The Oxford Architectural and Historical Society, 1839-1939

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The Oxford Architectural and Historical

Society, 1839–1939

(Read before the Society, May 17, 1939)
THE Oxford Architectural and Historical Society was founded, under the name of the ‘Oxford Society for promoting the study of Gothic architecture’, in 1839, exactly a hundred years ago; it is the purpose of this paper to trace the development of the Society during that period, to indicate the changes in its interests and activities, which themselves reflect contemporary changes of tastes and interests in Oxford and beyond, and to assess as far as possible the contribution that the Society has made to the study of the past. It is impossible not to admire the vitality, flexibility and adaptability of the Society; there is the same institution, but with constantly developing and changing functions.
The Society’s history is conveniently enough divided in two by a kind of crisis or revolution in 1860; before that date it was mainly devoted to Gothic church architecture, to what was called ‘Ecclesiology,’ and rather resembled the contemporary Cambridge Camden Society; after that date, as we shall see, its interests shifted and widened, and it came to resemble rather the other local archaeological societies that were growing up all over England, such as the Kent Archaeological Society, the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, and many more, to the foundation of which it had given a stimulus. This change is reflected, rather like the masonry joint between two periods of building, in the cumbrous title of the Society; known before 18601 as the ‘Architectural Society,’ it added the word ‘Historical’ in 1860. The Oxford University Genealogical and Heraldic Society, founded in 1835, was amalgamated with the Society in 1841.
1. 1839–1860
The Rev. T. W. Weare, writing in 1860, stated that ‘the original Architectural Society “for promoting the study of Gothic architecture” commenced in Christ Church in 1838—in the University soon after—with my friend C. T. Newton, the eminent archaeologist, . . . I was one of its first promoters.’2 Weare and Newton were certainly members of the earliest committees (1839–40), but I have not found any more evidence about the preliminaries at Christ Church.
The earliest minute-book3 gives the following account of the Society’s beginning:
‘At a Meeting held at Wyatt’s Rooms on Friday Feby 1st 1839. On the motion of Revd J. Coupland [sic] and seconded by Revd < Is. > [added] Williams.

