Building projects proved controversial in twentieth-century Oxford. For some, like the historian Howard Colvin, the years after 1900 revealed the university as a ‘hot bed of cold feet’, unwilling to embrace modernism with sufficient enthusiasm. For others, like the travel writer Bill Bryson, this period was marred by too much modern architecture. ‘You know, we’ve been putting up handsome buildings since 1264’, Bryson imagined the dons of Oxford observing; ‘let’s have an ugly one for a change.’ Architecture mattered in twentieth-century Oxford, showing that battles over buildings were also debates about the nature of the University and the future of Britain.
William Whyte is Senior Dean, Associate Professor of History, and Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He is the author of Oxford Jackson: Architecture, Education, Status, and Style, 1835-1924 (2006) and Redbrick: A Social and Architectural History of Britain’s Civic Universities (2014). He has edited half-a-dozen other books, including Architectural History after Colvin (2013). Later this year, he will give the University of Oxford’s Hensley Henson Lectures on ‘Experiencing the Victorian Church: Faith, Time, and Architecture.’
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