Christ Church History

Old Members and Friends interested in the history of Christ Church can read a short introductory piece by Judith Curthoys, Archivist

If you would like to order one of Judith’s books, please visit the Christ Church Online Shop.


Cover of Cows and CuratesCows and Curates: The Story of the Land and Livings of Christ Church, Oxford. 

When Christ Church was founded in 1546, Henry VIII made the college a generous grant of land and other property. This endowment was large enough to ensure the smooth running of the college and cathedral including maintaining its buildings, educating its students and paying its staff.
From earliest days up to the present, the endowment and later gifts - in all parts of the country, from Montgomeryshire to Norfolk and Cornwall to Yorkshire - have been managed with varying success, sometimes expertly, at other times less so.
The shelves of the college archives are full of maps and plans, account books, manorial records, deeds, photographs and detailed correspondence with tenants and vicars. Drawing on this rich material, Cows and Curates recounts the history of the management of farms, urban dwellings, commercial property and industrial estates, as well as the relationship between the college and its incumbents, against the backdrop of national social change, legislation, agricultural developments and depressions, wars and modernisation.
This is the fourth book in the archivist’s ‘Christ Church Saga’: The Cardinal’s College was published in 2012, recounting the history of the college; in 2017, The Stones of Christ Church told the story of its buildings; and, in 2019, The King’s Cathedral looked at the development of the ecclesiastical foundation from its earliest days as a small priory founded by Frideswide to its role as the diocesan seat in the 21st century.


The King's Cathedral: The Ancient Heart of Christ Church, Oxford

The Cathedral is the ancient heart of Christ Church and of Oxford. For eight hundred years it was the church of a priory, founded by Frideswide, now the patron saint of both the City and the University. In spite of many reversals, the church was beautified to be worthy of the shrine of its saint and her many pilgrims. The priory suffered from a string of unscrupulous priors, unpopularity in the city, fires, and near bankruptcy until it was finally closed in 1524 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey when he chose the site for his new and grand eponymous college. Two decades later, the church became both college chapel and the Cathedral for the diocese of Oxford. The King's Cathedral tells the story of both the priory and the Cathedral, with all its medieval reversals and modern complications.

Introduction of King's Cathedral


The Cardinal’s College: Christ Church, Chapter and Verse

Introduction of Cardinal's college and Stones of Christ ChurchChrist Church, founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525, and arguably the grandest college in the University of Oxford, has been the subject of only one previous history. Now Judith Curthoys, the college archivist, presents a new and fascinating account of this unique institution - a joint foundation of college and cathedral with its own peculiar constitution.

Despite having been described as like cream ('rich, thick and full of clots'), Christ Church has never been just a refuge for the elite, and over the centuries it has produced a dazzling list of famous and learned men and (since 1980) women. We learn of its traditions and its eccentricities: from its early emphasis on prayer and discipline to the intricacies of its early plumbing; and from its strong associations with music, architecture and art to its battles (both ancient and modern) with student drunkenness.

We learn too of the sometimes extraordinary power and influence of the Dean, the college's head, and at times of the reigning monarch too - Charles I even made it his headquarters during the Civil War. Above all, we see not an ivory tower, but a great institution that has survived all the vicissitudes of English history; adapting to, and often influencing, the constant tide of social, political, academic and ecclesiastical change.

The Stones of Christ Church: The Story of the Buildings of Christ Church, Oxford

Christ Church, Oxford's largest and arguably grandest college, has awed visitors ever since its foundation by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525: one seventeenth-century visitor said 'it is more like some fine castle, or great palace than a College'. The already impressive site was further enhanced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by ever more imposing structures, and building has continued up to the present day, sometimes following fashion, sometimes leading the way with new architectural styles.

The Stones of Christ Church tells the fascinating story of the college's buildings throughout its five centuries, and of those who brought them into being, from the three great 'builder deans', John Fell, Henry Aldrich and Henry Liddell, to the humble slaters, joiners, bricklayers and stonemasons, and the materials that they worked with. The resulting buildings - Tom Tower, Peckwater Quad, Meadow Buildings and many more - are among the most iconic sights of Oxford today.