University College (Univ) owes its origins to William of Durham, who died in 1249. A legend grew up in the 1380s that we were really founded even earlier, by King Alfred in 872, and, understandably enough, became widely accepted as the truth. Nowadays, however, William of Durham is accepted as Univ’s true founder, but that still gives us a claim to be the oldest college in Oxford or Cambridge. Univ began life as a small and poor College, with enough funds to support just four Fellows reading Theology. The earliest undergraduates had to pay their own way, but towards the end of the century the College found benefactors to endow undergraduate scholarships. Such scholarships were important ways of helping boys from middling to poor backgrounds to better themselves. As Univ slowly grew in size and wealth, work began in 1634 to replace its medieval buildings with a new Front Quad, paid for with gifts from many Old Members. Although half the new Quad was finished by 1640, it took almost 30 years to complete the remainder, because of the Civil War. The College was luckier with its other main quadrangle, Radcliffe Quad, built in only three years, 1716–1719, thanks to a bequest from one Old Member, John Radcliffe, whose statue can be seen there. In the eighteenth century, Univ became one of the most intellectually active Colleges in Oxford: former students and Fellows could be found in senior positions in the government and the judiciary.
It is stressed that the paintings at University College are not in public ownership. In accordance with the charitable objectives of the College, which is a private institution, we are including our paintings on this website to widen public knowledge and for the benefit of scholarship. The paintings are hung in various locations throughout the College which are used in normal College life and are therefore not available to the public. Requests for access should be addressed to Professor Michael Collins, University College, Oxford OX1 4BH.
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