02 September 2023

Wadham College in
the heart of Oxford
and its Gothic-style
chapel and buildings

The Gothic-style chapel in Wadham College, Oxford, is part of the original college building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I have visited Oxford a few times over the past ten days or so, visiting colleges, chapels and churches, as well as bookshops, parks and museums.

Wadham College is in the centre of Oxford, at the corner of Park Roads and Broad Street. Although it is close to the Ashmolean Museum .and the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ at Hertford College, I wonder how many visitors step inside Wadham College, the former college of notable figures ranging from Sir Christopher Wren to Michael Foot and Archbishop Rowan Williams.

Wadham is one of the largest colleges in Oxford, with about 70 Fellows, 480 undergraduates and 240 graduate students. It was among the first colleges in Oxford to admit women students in 1974, the others being Brasenose, Jesus College, Hertford and Saint Catherine’s, and in 2011 it became the first Oxford college to fly the rainbow flag.

Wadham College Oxford was founded in 1610 by Dorothy Wadham and built by the architect William Arnold (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Wadham College was founded in 1610 by Dorothy Wadham, fulfilling the wishes of her husband Nicholas Wadham in his will. The central buildings, a notable example of Jacobean architecture, were designed by the architect William Arnold and erected in 1610-1613. They include a large and ornate hall, an interesting chapel and the Wadham Gardens. The hall, one of the third largest in Oxford, is notable for its great hammer-beam roof and for the Jacobean woodwork of the entrance screen.

The main building was erected by Arnold in a single building operation in 1610-1613. The style is traditional Oxford Gothic, modified by classical decorative detail, most notably the ‘frontispiece’ framing statues of James I and the Founders immediately facing visitors as they enter the college.

Sir Christopher Wren is probably Wadham’s most famous alumnus. While John Wilkins was Warden of Wadham (1648-1659), Wren was part of a group of experimental scientists at Oxford, the Oxford Philosophical Club, that included Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. They met regularly meetings at Wadham College and formed the nucleus of what became the Royal Society.

Wren was an undergraduate at Wadham before he became a fellow of All Souls’ College. He later returned to rooms at Wadham while he was the Savilian Professor of Astronomy from 1661.

Statues of James I and Dorothy and Nicholas Wadham face visitors as they enter Wadham College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The college grounds include the Holywell Music Room (1748), said to be the oldest purpose-built music room in Europe and England’s first concert hall, and the Ferdowsi Library, specialising in Persian literature, art, history, and culture and initially funded by the then ruling Iranian Pahlavi dynasty.

Wadham Gardens are relatively large, compared with those of other Oxford colleges, even without the land sold to build Rhodes House in the 1920s. They were first carved out from the property of the previous Augustinian priory.

Wadham has a wide range of graduates who have contributed significantly to public life (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Wadham has a wide range of graduates in the fields of economics, history, law, physiology, medicine, management, humanities, mathematics, science, technology, media, philosophy, poetry, politics and theology who have contributed significantly to public life.

Notable early members of the college include Robert Blake, Cromwell’s admiral and founder of British sea-power in the Mediterranean, John Cook the first solicitor general of the English Commonwealth and prosecutor of King Charles I, and the libertine poet and the courtier John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

More recent members include Archbishop Rowan Williams, who completed his DPhil at Wadham, the author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, the writer and jJonathan Freedland, and the Nobel laureate, mathematical physicist and philosopher Sir Roger Penrose, now an emeritus fellow.

Wadham Chapel is usually reached through the door in staircase 3 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Wadham’s Gothic-style chapel is part of the original college building. Although a ceremonial door opens directly into Front Quad, the chapel is usually reached through the door in staircase 3.

The original pulpit still stands. The chapel screen, like that in the Hall, was carved by John Bolton. Originally Jacobean woodwork ran right round the chapel but the stone reredos was inserted in the east end of the chapel in 1832.

The East Window, depicting the Passion of Christ and several other Biblical scenes, including Jonah and the whale, was created by Bernard van Linge in 1621-1622. The windows on the north and south sides of the chapel depict various prophets such as Jonah, and apostles such as Saint Andrew. They originate from different periods.

The East Window in Wadham Chapel was created by Bernard van Linge in 1621-1622 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

One window dated 1616 is attributed to the glazier Robert Rutland, a local craftsman. But Dorothy Wadham had his contract terminated on hearing bad reports of his Biblical prophets on the onrth side of the chapel. The name of the glazier for the more successful depiction of Christ and the Apostles on the south side of the chapel is unknown.

