Greyfriars, Oxford

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University of Oxford
Greyfriars from the Gardens
Greyfriars Coat of Arms
LocationIffley Road
Coordinates51°44′48″N 1°14′25″W / 51.746801°N 1.240168°W / 51.746801; -1.240168Coordinates: 51°44′48″N 1°14′25″W / 51.746801°N 1.240168°W / 51.746801; -1.240168
MottoMy God and My All
Named forThe Order of Friars Minor Capuchin
Previous namesGrosseteste House (1919–1930)
WardenMark Elvins
Undergraduatesc. 50 (2008)!oxford/c1ed8/
Greyfriars, Oxford is located in Oxfordshire
Greyfriars, Oxford
Location in Oxfordshire

Greyfriars, situated on the Iffley Road in East Oxford, was one of the smallest constituent Halls of the University of Oxford in England, and existed until 2008. Its status as a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) referred to the fact that it was governed by an outside institution (the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a Franciscan Order), rather than by its fellows as is a College.

Greyfriars has one of the most distinctive buildings in Oxford; it is the only flint-stone Norman-style building in the city, and its green spire is prominently visible along the Iffley Road and from the University's Roger Bannister running track.


The original Greyfriars church and friary was founded by the Franciscans in 1224, but was suppressed during the Reformation in the 16th century. The Friars had a long and esteemed history in Oxford, listing many famous alumni, including the English statesman, Robert Grosseteste, also a theologian and Bishop of Lincoln, who became head of Greyfriars, Master of the School of Oxford from 1208, and the first Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Some time later, the Capuchin branch of the Order established a friary, known as St Anselm's, which was recognised by the University as a House of Studies in 1910. In 1919, the Friars moved to the current site on the Iffley Road—first naming it Grosseteste House after the first Head of the original Greyfriars—and on completion of the present building in 1930, the name of Greyfriars was adopted once more. The status of Permanent Private Hall was conferred upon Greyfriars by the University in 1957 and surrendered in 2008.

In 2007, Greyfriars celebrated 50 years of its PPH status, with considerable flourish, and an unusually high number of first-class undergraduate grades marked the year.[citation needed]

Controversy and closure[edit]

In March 2007, the Order announced, without prior discussion with the Fellows or students, its intention to withdraw from its ministry as a Permanent Private Hall of the University, for financial and personal reasons and because the University appeared to be insisting on a more collegiate model for the Permanent Private Halls which, it was argued, would have made it untenable for the Friars, given their declining numbers of suitable personnel.[citation needed] The decision to close was unilaterally and without notice announced to Fellows, staff and students in October 2007. By private arrangement with the University, again without consultation, it was decided that all students and prospective applicants would transfer to Regent's Park College.[1] The decision aroused considerable controversy; substantial proposals by the Fellows for the continuation of Greyfriars were considered by the Governing Body but never in an open forum. The University eventually indicated that the Friars' licence to run Greyfriars as a PPH would not be transferred to any other body, and the Hall closed in June 2008, despite the last-minute attempt to save the Hall by the Holy See.[2] It may seem strange that the Greyfriars students did not migrate to St. Benet's Hall (the Benedictine PPH) or Blackfriars (the Dominican PPH). However, Greyfriars had some years earlier admitted female students, and at that time neither of these other Catholic PPHs had done so. Regent's Park welcomed the Greyfriars students warmly, and the migration is commemorated in a plaque at Regent's Park. The latter announced in 2018 that it would be seeking donations fo fund a Greyfriars Scholarship at Regent's Park.

The Capuchin Order has stated that it will continue to exist at Greyfriars in Oxford and the premises will continue to operate as a friary;[citation needed] the order will maintain responsibility for the parish.

At the time of Greyfriars' closure, the Visitor was Mauro Jöhri, Minister General, the Warden was Mark Elvins, and the fellows included Aidan Nichols, John Paul II Lecturer in Roman Catholic Theology. The immediate previous Warden was Nicholas Richardson (2004-2007). Honorary Fellows included Thomas G. Weinandy (Warden 1993–2004), and Vincent Nichols, RC Archbishop of Birmingham. Among earlier Wardens who were members of the Capuchin order, the highly respected musical scholar Peter Peacock (an Oxford D.Mus. who then became Professor of Music at Loyola University, New Orleans) and then Cassian Reel served for long periods with distinction.

Friary and tuition[edit]

Greyfriars occupied an uncommon position in Oxford, in that its University Hall and Franciscan friary were part of the same institution and coexisted on the same site—however, the friars were not usually members of the academic hall (though this was not without exception), nor were the students actually affiliated to the friary—the two groups did, however, mingle, most notably at mealtimes. (A similar system continues to operate with great success at Blackfriars, Oxford.) Furthermore, no religious restrictions were placed on applicants; and, while the Hall had a tradition of noted Theology academics, a wide range of disciplines were studied by students—the most common being English, History, Theology, Geography and Law. While the Hall employed tutors specialising in certain areas of some of these subjects, students generally went to other colleges for the majority of their tutorials. The College most closely linked with Greyfriars was Balliol College, owing to a long-standing tradition of sporting links, but Greyfriars students were tutored at a wide number of the University's Colleges at some point or another.

Student life[edit]

While Greyfriars was small in terms of grounds and numbers, it had a close-knit community and a lively academic life. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, undergraduate numbers tended to be around the 30 mark, with an average of between nine and eleven students per year in addition to a handful of visiting and postgraduate students. From around 2003, numbers increased, and the student population of the Hall when it closed numbered closer to 50.

The Hall annually held a popular summer garden party, and a "bop" that was dubbed 'The Monastery of Sound' in tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the friars.[citation needed] Greyfriars was also influential in the Oxford Law Society, the Conservative Association, the Dramatic Society, and the Indie Music Society, as well as rowing, hockey, rugby, tennis and table tennis.[citation needed] Its increasing prominence was very much disproportionate to student numbers, which was testament to their eagerness to get involved in University life.[citation needed]

As with all Oxford colleges, Greyfriars' student community was a JCR, run by an annually elected committee usually consisting of a President, Secretary, Treasurer and various other Officers as necessary.

Famous former students (of the First Foundation)[edit]

Among the early Wardens was:

Greyfriars Society[edit]

The Greyfriars Society was established in 1999 and is the official alumni organisation of Greyfriars. The main objectives of the society are to maintain and build relationships with the Hall's alumni and were also to raise money to enable Greyfriars to provide the best possible education for the growing student body. The first Patron was the late Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Cardinal-Archbishop emeritus of Westminster, and the President is David Alton.


  1. ^ "Capuchin Friars to leave Greyfriars Hall". Archived from the original on September 27, 2008.
  2. ^ Article, The Catholic Herald. Archived October 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]