It was resolved

that in pursuance of a Prospectus already issued,4 a Society be formed for promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture, and be called ‘The Oxford Society for promoting the Study of GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE.’
The Society from the first found plenty of support; the list of officers for 1840 gives as president the venerable President of Magdalen, Dr. M. J. Routh; as vice-presidents, the President of Trinity (Dr. J. Ingram), the Master of University College (Dr. F. C. Plumptre), the Rector of Exeter (Dr. J. L. Richards), and Dr. W. Buckland, Canon of Christ Church; a committee of 16, including R. W. Church, H. G. (later Dean) Liddell, and J. B. Mozley; 13 honorary members, including the Chevalier Bunsen, Sir Francis Palgrave, Thomas Willement, Professors Whewell and Willis of Cambridge, and a number of architects such as Blore, Ferrey, Rickman, Salvin (but not Pugin); and over a hundred ordinary members who included Dr. J. R. Bloxam of Magdalen, Sir Thomas Phillipps, and John Ruskin. The secretaries were the antiquary John Henry Parker (later Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum) and Thomas Combe; the treasurer, J. Parsons of the Old Bank.5 In 1841, the annual report was able to say that ‘the station and character of several of those who have honoured the society with their patronage . . . is also highly gratifying’; it mentions the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Oxford, four peers, three archdeacons, and a member of parliament.6
It is noteworthy that the Society became a common meeting ground for senior and junior members of the University. Heads of houses (in those days dignitaries of incredible aloofness) not only gave their patronage, but attended meetings, and even read papers; the President of Trinity, for instance, on mediaeval bridges, the Master of University College on stained glass.7
Another noticeable feature of the early days is the important part played by members of Trinity College, which at that time contained a very well defined group of High Churchmen and Tories, a kind of pendant to the better known Oriel circle.8 We have seen how two fellows of Trinity, Copeland and Isaac Williams, opened the first proceedings; there were others, such as Meyrick, Patterson, Wayte, and above all, E. A. Freeman, who joined soon after coming up in 1842, and obviously found in the society an ideal outlet for his enthusiasms. Freeman (who soon became secretary) and John Henry Parker are in fact the two most outstanding figures in the Society for the next fifty years.
In its first days the Society met sometimes at Wyatt’s Rooms in the High (for the annual meetings), sometimes in a large room at the back of the ‘Maiden’s Head.’ J. H. Parker, in giving his reminiscences some fifty years later, said that the room at Wyatt’s was normally used for fencing, and that he used to have some amusement with foils and masks before meetings began; and that the room at the ‘Maiden’s Head’ was reached by going up a kind of ladder: and he could even now recall his pleasure in witnessing the climbing powers of several dons of the University.9 From about 1845 to 1860, the Society leased the Music Room in Holywell.
As has already been said, the Society in its early days was mainly, almost exclusively, devoted to ecclesiology, that is to say, the science of building churches in accordance with correct principles, which meant (to the founders of the Society) the principles of Gothic architecture and of the Church of England as understood by the Tractarians. Mediaeval churches were to be studied mainly with a view to building new churches on the same lines. It will be seen at once that the Society was, historically, a product of two contemporary movements, the Gothic Revival and the Oxford Movement. The Gothic Revival in England was only part of a contemporary European movement, represented on the continent by the work of men like Didron and Viollet-le-Duc and the completion of Cologne cathedral10; secondly, while many of the Tractarians were intensely iriterested in this revival of Gothic, and in the ritualism that went with it, such things made practically no appeal to some of the leading Tractarians, such as Newman, Keble, Pusey and Richard Hurrell Froude.
The Society had an obvious parallel in the more famous Cambridge Camden Society11; this was founded a little later in the same year (1839) at Cambridge, by Benjamin Webb and John Mason Neale, and after taking the name ‘The Ecclesiological Society,’ moved to London in 1848 and became extinct in 1863, though its journal, The Ecclesiologist continued till 1868. But along with the resemblances, there were important contrasts, as will be seen; the Oxford Society was less rigid and doctrinaire, more comprehensive and adaptable, and it is for this reason that it was able to survive.
The practical side of the Society’s work was from the beginning all important; it included publications and the direction of church building and church restoration; indeed, it may be said that the building of churches on correct lines was its ultimate object. Hence, in the first place, the members had to make a systematic and exhaustive study of Gothic architecture, its construction and ornament and changes of style; for this purpose they not only collected a large library (for this was an age of elaborate and painstaking architectural publications, like those of Britton, Billings, and the elder Pugin), but they also made a large collection of drawings, brass-rubbings, models and casts of architectural features;12 from the first the officials of the Society had included a professional modeller and a professional wood-engraver,13 and the Society’s room must have looked like a small museum. Secondly, the members undertook a systematic and exhaustive examination and description of the churches of the locality; for this purpose, the elaborate printed forms or questionnaires drawn up by the Cambridge Camden Society were used, some of which survive. All this work led, with remarkable rapidity, to the publications of the Society. At one of the earliest meetings of the Society, on May 10, 1839, it was resolved to undertake ‘an Architectural Guide to the neighbourhood of Oxford, comprising an account of the Churches and other objects of interest,14 and this, edited and published by J. H. Parker, came out in sections, characteristically arranged according to rural deaneries, between 1842 and 1846. More important still, local churches were selected as models which the builders of new churches might reproduce exactly; for each church a monograph was published, with plans, elevations, sections, working drawings and specifications of materials and costs; among the selected churches were St. Giles’s, Oxford, ‘a good specimen of the Early English Style’; Shottesbrook church, ‘a good and pure specimen of the Decorated Style’; St. Bartholomew’s chapel, Oxford; and, by way of a modern instance, Littlemore church. There were also published working drawings of ancient pews, fonts, pulpits, and so forth. It was precisely the discipline of all this minute study and description, giving a real, practical understanding of Gothic, which was perhaps the best part of the Society’s work. It is small wonder that Freeman contemplated becoming an architect by profession, and actually designed a chapel for the workhouse at Wantage.15
Further, the Society, being one of the few bodies possessed of an accurate knowledge of Gothic architecture, became a kind of universal advisory board. Thus, in 1843, application was being made by the Bishop of Oxford, ‘that the committee will authorize the architect of the Society to go to Cuddesdon and recommend a new East window for the Chancel, also to examine the church generally and recommend restorations which may be gradually effected; that the Committee will authorize their architect to examine Dorchester Church, and draw up a series of recommendations for its gradual restoration.16 This last point led the Society to undertake one of its biggest ventures; between 1845 and 1858, it not only directed, but also raised funds for, the restoration of Dorchester abbey church, which included raising the chancel roof in order to expose the head of the great east window; and over a thousand pounds was spent.17
All over the country, clergymen who were building new churches or restoring old ones would write to ask advice, and submit plans for criticism; no problem was too large or too small for consideration: pews and galleries, stone altars, dry rot, the manufacture of encaustic tiles, the employment of Indian wood-carvers, stoves and gas lighting were all dealt with.18 The society received an occasional rebuff: on June 10, 1843, the Rev. and Hon. the Dean of Windsor writes (from Grosvenor Place, London): ‘I have to regret that you have received encouragement to lay out on your own responsibility so much money upon Haseley Church, and I have also to request to learn from you who gave you permission to remove from my Chancel the altar rails?’—an unjust rebuff, it seems, since the Dean and Chapter had in 184119 given them formal permission to direct the restoration.
On the whole, the Society must have wielded considerable power in the architectural world; the great Gilbert Scott himself wrote to them in most respectful and apologetic tones:

‘I have lately been doctoring up, rather than restoring, a little church at Clifton Hampden near Abingdon . . . which you will, I fear, not altogether like, as it is not a strict restoration, indeed we had hardly anything left to restore—it is rather a refoundation (keeping it in the main to the old plan), and viewing it as such we have put the monument of the gentleman from whose bequest the funds proceeded in the place of the Founder’s Tomb, rightly or wrongly I do not know.’ (4 Nov. 1844).20

One very curious line of work was giving advice concerning Gothic church building in the colonies, in India, Newfoundland, S. Africa, New Zealand.21 Sometimes this was easy work; Shottesbrook, Berks., that ‘good and pure specimen of the Decorated Style,’ might equally well be copied for a cathedral at New Brunswick, or the chapel of a training school at Chester.22 The wooden churches of Norway might be copied in cold climes.23 But how could one apply the true principles of Gothic to churches in the tropics, when the Bishop of Bombay, for instance, had to explain that

‘the church should be wide open, so as to admit the sea breeze from south to north-west. Care should be taken to have doors on the sides to admit of soldiers easily getting out of the church. I would suggest whether it would not be preferable to give up the idea of a middle aisle (gangway), and have two side ones : by this arrangement the troops will be more immediately before the clergyman. It will be desirable to have at least one porch, and on the north side, for protection from the sun of ladies and others on getting out of their carriages. Moulding in this country, especially on the outside of a building, soon falls down . . . It will be necessary to have punkahs in the church.'

