College History

College History

The College was founded by Bishop Francis James Chavasse (1846-1928), and his son Christopher Maude Chavasse (1884-1962), later bishop of Rochester, who became the first Master and guided St Peter's through its first precarious ten years of rapid expansion. The original aim was to provide a low-cost Oxford education for promising students of limited means.

Christopher Maude ChavassseFrancis James Chavasse

Francis James Chavasse and Christopher Chavasse.

Bishop Francis James died in 1928. St Peter's thus became a memorial to this much-loved evangelical Bishop, who was the inspiration and prime-mover behind the building of Liverpool Cathedral, and its second bishop. Sufficient supporters rallied to a memorial appeal launched by his son to raise £150,000 to build student accommodation and modify existing buildings.

Francis James Chavasse Memorial

The Francis James Chavasse Memorial, located in the College chapel.

A frenetic building programme enabled the University Vice Chancellor to license St Peter's as a Permanent Private Hall - principal donors at this time included Ella Rowcroft, after whom Staircases I-III are named.


Ella RowcroftHannington Hall being Refurbished

Hannington Hall being refurbished, and major benefactor Ella Rowcroft.

Thus, in 1929 St Peter's Hall was born with 40 students. In the same year, the Hall was granted its Coat of Arms incorporating the Arms of Bishop Chavasse and a device representing the church of St Peter-le-Bailey (now the College chapel).

St Peter's 1929/30

St Peter's Hall, 1929/30.

The rapid expansion was not without its dangers. By 1933, the worldwide financial crisis had struck down the Hall's principal supporter, an educational Trust, which had guaranteed the £70,000 mortgage secured on the Hall's own buildings. Fortunately, help was at hand: the motor-car manufacturer and philanthropist, William Morris (Lord Nuffield), came to the rescue, saving the Hall from certain closure. Lord Nuffield's portrait as Benefactor surveys the College dining hall.

College Portrait of Lord NuffieldLord and Lady Nuffield at the Encaenia Garden Party

Lord and Lady Nuffield, and the portrait of Lord Nuffield that can be seen in Hall.

During the Second World War, students evacuated from Westfield College, London, occupied the Hall's buildings. St Peter's men were boarded out in other Colleges. In 1947, now with 120 students, the Hall was granted the status of "New Foundation", a significant step in the process of becoming a College. In 1961, with 250 students, the grant of a Royal Charter to "The Master, Fellows and Scholars of the College of St Peter-le-Bailey" completed the process to full collegiate status.

Royal Charter

The St Peter's College Royal Charter.

Since then, with the support of alumni and generous benefactors, the story has been one of growth and expansion. Women were admitted for the first time in 1979. Student numbers, including postgraduates, have risen to over 400.

20th Anniversary of Women at St Peter's

Photo taken at an event celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Women at St Peter's, 1999.

Students entering St Peter’s via the oldest College building, Linton House (1797), will be struck by the diversity of architectural styles. Many of the buildings have been partially or wholly funded by benefactors, including William Morris, Antonin Besse, Lloyd Dorfman and the Latner family.

St Peter's College (c. Robert Morrison)

Drawing of St. Peter's (c. Robert Morrison)

St Peter's is now an established and thriving College of the University. It occupies a site that for 600 years has been a home to students, and is a continuation of the medieval Halls that preceded it. The acquisition of this wonderful and most convenient central site in the City, was, in the words of the first Master "a chance of ages". What St Peter's lacks in great quadrangles and extensive gardens it gains in intimacy and friendliness, a quality remarked upon by generation after generation of students for whom it has been home.