St Benet's Hall, Oxford

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St Benet's Hall
St Benet's Hall Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg
Arms: Per fesse dancetté or and azure, a chief per pale gules and of the second, charged on the dexter with two keys in saltire or and argent, and on the sinister with a cross flory between five martlets of the first.
Location38 St Giles', Oxford
Coordinates51°45′29″N 1°15′39″W / 51.757952°N 1.260787°W / 51.757952; -1.260787Coordinates: 51°45′29″N 1°15′39″W / 51.757952°N 1.260787°W / 51.757952; -1.260787
Latin nameAula Privata Sancti Benedicti
MottoAusculta, o fili, praecepta magistri
Motto in EnglishListen, O child, to the master's precepts
Established1897; 125 years ago (1897)
Named afterSt Benedict of Nursia
MasterProfessor Richard Cooper
Boat clubSt Benet's Hall Boat Club
St Benet's Hall, Oxford is located in Oxford city centre
St Benet's Hall, Oxford
Location in Oxford city centre

St Benet's Hall (known colloquially as Benet's) is a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) of the University of Oxford. Its principal building is located at the northern end of St Giles' on its western side, close to the junction with Woodstock Road, Oxford. Established in 1897 by Ampleforth Abbey, St Benet's Hall original historic function was to allow its monks to be able to study for secular degrees at the university. The hall historically has a Benedictine and Roman Catholic ethos. Today, St Benet's Hall hosts an international community consisting of 84 undergraduate students and 48 graduate students of all faiths and none. Unlike other Colleges, St Benet's Hall does not have a High Table, but one Common Table which is shared by all members of the hall.

St Benet's was the last constituent body of the University of Oxford admitting men alone to read for undergraduate and graduate degrees until 2016. It was also the last single-sex college or hall in the university after St Hilda's College, the last all-women's college in Oxford, admitted men in 2008. In November 2013, the hall formally announced its intention to admit women graduate students within one year and women undergraduates as soon as additional housing facilities were obtained.[1] Women were admitted as graduate students in October 2014 and as undergraduates in October 2016. Thus, 2016 is the year that all constituent colleges and halls of the university became fully co-educational. The University of Cambridge retains two constituent colleges for female students only.

The 2007 review of the PPHs conducted by the university concluded that St Benet's had a "good sense of its place within the collegiate University" and drew attention to the "commitment and care" of the hall's academic staff.[2] In May 2013, the Student Barometer survey results showed that St Benet's Hall has the highest overall student satisfaction score out of the 44 constituent colleges and permanent private halls of the university.[3]

In December 2021, the University announced that it would temporarily cease to accept undergraduate matriculations from the hall, owing to serious financial issues.[4] In May 2022, it was announced the University Council had decided the hall's PPH licence would not be renewed, with the possibility of the ceasing of operations by the end of the 2022 academic year.[5][6]


Benedictine heritage[edit]

St Benet's Hall

Benedictine monks had studied and taught at Oxford since at least 1281 when Gloucester Abbey founded Gloucester College. The area today known as Gloucester Green was named after this college. In 1291, Durham Abbey founded Durham College, and in 1362 Christ Church Priory in Canterbury founded Canterbury College. All three Benedictine colleges were closed between 1536 and 1545 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Gloucester College was eventually re-founded as Worcester College. Durham College was re-founded as Trinity College. The original college's name is preserved in Trinity's Durham Quadrangle. Canterbury College's property was acquired by Christ Church. Until the establishment of St Benet's Hall in 1897, the Benedictines had been absent from the university for over 350 years.[citation needed]