In this particular instance, a memorial church at Colaba, in 1843, there was also some rivalry and temporary unpleasantness between the Oxford Society and the Cambridge Camden Society over drawing up the designs.24
Besides these: practical activities, there was a theoretical side to the Society’s work, which is seen mainly in the papers read at the meetings. The majority of them dealt, it is true, with concrete subjects like descriptions of particular churches, or mediaeval bridges in England, or the problem of Gothic churches in India; but interspersed with these we find papers such as those of the Rev. W. Sewell on ‘the principles and theory of Gothic architecture contrasted with other systems’ (25 March 1840), and on the contrast between Gothic and Grecian (30 June 1840); or remarks ‘on the Symbolism of Gothic architecture, by Mark Pattison, communicated by a friend in Germany, and partly translated from the German of Dr. Theremin, Court preacher to the King of Prussia’ (17 Nov. 1841); or a paper on the nature of architectural truth (22 Feb. 1843); and Freeman opened a discussion on the subject, ‘how far the Romanesque style is suitable for modern Ecclesiastical buildings’ (29 June 1845), and read a paper on ‘the development of Roman and Gothick Architecture, and their Moral and Symbolical teaching’ (12 Nov. 1845).25
Now the pet theories and foibles of the ecclesiologists, especially as represented by the Cambridge Camden Society, are well known : the desire to find symbolism in everything (Durandus was their text-book), the insistence on ‘architectural truth,’ and the ‘moral ‘ fallacy that ‘good men build good buildings’ and vice-versa; and above all, the insistence that true Christian architecture could only be identified with Gothic, and in particular with the middle pointed style of Gothic; all else was pagan, or undeveloped, or debased.
Echoes of these theories are found in the Society’s papers : ‘The vertical principle in Gothick architecture,’ Freeman tells us, ‘is symbolical of the tendency of the Christian Faith to raise and elevate the thoughts and affections. . . not from a deliberate purpose of the architect, but from an invisible law impressed on the heart.’
‘While Roman (i.e. Romanesque) architecture is the language of the Church in bondage, Gothick architecture-rightly so called if thereby we understand Teutonick-is the language of a subsequent aera; an aera when the Church had leavened the world . . . It is the artistick embodying of the spirit of Northern lands and Northern peoples, the soul of chivalry and romance, the days of faith, and love, and valour’ (we are coming perilously near to a ‘nordic’ theory here !).
‘Romanesque as being the language of the Church under persecution, Gothick of the same Church in her days of worthy triumph.’26
‘ Mr. Parkins objected to Romanesque altogether; he considered our position to be different from that of the ancient Norman architects, as we have the subsequent Gothick styles to choose from, which they had not; he considered that Ecclesiastical buildings should in every case be built in the most perfect and beautiful style, as a matter of principle, without regard to individual and temporary circumstances. Mr. P. concluded by saying that all Romanesque was foreign, even Norman, as that style was introduced from abroad . . . Mr. Patterson was of opinion that local circumstances would often justify Romanesque; it if were fitting when first introduced, it would be fitting in the colonies, where the church was in an analogous position . . . Mr. Jones remarked that situation and scenery had a great effect upon style, and that for instance, no one would build a rich perpendicular church in a bleak and barren country. . . . Mr. Millard said . . . one style must be essentially best, and in this we ought to build in every case. He hesitated not to set down every kind of Romanesque as classical and semi-pagan; its lines were the horizontal ones of a heathen temple, not the vertical ones of a Christian Church,’ etc.27 (What a preposterous judgment to pass on the early basilicas of Rome, on Sancta Sophia, Aachen, or Durham!).
The interests and controversies of the younger ecclesiologists are also naively shown

in the ‘Memorandum Book,’ a suggestion book, opened in February 1845 to receive proposals of subjects for discussion, recommendations of new books, questions asked for information, and so forth. There are miscellaneous queries, practical and theoretical : as to mediaeval confessionals in English churches; the propriety of admitting heraldic devices into churches; the use of the cymagraph, and of lead tape for measuring mouldings; stoves in churches, stone parcloses, glass chalices, the symbolism of equal or unequal triplets, return stalls, the symbolical meaning of the position of a bishop’s staff on an effigy, whether turned in or out (with a most elaborate answer by Freeman). ‘Is the Society aware that the Norman Crypt under the Oxford Castle is turned into a coal hole?’—to which a stern ecclesiologist replies ‘What harm is there in that, if it is not consecrated’ (or can this be sarcasm?). ‘Could any member give any information on the shape, size, etc., of wooden altars? The Ecclesiologist is almost silent upon this point.’ To which is replied ‘Whoever heard of a wooden Altar, such is not the material common in the Church, though it has been used by some Protestants, who when they parted with doctrine were bound also to give up many points of Holy Symbolism and practice. J.E.’ ‘If any member can furnish information on the Colours of Altar Cloths suitable to each Festival of the Church, it will be very acceptable’ asks Mr. Tudor, of Exeter; ‘A Catholick Directory,’ he is told, ‘will furnish the information for every day of the year’ to which yet a third hand adds the indignant question : ‘What can an Architectural Society have to do with altar cloths and ‘Catholick directories.’ It will be seen that there was that air of youthful zeal and acrimony which we now expect to find in political movements.