The windows of the antechapel, which also show saintly figures, are Victorian. They were designed by John Bridges, and created by David Evans in 1838. The elegant young man reclining on his monument in the antechapel is Sir John Portman, who died in 1624 as a 19-year-old undergraduate. Another monument, in the form of a pile of books, commemorates Thomas Harris, one of the college fellows appointed at its foundation who died in 1614 aged 20.

The chapel organ dates from 1862 and 1886. It is one of the few instruments by Henry Willis, the doyen of Victorian English organ builders, to survive without substantial modification of its tonal design.

The chapel screen, like that in the Hall, was carved by John Bolton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Revd Dr Jane Baun is Chaplain and Welfare Officer of Wadham College. She has taught English in Russia, mediaeval and Byzantine history at New York University, Eastern Christianity in Oxford, and Church History and Christian Ethics at Ripon College Cuddesdon.

She is the author of Tales from Another Byzantium: Celestial Journey and Local Community in the Medieval Greek Apocrypha (Cambridge, 2007), and scholarly papers on official and unofficial religious culture in Eastern Orthodoxy.

Before coming to Wadham, she was a curate in Abingdon and a lecturer in Ripon College Cuddesdon.

The ethos of the chaplaincy is warm and, as I found in recent days, the chapel is open all day, offering a place of prayer, stillness, a holy space where all can search for meaning, comfort and rest.

Wadham Chapel is open all day, offering a place of prayer, stillness, a holy space where all can search for meaning, comfort and rest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (97) 2 September 2023

Saint Osburg’s Roman Catholic Church in Coventry was designed by Charles Francis Hansom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and tomorrow is the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIII, 3 September 2023). Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers the Martyrs of Papua New Guinea (1901 and 1942).

Before the day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth and Lichfield. This week, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church in Coventry;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The former United Reformed Church on Warwick Road, Coventry, has its origins in an Independent Chapel on Vicar Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Some other churches in Coventry:

Throughout this week, I have been looking at cathedrals and churches in Coventry. This theme concludes this morning, looking at a variety of churches Roman Catholic and United Reformed churches, and Quaker and Brethren meeting houses.

There was a prevailing anti-Catholic climate in Tudor Coventry in the mid 16th century. Despite this, Edward Saunders, was a Catholic, was the Recorder of Coventry in 1553, and Robert Colman, one of three eligible ‘Catholic and honest persons’, was elected Mayor of Coventry in 1556.

Anti-Catholic feeling was strong in Coventry after the Caroline Restoration in the 1660s, and there were only three Catholics in Coventry in 1676. There was a Franciscan mission in Coventry from 1707, with a chapel in a private house. A Dominican mission was in Coventry from the 1760s, and was taken over by the Benedictines in 1803.

However, there was no marked revival of Roman Catholicism in Coventry until the mid-19th century. William Ullathorne, later Bishop of Birmingham and a titular archbishop, was put in charge of the mission in 1841. He enlarged the congregation and rebuilt the church and presbytery.

The Church of the Most Holy Sacrament and Sant Osburg, designed by Charles Francis Hansom (1817-1888), a brother of Joseph Aloysius Hansom, architect and creator of the Hansom cab, who designed the Town Hall in Birmingham.

Hansom designed the church in the style of the 13th and early 14th centuries. It consisted of an aisled and clerestoried nave, a chancel flanked by chapels, and a south-west tower with a broach spire. The external walls were of granite rubble with freestone dressings.

Ullathorne and Hansom toured Belgium and Germany in search of models, and created what a critic has called ‘a good specimen of the Puginesque gothic revival.’ The presbytery was rebuilt as a small priory. By the time Ullathorne left Coventry in 1846, following his appointment as Vicar Apostolic, Saint Osburg’s could claim a larger following than any other Catholic church in Warwickshire apart from Birmingham. The congregations numbered 900-1,000 in 1851. By 1884 there were 2,600 Roman Catholics in Coventry.

Saint Osburg’s Church was badly damaged by bombing on the night of 14-15 November 1940. It reopened in 1944, but was not completely restored until 1952.

