History

More than 400 years of history

  • Dorothy Wadham

    Dorothy Wadham

  • Wadham's gothic architecture

    Wadham's gothic architecture

  • Nicholas Wadham

  • Front Quad

    Front Quad

  • Staircase to the flagpole

  • Bursary Quad

    Bursary Quad

Wadham College was founded in 1610 in the reign of King James I by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham. Nicholas Wadham, a member of an ancient Somerset family, died in 1609 leaving his fortune to endow a college at Oxford. The hard work of translating intentions into reality fell on his widow, Dorothy, a formidable woman of 75. She fought all the claims of Nicholas's relations, lobbied at court, negotiated the purchase of a site and drew up the college statutes. She appointed the first Warden, Fellows and Scholars, as well as the college cook, to such effect that the college was ready for opening within four years of Nicholas's death. She added considerably to the endowment from her own resources, and kept tight control of its affairs until her death in 1618, although she never actually visited Oxford from her home in Devon.

During the Wardenship of John Wilkins, 1648-59, Wadham became a focus of scientific interest within Europe. The College became the regular meeting place for the nucleus of experimenters who, after 1660, became the Royal Society. This informal ‘Philosophical Club’ of astronomers, anatomists and chemists met at the Warden's Lodgings as friends of Wilkins. (More about the Royal Society and Wadham).

The College was founded for men only and it was not until 1974 that the statutes were altered to allow the admission of women as full members at all levels; Wadham was one of the first Oxford Colleges to make this change. The college now consists of some 55 Fellows, about 200 graduate students, and about 450 undergraduates.

College Archives

Wadham's extensive archive contains information about College history and the history of many of our former Fellows and students.

The College has an extensive archive of material relating to its own history and that of its members, including formal information on College members and legal and business records concerning College finance and estates. Further information relating to Wadham and its members is always welcome.

Information and archive visits

For information regarding College estates and members born before 1930, our part-time archivist and Fellow, Jeffrey Hackney can be contacted at: archivist@wadh.ox.ac.uk, or by post to Wadham College, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PN. (Please indicate what you have consulted and what your already know in any correspondence. For information about more recent members please apply initially to the Development Office.

Archival information about Wadham members is available at major university or reference libraries in the following books:

  • R.B.Gardiner, Registers of Wadham College, 1613-1871 (2 vols, 1889-95) (also available online)
  • Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1500-1714 (4 vols, 1891-2)
  • Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1715-1886 (4 vols, 1887-8)

For a general history of the College, see Wadham College 1610-2010, eds, Cliff Davies and Jane Garnett.

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