Finally, Freeman in particular gives us a valuable insight into his own approach. In his earlier stages (we shall see that he was to change his attitude later), he definitely classes himself as an ecclesiologist rather than as an antiquary. After a very purple passage : ‘And all, glass, and oak, and ashlar, shall glitter with every gorgeous hue, rich diaper shall cover every vacant inch of wall; each light of the tall window shall blaze with the pictured deeds of Saints; and the azure vault shall gleam, like the shield of Tydeus, with all the stars that gild the firmament . . . the gradual ascent of steps and pavement, themselves glittering with rich tints and deep enamel; and far above, the slender pillars of the gorgeous apse . . .’; he remarks : ‘The cold antiquary or the busy statesman may smile on our aspirations as a mere fevered dream.’28
And he writes a particularly revealing letter to J. L. Patterson, a fellow member, who is thinking of resigning from the Archaeological Institute, on account of the election of a Socinian to its committee

‘ . . . The grand objection to the Institute seems to me to be what its name expresses, that it is merely archaeological on points where mere archaeology is worse than useless. I do not object at all to a numismatic society, or a society for digging up old pots, or tracing out pedigrees. I should not belong to it for precisely the same reason that I should not belong to a chemical or botanical society, because I have no interest in those particular pursuits. A society for any of these matters I should consider innocent and laudable (so far as its particular science is so), if it simply be not irreligious. But the Institute is wrong in applying to higher matters the merely antiquarian tone which belongs to inferior ones. It examines examples of the highest arts, painting, sculpture, architecture, and of those arts devoted to the highest of ends, without recognizing either their aesthetical or their religious character . . . Their manner of treating heathen remains would be absurd, unphilosophical, unartistick; when applied to sacred things, it is all this, and irreverent into the bargain.’29

Now it is easy enough to make fun of all this, and some of it is absurd enough; but to dismiss it all as mere quaintness and absurdity would be both unfair and unhistorical. If only in justice to the founders of the Society, we must try to understand what they were aiming at, we must examine their ideas seriously and critically. The shortcomings and perversities of judgment are obvious, as with regard to excessive symbolism, or love of overloaded ornament, or a wholly unjust depreciation of Romanesque. Above all, they suffered through divorcing architectural theory from historical method; if only they had studied Durandus less, and the chronicles and records more, they would have got a better idea of what the mediaeval men were doing. If one contrasts the ecclesiologists with the great antiquaries of the 17th and 18th centuries like Dugdale and Wharton and Tanner, on the one hand, and the scholars of the later 19th century, like Stubbs and Edmund Bishop and Armitage Robinson, on the other hand, one is almost tempted to conclude that a solid, documentary, historical knowledge of the middle ages was about at its lowest ebb at the time of the Romantic Movement and the Gothic Revival.
But it would be a great mistake to regard the ecclesiologists as a mere lapse or slump in the progress of mediaeval studies. They had something to contribute, and their mistakes are really the mistakes of adolescents and pioneers. They had this advantage over the older antiquaries, that they did take mediaeval thought and culture seriously, as seriously as people had hitherto taken classical culture; and that was the first essential. They studied the subject with enormous energy and sympathy, and therefore in the long run with greater understanding. Even the devotion to Durandus, so misleading in some ways, was in itself a good point-the study of the literary background to art history.
Further, there is this important point; the Society was, as I have said, on the whole less extravagant and doctrinaire, more solid and practical in its outlook, than the Cambridge Camden Society. There was certainly freedom and diversity of opinion; at one of the earliest meetings, on 9 June 1841, H. G. Liddell (later Dean of Christ Church), in an interesting paper on the principles to be followed in the restoration of ancient buildings, protested against the pedantry which desired to reduce a building to one style only, and insisted that later additions, in some cases at least, ought to be preserved, as being part of a building’s history.30 It may be argued, too, that it was the practical side of its work, and particularly its publications, that was most characteristic of the Society. This solid and practical side may be seen, perhaps, even more in the personality and work of John Henry Parker, who was for so many years the mainstay of the Society; he is of course best remembered for his ‘Glossary of Architecture,’ which has introduced so many generations to the study of Gothic, and among other things, he deserves to be specially remembered as the collaborator with Hudson Turner in the four volume work on the Domestic Architecture of the Middle Ages, a wholly admirable work. Parker represents the Oxford Society at its best, and he seems to be a kind of link between the ecclesiologists and the more scientific school of architectural historians, represented by men like Professor Willis and (later) St. John Hope.
Finally, it can be seen from the lists of papers read that there existed from the beginning, side by side with the strictly ecclesiological interest, a strong leaning towards more purely historical and topographical interests, and it was these interests that were coming to the fore in the late fifties; perhaps this was part of a more general reaction against the dominantly theological interests of the Tractarian period.
II. 1860–1939.
In the years 1859–1860, after twenty years of existence, the Society had to face a severe crisis, partly of a material or economic order, partly of a moral order. On the one hand, the Society was in great difficulties; the lease of the Holywell Music Room expired in 186o, and, as the number of resident paying members had been gradually diminishing, the Society could not afford to hire any similar building in the future.31 Already it had been reduced to attempts at subletting the Room at various times to the Amateur Musical Society, the Union Society, the Motet Society, the Entomological Society, the Society for the study and practise of the Plainsong of the Church, and to a dancing master; and in 1854 a union of the Society with the Oxford Arts Society had been proposed.32 The loss of a permanent home in 186o was particularly inconvenient on account of the Society’s large collection of books, models and casts. On the other hand, there were, as has been said, already signs of a growing revolt or reaction against the predominance of ecclesiology. As early as 1846, when Mr. A. J. Beresford Hope, M.P., in a paper, suggested that the Society’s field was ‘ too wide, as it was induced to meddle somewhat with secular architecture : too narrow, as it excluded the extremely important element of ritual study,’ the president took care to point out, in a footnote, that the society was not an ‘ Ecclesiological society.’ (23 June 1846).33
Again on 26 March 1851, a discussion arose on the preference to be assigned to archaeology or ecclesiology, in the Society’s labours, Mr. Freeman advocating the former, and Mr. Chamberlain the latter34; and at the annual meeting of that year (2 July, 1851), the president, the Principal of Brasenose (Dr. R. Harington), reopened the matter, and criticised the too exclusive attention to ecclesiology

‘Interesting as the Papers are which are from time to time read before us, it is obvious to remark that they are almost exclusively devoted to the discussion of ecclesiastical subjects, handled indeed with great ability . . . but yet calculated to affix to us the character of a Society for promoting the study of Ecclesiastical rather than of Gothic architecture.’