St Benet's Hall is not a re-foundation of any of the former Benedictine colleges of Oxford. Rather, the hall is an indirect descendant of Westminster Abbey by virtue of its establishment by Ampleforth Abbey. In the 960s or early 970s, Saint Dunstan, assisted by King Edgar, installed a community of Benedictine monks at Westminster. Although the English Benedictine priories and abbeys were closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, one solitary Benedictine monastery was re-established in Westminster Abbey in 1553 by Mary I as part of her unsuccessful attempt to restore Catholicism in England. After her death, Elizabeth I dissolved the monastery once again. By 1607, only one of the Westminster monks was still alive, Dom Sigebert Buckley (c. 1520–1610). Buckley professed a group of English monks in 1608 and thereby passed onto them the rights and privileges of the ancient English Benedictine Congregation. They then went into exile in France. In 1615, these English monks took up residence in the abandoned collegiate church of Saint Laurent, in the town of Dieulouard, near Nancy in the Lorraine region of north-eastern France. The monks adopted St Lawrence as their patron saint. In 1792, Dieulouard Priory was closed and the monks were expelled from France as part of the hostility against the clergy associated with the French Revolution. They opted to return to England.[citation needed]

At that same time in England, a Benedictine priest, Fr Anselm Bolton, was the chaplain to Lady Anne Fairfax at Gilling Castle, North Yorkshire. She was the only daughter of Charles Gregory Fairfax, 9th and last Viscount Fairfax of Emley. She built Ampleforth Lodge for Fr Bolton just before she died in 1792.[citation needed] In 1802, Bolton handed this house over to his brethren from Dieulouard who had been living in England without a permanent home for a decade. The lodge became their new monastery, Ampleforth Priory. In 1803, the monks established Ampleforth College, today an independent Catholic secondary school. In October 1897, the Priory established a hall of studies in Oxford for the purpose of enabling monks to read for secular degrees at the University of Oxford. The Priory was elevated to the status of an independent abbey in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII in the Papal Bull Diu quidem est. Ampleforth Abbey renamed the hall of studies as St. Benet's Hall in 1918 when it became a Permanent Private Hall of the university.[citation needed]

Private hall[edit]

Private halls of study at the university took their name from their Master, and the hall was known successively as Hunter-Blair's Hall and Parker's Hall. The hall was not established as a theological college, but rather as a hall of studies so that the student monks could read for a degree in any subject. Today, however, the hall only admits undergraduate students to read for degrees in the humanities. Graduates are admitted for the humanities and select social sciences.[citation needed]

The hall was initially housed at 103 Woodstock Road. This house is still in existence, opposite SS Philip and James Church, and is now a guest-house. The hall was there until 1904, when it moved to the former Grindle's Hall in Beaumont Street, from which it removed in 1922 to the present buildings of 38 and 39 St Giles. The Beaumont Street houses were demolished in 1938 to make space for the Oxford Playhouse theatre.[citation needed]

Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford[edit]

St Benet's became a Permanent Private Hall of the university in 1918 when new university legislation created the status of PPH. It took as its official name Aula Privata Sancti Benedicti (in English, "St Benet's Hall"). Benet is an English variant of the name Benedict. The hall is named after St Benedict of Nursia (c.480–547), the founder of the Benedictine order, father of western monasticism and patron saint of Europe and of students. The governing body of the hall are the trustees of the St Benet's Education Trust. The trust's chairman is ex officio the Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey.[citation needed]

The character of the hall changed over the years. With the decline of monastic vocations in the 1960s, more and more Roman Catholic laymen were admitted under Master James Forbes,[7] including some Old Amplefordians. Under Master Philip Holdsworth (1979–1989) the hall became again monastic and also more theological in character with many monks from the English Benedictine Congregation and other Benedictine Congregations doing their theology course at Blackfriars.[8] Master Henry Wansbrough (1990–2004) started again to admit laymen, thus creating a mixed focus on theology, philosophy and the humanities.[citation needed]

38 and 39 St Giles[edit]

Yellow Room, St Benet's Hall

The hall has occupied 38 and 39 St Giles since 1923. The building dates from 1830 and was constructed as two separate houses (38 and 39).[9] The site was previously part of a coster's (i.e., fruit seller's) yard and stable. In the nineteenth century, the two houses served as private homes for several Anglican clergy connected to the university and to a number of widows of independent means.[citation needed]

