Many cities can boast a rich architectural history. Very few of them continue to actively occupy and use those buildings. rbmp have been working at Magdalen College School in Oxford, preparing visualisations and verified views for a proposed new extension to the school building – linking conservation with new development, this has been an exciting project to be involved with.
Tradition and a respect for the past has meant that the Oxford of today still has the same soul as the Oxford of Tolkien, the Oxford of Christopher Wren, and the Oxford of Walter Raleigh; stretching back century by century. The university itself was founded so long ago that there is no exact record of when it began, though historians are confident that the university will celebrate its thousandth birthday before the end of this century.
As much of the city can attest, Oxford university has facilitated the birth of countless other institutions both near and far. One such place that sprung up right on the university’s doorstep was the Magdalen College School, founded in 1480. With just 30 students, mostly choir boys who would sing in Magdalen College chapel, the school was established by William Waynflete but has since swelled to over 850 students.
For five and a half centuries the school has known various homes. Originally housed on the grounds of the university college itself, the school eventually moved in the 1920s to its new home just down the road and over the bridge. Some of the original site still remains intact however, as the bell turret and northern end of the Schoolroom still stand as part of the Magdalen College campus. The university quad itself is actually situated on what used to be the school’s playground.
A respect for the history of the buildings and sites characterises all of the development that has taken place throughout the centuries, as the university and school hand buildings between them, carefully renovating and preserving old spaces wherever possible.
Today Magdalen College School stands in a prime location for students to make the most of living in Oxford.
The Oxford Botanic Gardens for example, are just across the river. With over 130 acres of historic landscape, the Botanic Gardens are the oldest of their kind in the UK. Within such exceptional gardens are many exceptional species, some of the rarest in the world, which are used for the research and development of new drugs at the university as well as to inspire and educate the public about the importance of preserving biodiversity.
Founded in 1621, the Gardens have been in Oxford longer than many world cities have existed. As such, the buildings around them have been planned carefully to respect the Gardens and the value they provide. Walking through them, you are struck in equal parts by admiration for the history of the place but also with a great sense of peace as they still feel homely and inviting despite their rich legacy.
For the students of Magdalen College School, having such a space on the edge of their grounds is massively beneficial to their learning and their wellbeing. But that is not to say that they are lacking for grounds in the school itself. Though it is in the centre of the city, Magdalen College School is home to some of the best grounds in the country including extensive playing fields, gardens and sports facilities. With the River Cherwell running through, the school even has bridges stooped in history as the white wooden beams have been a part of the school for generations.
Nestled among pristine rose beds stands the School House. The land was initially owned by Christchurch College and the original building had been rented to a local farmer by the name of Thomas Fisher. The property was demolished and rebuilt into the School House in just 2 years in the 19th century to a design by Arthur Blomfield. Today the building perhaps more closely resembles a luxurious country estate than a grammar school, except of course for the students milling around on the fields around it.
To this day, very little of the School House has changed from the day of its completion in 1894. While the interior has been regularly updated, everything external has been meticulously maintained to remain as it was. Even the rose beds around the building are almost identical to their original design. The biggest change to the land was a vegetable patch built to feed the students through the Second World War.
Even if you were to take away the world-leading education, it is evident why Oxford is such a hub of learning given the inspirational buildings, gardens and rivers on every road. Students can hardly walk in any direction without coming across a small fragment of the long-remembered past or something new ready to capture their imagination.
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