After referring to the way in which the Cambridge Camden Society had openly transformed itself into the ‘Ecclesiological Society,’ he went on to say:

‘To a certain extent indeed the study of what is called ecclesiology is essential to the study of the ecclesiastical branch of our subject. . . . But yet I venture to affirm that the investigation of ritual and ceremonial matters, beyond what is necessary for the right understanding of the architectural arrangements of the sacred edifice . . . belongs not to the province of the Architect, but of the Ritualist, or if he prefer that title, of the Ecclesiologist. You are aware that our cultivation of these studies has been accused of engendering and fostering a morbid taste for a ritual which is more or less connected with the religious corruptions of a former age . . . I am happy to be assured that this imputation cannot be fastened upon us by anyone who is competently informed of our proceedings, but I cannot but acknowledge that the danger referred to is the peculiar one to which excessive zeal for such studies is exposed.’

He goes on to recommend the less dangerous and equally interesting study of the military and domestic edifices of the middle ages; such a study would ‘supply what everybody must feel to be a great desideratum, viz. the true principles upon which domestic buildings should be .designed.’35 ‘True principles’ applied to domestic architecture: is it possible that we owe the belt of Gothic villas in north Oxford to a well timed flight from the dangers of ritualism? Another reason for stressing the historical and archaeological interests was the need for catering for the young historian as well as the future parson, for the University had now come to recognise Modern History as an Honours School (jointly with Law in 1850, separately in 1872);36 Freeman himself wrote enthusiastically on this point to Parker (12 June 1860) :—

‘ As a student at once of history and architecture I hail with very great pleasure the prospect of seeing my own two studies recognised as kindred pursuits by a society in my own University and one with which I have so long had more or less to do. I am quite sure that architecture has been studied a great deal too much as a subject by itself, or in connexion with subjects which are not its most natural congeners. On the one hand it has been too much mixed up with controversial theology, on the other hand it has been too much looked at, by different minds, as a purely aesthetic or constructive affair . . Its true place, I have always held, is as a branch, and by no means an unimportant branch, of history.’ . . . Because architecture has been allowed to assume a too purely technical, too often, I fear, even a frivolous aspect, it has not been so much cultivated by students of general history as it really deserves to be. I remember very well, that, when I was Modern History Examiner, we more than once set in the Miscellaneous Paper in the Class Schools one or two general questions-very general ones indeed-bearing on the history of architecture, and I was surprised to find how very little knowledge on the subject was to be found even among generally well-informed candidates.’37

In 1868 the Annual Report was to go even further, and allege, as reasons for a proposed amalgamation with the Ashmolean Society, the interests of the scientists, their ‘tendency to consider many questions from an archaeological point of view, and hence all those investigations connected with the antiquity of man, . . . and the questions also of development or extinction of species in a given time . . .’ This is far removed enough from ritualism and ecclesiology. In 1860, then, the great change was made; it was agreed that ‘History should be added to Architecture as one of the objects of the Society, and that it should be henceforth called the Architectural and Historical Society’ (an amendment ‘that the Society be called a Society for the study of Architecture and of Mediaeval History’ had been defeated in the committee by 6 votes to 4); the aim being, ‘by widening the scope of their studies, to gain an accession of new members, and those among the younger residents in the University, and thus to give more life and importance to their meetings’; and at the same time it was hoped to get wider support by reducing the annual subscription for residents from a guinea to ten shillings.38
The Society, however, still had no permanent home; between 1860 and 1894 it met in various places, sometimes in the Taylor building, sometimes in the old Ashmolean Museum in Broad Street; for a time the books had to be stored by Parker, and were more or less inaccessible, and the casts and models were offered to the University.39 Finally, in 1894, it found a permanent home in the Ashmolean Museum in Beaumont Street, ‘under hospitable roof,’ as the president (Mr. James Parker) said in 1895, ‘of their greatest friend, Mr. Arthur J. Evans.’40
The Society’s interests and activities after 1860 came to resemble more closely those of the other local archaeological societies of the country, as has been already said. The Society had gradually ceased to function as an advisory body to church builders; but still for some time it remained a kind of guardian of the Gothic Revival, taking a keen, almost fatherly interest in all new Gothic buildings. The custom of giving a periodical review of new buildings was continued (though this, with the growth of an archaeological sense, gradually gave way to a martyrology of demolitions); in 1857 the annual report had said ‘The Chapel of Balliol College, which is nearly ready to be opened, is remarkable for considerable vigour and originality of design. At Exeter College, the Library is completed, the Rector’s new House nearly so, and the walls of the magnificent Chapel are rising rapidly. All these works are most satisfactory, and worthy of the eminent architects who are employed on them. In the Rector’s house especially, Mr. Scott has practically vindicated the suitability of our national Style to domestic purposes. The windows, though strictly Gothic, admit abundant light . . .’41 Freeman, speaking in 1862, is much more emphatic in his judgments; he gives high marks to the Martyr’s Memorial, it ‘may be compared with some of the most glorious mediaeval work known.’ ‘As to the Taylor buildings, the least said of them the better. That class of building happily has gone by; and I hope we shall not see it revived. . . . The front of the work at Balliol is still a good straightforward piece of English architecture, though I should have liked the windows better if they had had dripstones over them. . . . But now we come to a very different state of things. We come to a building that stands by itself—Balliol College Chapel. It is a personal injury to me and to every Trinity man. . . . With regard to the New Museum [i.e. the University Museum in Parks Road]. The front by itself is a very beautiful thing indeed, and we have nothing like it. . . But there is one building in Oxford on which I can have no mercy whatever, that is, the new church [i.e. the Church of St. Philip and St. James by Street] in the parish of St. Giles. It is most frightful.’ He deplores the introduction of Italian Gothic, and ‘the prevalent fashion of building according to what Mr. Ruskin has written.’ On the whole he thought that in the last twenty-one years architecture in Oxford had not gone forward but backward. But he finds great consolation in Gilbert Scott’s chapel at Exeter: ‘He has given us one building here, which I do not hesitate to say is the most glorious in modern England. I only lament one thing, that some of the necessities of the college prevent the beautiful building from being seen to advantage.’42

