed via our online catalogue , along with research guides to our archive holdings and specialist topics.

  • Printed title page of sermon
  • Handwritten library catalogue
  • Handwritten copy of legal proceedings
  • Handwritten copy of legal proceedings

The undergraduate Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh is one of Hertford College’s most famous — and occasionally infamous — alumni. Waugh had originally hoped to go to New College in Oxford, but was offered a place as a History Scholar at Hertford College, where he matriculated in January 1922.

Hertford College in the early 20th Century

Waugh arrived prepared to love Oxford and was full of good intentions, but by his own later admission did very little academic work whilst at Hertford and took only a casual interest in college activities. Sadly for biographers and Waugh enthusiasts this means that the college archives contain only glimpses of Waugh during his time as an undergraduate at Oxford.

College life

Waugh arrived partway through the academic year. In A Little Learning he describes Hertford as ‘a respectable but rather dreary little college’; and it was certainly still recovering from the ravages of the First World War. Student numbers were small, buildings dilipidated and accommodation cramped.

Page from a college Buttery Book recording Waugh’s weekly expenses for the Summer term of 1922 ©Hertford College Archives
Page from Hertford College Register of Room Allocations 1915–1929, recording the rooms allocated to Waugh in Michaelmas Term 1923 ©Hertford College Archives

Dinners were less elaborate and breakfast was served in hall as a common meal — in 1921 the college magazine noted with sadness that it was ‘no longer customary to entertain to three-course breakfasts’, although lunch was still ‘consumed decently in private’. Hertford had the advantage of cheaper living costs than many of the Oxford colleges and for his first two terms at Hertford Waugh occupied relatively inexpensive ground floor rooms (Staircase III room 30) in the Old Buildings Quad.

Waugh’s ground floor room at the front of the Old Quad, possibly the inspiration for Charles Ryder’s rooms as portrayed in ‘Brideshead Revisited’ ©Hertford College Archives

In the autumn term of 1922, however, he moved to a rather grander and more expensive set of rooms in Staircase II (now the Bursary Staircase) of the Old Buildings Quad. He was to occupy these rooms for the following four terms.The other sets in Staircase II were occupied by a fellow student, Anthony Disney, and three Fellows (Denniston, Murphy & Campbell). Perhaps for reasons of economy, Waugh moved for his final two terms in 1924 to a less grand set of rooms in Staircase V of the Old Buildings Quad, known as ‘The Cottage’.

Waugh appears in only two official photographs in Hertford College Archives. He arrived too late to be included in the Freshmen photograph for 1922 but a Gilman & Soame college group photograph taken in 1923 shows a youthful Evelyn on the front row, rather too close for comfort to his history tutor and arch enemy, CRMF Cruttwell. Close by we can tentatively identify his friends Terence Greenidge and Anthony Bushell. 

Evelyn Waugh is seated on the front row, 5th from the right; in the detail he appears on the bottom right. From the left of the bottom row detail is possibly Anthony Bushell & Terence Greenidge. Behind them in the middle of the second row Cruttwell is clearly visible in academic dress, with a dark suit, white tie & gown. ©Hertford College Archives.

Waugh in the centre of the front row of this undated photograph (c. 1923), possibly of members of the Junior Common Dining Club; from a Junior Common Room photograph album ©Hertford College Archives.

Waugh seems to have taken very little part in college activities as he quickly became involved in the Oxford Union and outside societies such as the Hypocrites’ Club. He was, however, a member of the college’s idiosyncratic Fox Society, for which he became the Secretary shortly after matriculating. Waugh and his friends obviously took great pleasure in debating, as these extracts from a Fox Society Minute Book demonstrate.

In November 1923 the Society held a joint debate with Trinity College, the motion being ‘This House wishes It was still at School’.

“Mr Waugh (Hertf.) complained of the self-righteousness of the House: the first speaker had stood for Freedom, the second for Faith, and the third for Virtue. He himself stood for a reasonable standard of personal comfort. At this point several visitors had to depart as their efforts to secure this ideal had involved them with the Proctors.”

Report from the Fox Society in the Hertford College Magazine for 1923 ©Hertford College Archives

Waugh & Principal Cruttwell

Portrait of Principal Cruttwell, reproduced from the Hertford College Magazine 1931 ©Hertford College Archives

C R M F Cruttwell was a distinguished historian and Lecturer in History at Hertford College from 1912. Although he eventually became Principal of Hertford he had never really recovered from wounds and shell shock sustained in the First World War and this may account for reports of his idiosyncratic behaviour. Waugh came to Hertford as a History Scholar and was therefore tutored by Cruttwell, but Waugh’s lack of interest in the subject meant that their relationship quickly deteriorated. Waugh wrote numerous unflattering depictions of Cruttwell in University publications and his own subsequent novels and memoirs — a persistent feud which he maintained until Cruttwell’s early death in 1941.

Records in Hertford College Archives point to a different interpretation of the relationship between Waugh and Cruttwell. Felix Markham, who succeeded Cruttwell as Modern History Tutor in 1931, considered Waugh’s descriptions of Cruttwell to be a caricature and travesty of the truth and that Cruttwell had rightly considered Waugh to be a thoroughly lazy and often drunken undergraduate. The actor and theatre director Frith Banbury matriculated at Hertford eight years after Waugh in 1930, and he later wrote a brief memoir for the archives of his time at the college. In it he notes: ‘Incidentally I do not have a vivid memory of ‘Crutters’, which leads me to the conclusion that Evelyn Waugh’s demonisation of him had more to do with Waugh than with Cruttwell’.

After Hertford

News of alumni in the Hertford College Magazine ©Hertford College Archives

Waugh sat his Schools exams in the summer of 1924 and achieved only a third class. As he had arrived part way through the academic year in 1922, he had intended to complete a further terms residence in order fulfil the requirements for his degree to be awarded. However his lack of academic progress meant that his father was unwilling to allow him to stay on, and this led to him leaving without having completed his terms, and so with no degree awarded. 

Minutes of the 610th Meeting of the Tyndale Society held in 1948, recording details of a talk given by Waugh ©Hertford College Archives

From Hertford Waugh spent a short time studying at art school in London, and then took up a teaching post at a school in Wales. Recorded here as ‘Denbigh School’, it was in fact Arnold House in North Wales, which became the inspiration for his first novel Decline and Fall.

In later life Waugh was not a particularly devoted alumnus, but he did make occasional returns to Hertford, mainly to speak at meetings of the Tyndale Society. The Minutes Book of the Tyndale Debating Society from May 1948 record the text of a paper given by Waugh entitled ‘Monsignor Ronald Knox as a Man of Letters’; and he returned in 1954 to give a talk on the wines of Burgundy, ‘with five sample bottles which he distributed among members’. In a letter written in 1952 to the Bursar W L Ferrar, however, he declined an invitation to a college dinner, on the grounds that as the journey from Somerset to Oxford was more laborious than travelling to the Amazon.