The north hall (38 St Giles) was, in 1841, occupied as the private dwelling of the Rev. Philip Bliss, Registrar of the University of Oxford and later principal of St Mary's Hall. Bliss lived there with his wife and four servants. A decade later, it was the home of the university's public orator and vice principal and later principal of Magdalen Hall, the Rev. Richard Michell. In 1874, Michell became first principal of the refounded Hertford College. After a two-year period as the Oxford High School (1879–1881), it became a private home once more, belonging briefly to Charlotte Cotton, widow of the Rev. Richard Lynch Cotton, provost of Worcester College (1881–1882). It then belonged to the Rev. S. J. Hulme, chaplain of Wadham College (1884–1887). In 1889, it served briefly as the Oxford Eye Hospital which is today part of the John Radcliffe Hospital. In 1891, it was acquired by Madame de Leobardy and opened as St Ursula's Convent, a boarding and day school for Roman Catholic girls.[9]

The south hall (39 St Giles) was the private home of Letitia Pett (1841–1846) and Maria Brown (1852–1861), both widows. It was then acquired by the Rev.Richard Greswell, tutor in theology at Worcester College, and his family (1861–1881). After his death in 1881, his widow Joanna Greswell lived in the house until 1894. The British military historian Sir Charles William Chadwick Oman, a fellow of All Souls College and the Chichele Professor of Modern History, acquired the house in 1898 and lived there until 1908. In 1909, it too was purchased by Madame de Leobardy and became an extension of the convent school next door.[9]

St Ursula's Convent School closed in 1922. Ampleforth Abbey acquired both buildings in 1923 and combined the two sections into one hall. It was the sole building of St Benet's Hall until 2015.[citation needed]

11 Norham Gardens[edit]

In 2015, St Benet's Hall acquired the villa and hall of residence owned by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, at 11 Norham Gardens, next to University Parks and near Lady Margaret Hall in October 2015.[10] The original Victorian Gothic villa was built in 1860 and designed by William Wilkinson, who also designed the Randolph Hotel, Oxford. Norham Gardens is in an area originally known as Norham Manor and was owned by St John's College. Past occupants of 11 Norham Gardens include Henry Balfour, the first curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum, and Francis Llewellyn Griffith, the first professor of Egyptology at Oxford. Griffith's archaeological finds form the backbone of the Egyptian collections at the Ashmolean Museum.[citation needed]

In 1932, the Society of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic order of nuns, purchased the villa. The purpose of this acquisition was to provide accommodation for women students at Oxford registered at the Society of Oxford Home-Students which later became St Anne's College. In 1951, a new wing was added as a student hostel providing 21 rooms. These rooms also accommodated women at St Anne's, which became a constituent college of the university in 1952. The association with St Anne's lessened over time and women students (mostly undergraduates) from across the university lived in the hostel, whilst the Sisters lived in the villa. By the 1990s the student population in the hostel became entirely postgraduate, housing both men and women of any faith or none. In spring 2015, the Sacred Heart Sisters decided to sell the house and hostel complex to St Benet's Hall to enable the hall to become fully co-educational by Michaelmas Term 2016.[citation needed]

Modern status[edit]

St Benet's Hall Garden

Until 2012, the master of the hall was always a Benedictine monk. The hall retains a monastic prior as well as a chaplain, both of whom are monks. The hall now principally admits laymen and women both as undergraduates and postgraduates. While there is no requirement that members of the hall should be Catholics - and most are not - all are asked to be supportive of the monks' life and values.[11]

As St Benet's is a PPH of the university, its fellows do not constitute its governing body; but they share with the master the day-to-day running of the hall, and elect one of their number to serve as a trustee of the St Benet's Education Trust. The hall matriculates students to be members of the university, and those of its members who have matriculated are full members of the university in all ways, and are able to supplicate for degrees on the successful completion of their studies. For most of its members the only noticeable difference made by the hall's legal status is that it is very much smaller than any of the Oxford constituent colleges.[citation needed]