It was natural that the Society should take a part in the well-known battle of the styles over the designs for the new government buildings at Westminster (1857–9).43

This championship of the Gothic Revival was in a sense a survival from the past. The new interests of the Society are shown, on the other hand, first, in the papers read, where there is much more emphasis on history and archaeology, and in particular on local history and archaeology. For a time an attempt was made to keep some of the topics ‘historical’ in quite a general sense; we find Professor W. W. Shirley lecturing on Becket, and on the character and court of Henry II, Professor Goldwin Smith on Cardinal Pole and on the history of Ireland, M. Burrows on Edward I; and one correspondent, in 1860, expressed a fear that the historical element would swamp the rest.44 But in fact, these general historical topics drop out by the seventies, and from 1860, the emphasis is mainly on local history, archaeology and topography. Thus the papers for Michaelmas Term 1863 dealt with the building of the Trinity Aisle or North Transept of Thame Church A.D. 1442; the Crypt of St. Gervais at Rouen; the old churchwardens’ account-books of St. Peter’s-in-the-East; the Wall-paintings recently discovered in Headington Church. In 1894 we have : ‘Reminiscences of Oxford during the past seventy years’; ‘Some antiquities recently discovered on the site of the new Municipal buildings, Oxford’; ‘A knuckle-bone floor in Holywell Street, Oxford’; ‘The History of Kettel Hall, Oxford’; ‘The history of the Ashmolean Museum and of the Tradescant and Ashmole Collection.’45 The contributors come to include Mr. Falconer Madan, the Rev. F. H. Woods, Mr. P. Manning, Mr. H. Hurst, Sir Arthur Evans, Professor F. Haverfield, Professor J. L. Myres. An emphasis was laid on the local history of Oxford as far back as 18 Feb. 1857, when it was proposed that in the course of the ensuing term they should ‘make Oxford their special study, and in the history of its halls, colleges, churches, etc., discern the history of the times which gave rise to them . . . If some member in each college would come forward and give them the history of his own college, and connect its architecture as far as possible with the history of the times or with some of their leading men, they would produce such a history of our university and city as in no other way could be produced, and they would aid those historical studies which are now so eminently reviving in Oxford . . . Accordingly we find, on 25 Nov. 1857, the Rev. E. Hobhouse of Merton (the future bishop, and an ‘indefatigable student of the College archives’) reading a paper on Walter de Merton, and 2 Dec. 1857, there is a paper on ‘the history of the university as connected with the Aularian system of Oxford.’ In 1860, Professor Goldwin Smith and others spoke on similar subjects.46 It was this same interest which was to produce in later years the foundation of the Oxford Historical Society, the series of College Histories, and the work of Mr. Andrew Clark. It is possible that the much discussed University, Commissions, raising as they did important historical and constitutional issues, did something to direct men’s attention to the early development of the University and the Colleges.
In 1870, when H. C. Maxwell-Lyte (later Deputy Keeper of the Public Records) was secretary, a series of regular ‘Walks and Excursions’ was started, visiting antiquities in and around Oxford; there had been some rather infrequent excursions earlier, but these were weekly affairs; between 1870 and 1900 there were 284 of them. The exhibition of archaeological objects at meetings came to be another regular feature, one specially necessary in the days before lanternslides; and there were periodical reviews of recent excavations and finds in the locality, and the recording of buildings demolished; these take the place of those earlier periodical panegyrics on the work of Scott and his fellows. Indeed it is clear that the Society’s knight-errantry had not ceased, but only changed; from being a champion of the true principles of Christian or pointed architecture, it was gradually becoming a champion of the preservation of ancient monuments, a work which it still pursues. In May 1870, for instance, we find the Society protesting vigorously against the destruction of the Dorchester Dykes; and, more significant still, in the following June, they addressed a memorial to the Home Secretary; ‘Having reason to believe that in France all important remains of past ages, even when situated on private property, are under the supervision of the Government, we venture to suggest to Her Majesty’s Ministers the desirability of a Royal Commission being appointed, for the purpose of ascertaining the present condition of those important Monuments of Antiquity, which, if destroyed, could not be replaced, and also the effectual means of preserving them from further decay and injury.’47 The Society at the same time consulted Viollet-le-Duc and Baron Quast on the methods of preservation employed by the French and German governments, and appointed a subcommittee to compile a list of ‘Monuments of Historical and Archaeological Interest’ in the counties of Oxford and Berks.48 It is encouraging to find that even politicians are not permanently impervious to reason and persuasion, and thirty-eight years later, in 1908, the present Royal Commission on Historical Monuments was set up. To have helped, however remotely, to set such machinery in work, is not the least of the Society’s achievements.
