Buildings and Heritage
Future Fund: Buildings & heritage
Buildings and facilities
Hertford offers rooms in college accommodation to all undergraduates for the duration of their degree, and the majority of graduates live in college accommodation too. Student rents at Hertford are among the lowest in Oxford, which is one of the things that makes us attractive to students from less well-off backgrounds.
However almost all of the college is badly in need of refurbishment, and the maintenance and refurbishment of these buildings is an expensive and ongoing task. The college needs carry out this renovation without unfairly passing on the expense to the students.
The college aims to renovate every college room every 10-15 years. Hertford has 520 rooms spread across the main Catte Street site, as well as at the Head of the River and the North Oxford properties – rising to 800 ‘spaces’ once kitchens, bathrooms and corridors are taken into account. This means that our target is to redecorate, and where necessary refurbish, over 50 college rooms and spaces each year.
As anyone who has lived in an old building knows, the maintenance of the exterior of a building is expensive and cannot be neglected. Roofing, re-pointing, repairing windows and gutters – each of these seems a small detail until they are multiplied across 16 Victorian houses, four annexes and a Grade I listed central site. Structural repairs to the college houses alone have been quoted to come to £2 million over the next 10-15 years.
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One of the obligations on a college such as Hertford is responsibility for the legacies bequeathed by earlier generations, a duty that represents not just antiquarian curiosity but also trusteeship for future generations.
This heritage embraces familiar buildings and spaces, artefacts, books and college records. While preservation of this heritage inevitably competes with other urgent demands, the college takes this responsibility seriously and hopes that others will help share in this duty to the future.
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Restoring antiquarian books
Hertford possesses a remarkable antiquarian library, a legacy from Magdalen Hall. First assembled by Principal Henry Wilkinson (1648-62), who produced its first catalogue in 1661, the books reflect the diverse, innovative and advanced intellectual tastes of seventeenth and eighteenth century members of Magdalen Hall who included members of the circle who founded the Royal Society. It is a collection of wide historical importance.
Every week, nine dedicated volunteers from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies visit Hertford to painstakingly clean and restore a selection of the 4,000 volumes in the antiquarian collection. However some volumes require even more specialist attention to preserve them.
Thanks to an annual donation of £2,000, we are able to send two items per year from our antiquarian collections for conservation and repair at a local specialist book bindery. The two items restored in 2014 took over 50 hours to be transformed. There many more volumes which would benefit from restoration, so they can be safely handled and read by junior members and Fellows, and used in exhibitions.
- £200-£1,000 would fund the restoration of a historic volume
- £40 would buy a case to protect historic books and allow us to display them without damage
Digitising rare books
In 2015, Hertford restored the historic Ortelius Altas to its former home at the Humboldt Institute in Berlin. The historic volume is recognised as an early edition of the first modern atlas, created by Abraham Ortelius in the sixteenth century.
Before the official handover, we have enlisted the assistance of the Bodleian to scan and digitise the contents of the Atlas so it can be referred to and enjoyed by future generations of scholars.
Renovating historic rooms
Over recent years, the college has been executing a long-term project to renovate and restore the rooms of historical significance in the college. The Old Hall in the north-east corner of OB quad is part of a 17th century structure, which was modified in the 1820s, and again in the 1890s. On the site of the original medieval Hart Hall, Old Hall incorporates the hall built by Principal Randell (1548-99) who first established Hart Hall as an independent academic institution. The last major works took place in the 1950s, and aside from a surface redecoration in the 1980s, the room has been largely untouched over the last 60 years ago.
In 2015, the college restored the Old Hall, bringing the room into the 21st century while remaining sympathetic to its Grade II* listed status. The historic books will be moved to a more appropriate location, where they can be preserved in a temperature-controlled environment.
Restoring our portraits
With the support of donations from the Hertford Society, we have embarked on a staged restoration of Hertford’s historic portraits. The Courtauld are undertaking a painstaking restoration of the portraits of Principal Warnock, and Bishops Spencer and Ryan. The Hamilton Kerr Institute will be renovating the portraits of Principals Newton, McBride, Michell, Boyd and Ferrar.
In future years, we hope to continue this work and restore the portraits of Principals Hall and Zeeman as well as William Tyndale, Charles James Fox, Lord Hugh Cecil and Lord St Helier.
Writing the college history
2024 will mark Hertford’s 150th anniversary, since it was re-founded by an Act of Parliament in 1874. To mark the anniversary, a new history of the college and its predecessors – Magdalen Hall, the eighteenth century Hertford College and Hart Hall – has been commissioned to be written by Professor Christopher Tyerman, Fellow and Tutor in History.
Heritage can inspire critical reappraisal of present assumptions and future plans. A college without memory is a college without soul or self-awareness.