Original features

August 20, 2009

Although there has been a library at The Queen's College, Oxford since its foundation in the 1340s, its present Upper Library - considered by many to be one of the most beautiful rooms in the city - dates from the 1690s.

It is thought that the architect might have been Timothy Halton, who was then the provost of the college.

The interior is notable for its wood carvings, rococo plasterwork and stained-glass royal portraits, as well as rare artefacts such as its 18th-century orrery, which illustrates the motions of the planets.

The stucco frieze above the windows incorporates symbols of learning - musical and scientific instruments, globes and books - along with motifs referring to the Passion of Christ. Like the statues on the garden facade, it is the work of John Vanderstein.

The bookcases bear the coats of arms of ecclesiastical benefactors. Books were chained to them for safekeeping until the 1780s, and many still show the marks of the damage on their covers.

With the help of a donation of £30,000 by Robert Mason, an alumnus, in 1841, the library acquired one of the most extensive collections of any Oxford college. To make room for the books, the space available was extended by enclosing the building's ground-floor arcade.

Send suggestions for this architectural series to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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