On 1 September 2012, Werner Jeanrond, formerly holder of the 1640 Chair of Divinity at the University of Glasgow, became the new master of St Benet's Hall. He was the first Catholic layman ever to run the hall. Jeanrond was a full member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford and was engaged in both teaching and research, as well as serving as head of house.[citation needed]

The current subjects in which undergraduate students are admitted by St Benet's are Theology, Philosophy and Theology, Theology and Oriental Studies, History, History and Politics, History and Economics, Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), Classics, Classics with Oriental Studies, Oriental Studies (Egyptology; Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Islamic Studies, Hebrew Studies, and Jewish Studies), Oriental Studies with Classics, and Human Science.[12] The hall admits graduate students from the same subjects as undergraduates as well as those studying at the Blavatnik School of Government, the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, and the Saïd Business School.[citation needed]

In December 2021, the University announced that it would not be accepting undergraduate matriculations from the hall in 2022. The joint public statement read: "It has become clear that the Hall's financial prospects are so uncertain that the University cannot be confident that the Hall can support a new undergraduate cohort for the full duration of their studies".[4] In May 2022, it was announced that the hall's PPH licence from the university would not be renewed, with the possibility of the ceasing of operations by the end of the 2022 academic year. St Benet's had attempted to formally separate itself from Ampleforth Abbey, but Oxford University considered the proposed new arrangements would not be financially viable.[5][6]

Student life[edit]


Unlike other colleges and PPHs, St Benet's has a joint common room (JCR) of which all students at the hall are members.[11] The JCR has its own committee.[13] The JCR is responsible for running the St Benet's bar and gym facilities.[citation needed]


Despite the small size of the hall, the St Benet's Hall Boat Club has put an eight boat on the river for many years.[14] In recent years, it has had a good record of winning 'blades', the trophy awarded for 'bumping' (rowing past teams ranked above) every day in the Torpids and Summer Eights bumps races. The Boat Club's M1 won blades most recently in 2019.[15] The hall also has its own netball, rugby sevens, and field hockey teams, as well as a football team joint with Regent's Park College. The Benet's rugby sevens team is the back-to-back 2018 and 2019 Oxford University rugby sevens champion.[16]


Members of the hall are entitled to invite guests to all meals. A tradition of the hall is that there is one Common Table for all members,[11] with the result that fellows, lecturers, monks, students, and their guests mix freely.

Coat of arms[edit]

Coat of arms of Ampleforth Abbey

St Benet's Hall uses the same Coat of Arms of Ampleforth Abbey and Ampleforth College, but, like the College, without the abbot's crozier and galero (ecclesiastical hat with tassels). The arms were granted to the Abbey by the English College of Arms in 1922. The abbey made the application to the College of Arms to regularise its armorial position as the lineal descendant of Westminster Abbey. The purpose of this move was to conform to proper authority and thus not be open to the charge of lack of consideration for post-Reformation bodies already bearing variants of the Westminster arms in their own line of heraldic descent.[citation needed]

The Pre-Reformation City of Westminster sometimes used a red shield with two keys in saltire to symbolise Saint Peter to whom its Abbey Church was dedicated. In addition, Westminster also used a blue shield with a gold “cross flory” between five gold martlets (heraldic birds). This forms the attributed arms of St Edward the Confessor (reign 1042–1066), the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, who is regarded as the principal patron and founder of Westminster Abbey. Both these arms appear in the chief (top portion) of the shield. The base (lower portion) of the shield is gold and blue divided “dancetté” (by a zigzag line). This represents the arms of the pre-Reformation Abbots of Westminster who would place their personal coat of arms in the top portion (chief) of the shield. The last Benedictine Abbot of Westminster to use this coat of arms was John Feckenham (c. 1515–1584) who was removed from office by Elizabeth I in 1560 at the final suppression of the Abbey. The abbey church then became known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, which remains its official name to this day.[citation needed]