Among the later works of preservation and recording may be mentioned action which averted a too drastic restoration of Carfax Tower (1896­–7), and the excavation of the site of the City Wall in the Clarendon Quadrangle (1899); and more recently, in 1912, a special sub-committee, which is still at work, was set up for the preservation of old houses in Oxford; besides attempts at saving old houses (some of them successful), it has made surveys and records, and compiled and published (in 1914 and again in 1936) lists of old houses; it now works in cooperation with the Oxford Preservation Trust. This work is perhaps the most important of all the Society’s activities in recent years. A tribute is, indeed, here due to the extremely valuable service to Oxford topography that Mr. Henry Minn has rendered for many years by photographing and recording vanishing buildings. It is bad enough that old buildings are destroyed, though it sometimes seems impossible to prevent it; what is a thousand times worse, because it is quite inexcusable and unnecessary, is that they should go without an adequate record, in the form of plans and photographs, being made. Would that the public authorities could insist on such records being made, before any old building is allowed to be demolished! Demolitions take place so quickly, that it is very difficult for voluntary workers to keep pace with them; what the city really needs is an official archaeological officer or surveyor.
One further important work by the Society was to bring forward and discuss the need for and the functions of an Historical and Archaeological Museum in Oxford. In March 1858, a letter from the Society’s librarian to the Keeper of the Ashmolean (Dr. Phillips) on this subject was printed; on 8 March 1859 the Society addressed a similar memorial to the Vice-Chancellor and the Hebdomadal Council; and on 23 Nov. 1861, a special meeting was held to discuss the matter, and amongst those who spoke were three heads of colleges and the Senior Proctor.49 The gist of the Society’s plea was this: that in the same way as, for the studies connected with physical science, the University was gathering together under one roof [i.e. in the University Museum] all those objects which might assist the student in physical science in his labours; so might she form a Museum by gathering into one centre all those antiquities now scattered through Oxford, which would equally assist the student in history; that the time when a special School for Modern History was being established, was a particularly suitable time to inaugurate such a Museum; and that the Society would be prepared to make over its collection of models, casts, brass-rubbings, etc. to such a Museum. I suppose that the present Ashmolean Museum represents a partial fulfilment, on a very magnificent scale, of that project. I say a partial fulfilment; because the Ashmolean can only be described as an historical museum in the sense in which history was understood two or three centuries ago, that is to say, ancient history. The student of classical and pre-mediaeval archaeology and history and of certain aspects of modern art will find everything he wants in these ever-extending galleries and in the library attached to them; but the same cannot be said of the student of mediaeval and modern history. That part of the Society’s eighty-year-old wish, a museum to illustrate modern history, still remains substantially unfulfilled; what is still needed is, on the one hand, a large collection of easily accessible books and photographs to aid the study of art-history and antiquities from the middle ages onwards; and on the other hand, a special museum to house the relics and illustrate the history of Oxford and its neighbourhood. I suppose Oxford is one of the few great historic cities of the civilized world which lacks a museum specifically devoted to its own local antiquities.
The Society published its Proceedings, giving an account of meetings held and papers read, from its foundation down to the year 1900. After that date, its publications ceased for some years, but have now happily revived; in 1936 the Society began the annual publication of Oxoniensia, a journal containing articles dealing with the archaeology, history and architecture of Oxford and its neighbourhood. Unlike the older Proceedings, it does not confine itself to papers actually read to the Society. As Dr. Salter has put it,50 its purpose is to publish ‘something new about Oxford,’ and not ‘work by Oxonians.’ It is already proving invaluable for recording archaeological discoveries, while for the historians it provides articles which should supplement, and encourage, the publication of the bigger texts and monographs of the Oxford Historical Society and the Oxfordshire Record Society.


Martin Joseph Routh.

June 1866.

Walter Waddington Shirley (ob. Dec. 1866).

Nov. 1844.

Joseph Loscombe Richards.

June 1867.

Samuel William Wayte.

Nov. 1845.

Richard Harington (1st tenure).

Dec. 1874.

John Obadiah Westwood.

Nov. 1846.

Frederic Charles Plumptre (1st tenure).

Nov. 1886.

Edward Augustus Freeman.

Nov. 1847.

R. Harington (2nd tenure).

Dec. 1891.

James Parker.

Nov. 1848.

William Sewell.

July 1898.

Falconer Madan (resigned Dec. 1900).

Nov. 1850.

R. Harington (3rd tenure).

June 1901.

John Linton Myres (1st tenure).

Nov. 1853.

John Rouse Bloxam (1st tenure).

[Oct.?] 1907.

William Archibald Spooner.

Nov. 1854.

John Prideaux Lightfoot.

June 1908.

Francis John Haverfield (ob. Nov. 1919)

Nov. 1855.

F. C. Plumptre (2nd tenure).

June 1920.

J. L. Myres (2nd tenure).

Nov. 1856.

J. R. Bloxam (2nd tenure).

June 1926.

Joseph Wells.

Nov. 1857.

John Barrow.

May 1929.

Frederick Maurice Powicke.

May 1858.

David Williams.

June 1930.

Herbert Edward Salter.

Dec. 1858.

