More than 400 years of history
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 250 graduate students, and about 450 undergraduates.
Wadham’s archive largely comprises internal college documents, and records of college estates, of which the largest collection were in Essex.
A catalogue of the Muniments of Wadham College was produced by Lawrence Stone for the National Register of Archives in 1962, and reproduced in limited numbers. This is especially useful for the historic college estates, providing an extensive calendar of the documents and sometimes complete transcripts. We have an updated version in College.
Gardiner’s Registers are a very good starting point for enquiries about members of the college, but the Archives sometimes have supplemental detail.
Enquiries should be made by e-mail or in writing and visits and telephone calls by arrangement only. Wadham’s archivist is usually able to give at least a preliminary answer to most enquiries within a matter of days, however, during annual leave responses may take up to three weeks.
Keeper of the Archives: Jeffrey Hackney
- T G Jackson, Wadham College, (1893). (An authoritative historical starting point);
- Joseph Wells, Wadham College, (1898). (Especially valuable on the buildings);
- C S L Davies and Jane Garnett (eds.), Wadham College 1610 – 2010, (2009);
- R B Gardiner, Registers of Wadham College, 2 vols, (1889-95). (For Fellows and students up to 1871);
- C S L Davies, A Woman in the Public Sphere; Dorothy Wadham and the Foundation of Wadham College, Oxford, English Historical Review, vol. 118 (2003), pp. 883-911.