The former United Reformed Church on Warwick Road, Coventry, has its origins in an Independent Chapel on Vicar Lane. The small and struggling church, which the successors of Samuel Basnett’s Congregationalist following had re-formed by the late 1680s, relied for its survival into the 18th century on the Presbyterian church at Bedworth, and was only able to establish itself in 1724 as an Independent church in a chapel in Vicar Lane, with the support of seceders from the Great Meeting.

The chapel was built on a site and with money given by John Moore, an alderman, who also left property in trust to provide funds for repairs and a minister’s stipend.

Membership increased steadily under Patrick Simson (1725-1773), the first minister of the new chapel: in 1730 he had a congregation of 83; 78 more had joined it by 1740 and a further 72 by 1750, some, at least, of whom were probably anti-Unitarians who seceded from the Great Meeting to Vicar Lane.

The chapel was partly taken down in 1822 and enlarged to accommodate 1,200 people. Numbers had risen to 338 by 1841, and in 1851 congregations averaged 480, with 240 attending the Sunday in the morning and 530 in the evenings. Despites splits and divisions, the church continued to thrive and a new chapel opened in Warwick Road in 1891.

The Congregational chapel on Warwick Road, seating 900, was built in 1889-1891 and could seat 900 people. It was designed by G and I Steane of Coventry. It is a large building of red brick with stone dressings, and has an impressive front in the Renaissance style flanked by domed octagonal turrets.

Most Congregational and Presbyterian Churches in England merged in 1972, to form the United Reformed Church. The Warwick Road Church closed in the 1980s and combined with West Orchard Church in recent years to form a new church at Baginton Road.

The Society of Friends or Quakers has had a presence in Coventry since the 1650s or 1660s. The Meeting House on Hill Street stands on a site bought in 1669, and Coventry Monthly Meeting was in existence by 1670.

William Penn visited the meeting house on Hill Street in 1687. A new meeting-house was built in Vicar Lane in 1698. Membership had risen to between 250-300 by 1730. A subsidiary meeting was registered in 1739 in Smithford Street at the house of William Gulson, and a second was registered in 1743 at Joseph Freeth’s malthouse, also in Smithford Street. The meeting house in Vicar Lane enlarged in 1742.

The decline of the city’s cloth trade saw a drop in membership of the meeting from 1750 on, and particularly after 1820. About 30 people attended the Sunday meeting in 1851, and by 1872 membership had dwindled to 16.

The meeting house on Vicar Lane was replaced in 1896 by a new meeting house on Holyhead Road, designed by Charles Smith of Reading. The Holyhead Road meeting house was eventually found to be too expensive and was sold in turn in 1939. A new meeting house was built in 1952 on the site of the old, disused, burial-ground on Hill Street.

Coventry Jewish Reform Community holds regular Friday night Shabbat services in the Friends’ Meeting House on Hill Street.

The Brethren Gospel Hall nearby on Hill Street can be traced to a secession of five members from Cow Lane Baptist Church ca 1850 to form a Brethren meeting. A meeting-room opened shortly afterwards in Cherry Street. A second group of Brethren began to meet in a hall in Hales Street ca 1877. The first group were ‘Darbyite’ or ‘exclusive’ Brethren, while the Cherry Street people were ‘Mullerite’ or ‘open’ Brethren.

The Hales Street meeting place ceased in 1913, and Cherry Street in 1954, when the registration was transferred to the Hill Street Gospel Hall.

There were other Brethren meeting rooms in Coventry from time to time in Holyhead Road, King William Street, Harnall, Bishop Street, Warwick Street, Earlsdon, and Grange Avenue, Binley.

Friends’ Meeting House on Hill Street, Coventry … the Quakers have had a presence in Coventry since the 1650s or 1660s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 25: 14-30 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.’

The Gospel Hall on Upper Hill Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been the ‘Rep├║blica de Jovens Home in Brazil.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (2 September 2023) invites us to reflect in these words:

May we look to our communities and reflect on whether we are fulfilling our calling to pray, to be present, to listen and to serve.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
but through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of all mercy,
in this eucharist you have set aside our sins
and given us your healing:
grant that we who are made whole in Christ
may bring that healing to this broken world,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Covenant Restoration Assembly on Upper Spon Street, Coventry, is part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Christian Life Ministries (CLM) is a Pentecostal church at the Welcome Centre, Parkside, and is affiliated to the Assemblies of God (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)