John Henry Parker.

June 1936.

Edward Thurlow Leeds.

Nov. 1859.

F. C. Plumptre (3rd tenure).

June 1938

Margerie Venables Taylor.

Nov. 1861.

Robert Scott.

Dec. 1863.

Goldwin Smith.



John Parsons.

June 1917.

Rachael Emily Poole(acting, vice Leeds).


James Laird Patterson.

June 1919.

E. T. Leeds

Mrs. R. E. Poole (resigned 1925).

Dec. 1846.

Samuel William Wayte.

[Jan.?] 1928.

Hon. Andrew Shirley.

Nov. 1869.

James Parker.

May 1929.

Lelio Stampa.

Jan. 1892.

Harry George Walter Drinkwater

May 1933

Ian Gow Robertson.

Nov. 1895.

Emma Lucy Swann.

June 1938.

Cecil Thurston Lilley.

Jan. 1900.

Charles Francis Bell.

[Jan.?] 1904.

Edward Wilfrid Allfrey.

June 1911.

Edward Thurlow Leeds.

1 The official change of name to ‘Oxford Architectural Society’ took place in 1848, but the new name had been used unofficially since 1844 (v. Proc.).

2 Correspondence of the Society, No. 502.

3 Minutes of the General and Committee Meetings, 1839-44; cited below as G.C.M. Other abbreviations used are : Minutes of Committee Meetings=Com.; Printed series of Proceedings = Proc.; Correspondence of the Society = Corr. A full index to the Proceedings, compiled by Mr. E. T. Leeds, is available for consultation in the Ashmolean Museum.

4 This original prospectus was said to have been mislaid by Copeland in some volume in Trinity College library, and never afterwards recovered; cf. Proc., n.s. vi, 82.

5 Proc., 1840; cf. slightly different lists in G.C.M., 1839.

6 Proc., 1841.

7 Proc., 3 Nov. 1841; 6 June 1842.

8 Cf. W. R. W. Stephens, Life and Letters of E. A. Freeman, i, 43 ff.

9 Proc., n s. vi, 82; cf. Proc. and G.C.M., 1839 seq.

10 For the rebuilding of Cologne, and appeals for contributions, see Corr. Nos. 140-5 (1843); Proc., 10, 24 May 1843; G.C.M., 10 April 1843.

11 Cf. Kenneth Clark, The Gothic Revival, Chapter viii; B. F. L. Clarke, Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century, Chapter v.

12 Catalogue and accessions of books, casts, etc., in Proc., passim. These collections still survive to a large extent.

13 G.C.M. and Proc., 1839.

14 Proc., 10 May 1839.

15 Life and Letters, 1, 63.

16 G.C.M. 22 Feb. 1843.

17 Cf. collection of accounts, specifications, and reports on Dorchester among the Society's records.

18 Corr. passim and esp. Nos. 54, 59, 74, 76, 79, 173, 194, 421, 428, 432-3; Proc., 1841, 23 Nov. 1842, 31 Jan. 1844, 17 Nov. 1847, 15 May 1850.

19 Corr. Nos. 43, 165

20 Corr. No. 205.

21 E.g. Corr. Nos. 41, 47, 52, 72, 136, 146, 155, 166, 448; Proc., 16 April 1845.

22 Corr. Nos. 209, 212, 218.

23 Proc., 15 Nov. 1843, 16 April 1845.

24 Corr. Nos. 146, 162, 166, 167, 169­­–170.

25 Cf. Proc., under dates given

26 Proc., 12 Nov. 1845 (pp. 25,47), 15 June 1847 (p.44).

27 Proc., 29 Jan. 1845

28 Proc., 25 June 1847 (pp. 46-7).

29 Life and Letters, i, 96.

30Proc., 9 June 1841.

31 Cf. printed leaflet, dated 5 June 1860, inserted in Committee Minute book (1860-71).

32 Com. 30 Jan. 1851, 27 Oct. 1853, 7 Dec. 1853, 19 June 1854, 4 Feb. 1857, 20 Oct. 1857

33 Proc., 23 June 1846 (p. 23 n.).

34 Proc., 26 March 1851.

35 Proc., 2 July 1851 (pp 33-7).

36 E.g. Proc., n.s. i, 1, 16, 47, 50, and printed leaflet of 5 June 1860; cf. also the arguments apropos of the Museum question, cited below.

37 Corr. No. 489.

38 Corn. 23 May 1860; Proc. and leaflet, as cited in preceding footnote.

39 Com. 28 Feb. 1860, 13 June 1860; Proc., n.s. i, 75; cf. Corr. No. 553.

40 Proc., n.s. vi, 83.

41 Proc., 22 June 1857.

42 Proc., n.s. i, 168–171

43 Corn. 18 May 1857, 1 Dec. 1858, 16, 23 Feb. 1859; Corr. No. 478.

44 Proc., n.s. 1, 9, 29, 52, 6o, 322; Corr. No. 496.

45 Proc., n.s. 1, 268 ff.; vi, i ff.

46 Proc., under dates cited; Proc., n.s. i, 16, 22.

47 Proc., n.s. ii, 224–6.

48 Corr. Nos. 559, 560; Proc., n.s. ii, 324-7, 345

49 Proc., n.s. 1, 45-6, 71; Com. 15 Mar. 1859.

50 Oxoniensia, 1, 5 f.

51 The following lists have been compiled by Mr. D. B. Harden. The dates given are those of entry into office. Such dates as still remained doubtful after careful scrutiny of the Proceedings, Minute Books, Terminal Programmes, and other evidence, are enclosed within square brackets.

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