The present shield of Ampleforth Abbey, Ampleforth College, and St Benet's Hall is thus a combination of three shields – the first representing St Peter (top left), the second representing St Edward the Confessor (top right), and the bottom representing the pre-Reformation Benedictine Abbots of Westminster.[citation needed] The heraldic blazon of the arms is as follows: Per fesse dancetté Or and Azure a chief per pale Gules and of the second charged on the dexter with two keys in saltire Or and Argent and on the sinister with a Cross Flory between five martlets of the first.[citation needed] Although not official, the motto associated with the hall is Ausculta, O fili, praecepta magistri which translates as "Listen, O [my] son, to the precepts of [thy] master." This is taken from the Latin original of the opening line of the prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict.[citation needed]


Hall chapel

The following grace is said in Latin before every formal hall, which at St Benet's is held on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. It is said by the master or a person he designates. In addition, after grace, an undergraduate student reads a short passage from the Rule of St Benedict in English.

Hall Library
Gratiarum actio ante cibum
Benedic Domine,
nos et haec tua dona
quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi,
per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen
Grace before the meal
Bless us, O Lord,
and these thy gifts
which we are about to receive from thy bounty,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace after the meal is said in Latin after formal hall by the chaplain in the following form:

Gratiarum actio post cibum
Agimus tibi gratias,
omnipotens Deus,
pro universis beneficiis tuis,
qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Grace after the meal
We give thee thanks,
O almighty God,
for all thy benefits,
who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.[citation needed]

People associated with St Benet's[edit]

Professor Werner Jeanrond
Very Revd Dom Henry Wansbrough


Professor Richard Cooper is the current master of St Benet's Hall.

St Benet's has had twelve masters since it was established in 1897:[17]


Notable present and former fellows of the hall include:[23]

Honorary fellows[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gurney-Read, Josie. "Oxford hall announces decision to admit women". The Telegraph. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  2. ^ Review of the Permanent Private Halls associated with the University of Oxford at the Wayback Machine (archived 2018-03-27)
  3. ^ Poulten, Sarah. "PPH students most satisfied". The Oxford Student. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  4. ^ a b Atkinson Gibson, Poppy; Foster, Alex (17 December 2021). "St Benet's Hall to temporarily halt undergrad admissions amid dire financial straits". The Oxford Student. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Breaking News: St Benet's Hall announces that university will not renew its official licence and addresses possibility of ceasing operations altogether". The Oxford Student. 16 May 2022. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  6. ^ a b Woolcock, Nicola. "Oxford monks given marching orders". The Times. Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  7. ^ Stacpoole, Alberic. "Obituary of Fr James Forbes". English Benedictine Congregation. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  8. ^ Knollys, Bonaventure. "Obituary of Fr Philip Holdsworth". English Benedictine Congregation. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  9. ^ a b c "Oxford History article". Archived from the original on 7 September 2008. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
  10. ^ "Second Building for St Benet's Hall". St Benet's Hall. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  11. ^ a b c St Benet's Hall - University of Oxford. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  12. ^ St Benet's Hall, Oxford Archived 2010-08-22 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  13. ^ St Benet's Hall, Oxford Archived 2009-04-20 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  14. ^ Home - St Benet's Hall Boat Club.
  15. ^ "Torpids 2019". Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  16. ^ "St Benet's wins inter College (Cuppers) Rubgy 7s cup for second year running". Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  17. ^ St Benet's Hall, Oxford Archived 2010-08-22 at the Wayback Machine. (1939-09-12). Retrieved on 2012-09-05.
  18. ^ Downs, James. "A Monk of Magdalen: Abbot Oswald (David) Hunter-Blair O.S.B. (1853-1939)". Dark Lane Creative. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  19. ^ Byrne, Herbert. "Obituary of Fr Anselm Parker". English Benedictine Congregation. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  20. ^ Sandeman, Barnabas. "Obituary of Fr Justin McCann". English Benedictine Congregation. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  21. ^ Barry, Patrick. "Obituary of Fr Gerard Sitwell". English Benedictine Congregation. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  22. ^ "Trustees". St Benet's Hall. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  23. ^ St Benet's Hall, Oxford Archived 2009-11-24 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2012-09-05.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]