Purple flowers in front of the chapel doors

Castle Hill House: the Building Project Begins

The possibility of acquiring a parcel of land, freehold, directly adjacent to College in 2018 was too good an opportunity to miss. Buying it would expand the curtilage of the College estate and enable us to build much-needed additional student accommodation on our newly expanded site. The money was borrowed, the land purchased, and the planning began.

The newly acquired land, former home to the old Oxford Central Conservative Club, extends from Bulwarks Lane through to New Road, running directly along beside Canal House and emerging on to New Road in between the Fellows’ Carpark and the Law Centre. Being able to provide additional onsite accommodation is crucially important for College, but owning this connecting strip brings many additional benefits as well. Amongst them is the transformed relationship of the Law Centre to the rest of the College estate. No longer a disconnected outlier, in the future the Law Centre will be a joined-up part of the main site. Purchasing the freehold on the Law Centre at the same time, as College is delighted to report we have now done, makes good on the project to bring connected coherence to our estate and provides a consistent and lasting St Peter’s presence on New Road.

The new development incorporates a run of connected courtyards at different scales, two new accommodation buildings, a new flight of outdoor steps, a wonderful new common room and a new entrance to College from New Road. Working in line with College’s own priorities, our architects, Design Engine, have ensured that the whole development has excellent eco-credentials. The two new accommodation buildings are being built to Passivhaus standards. They will house 54 students, with two fellows’ offices, a junior dean’s set, an estate office and an excellent bike store beneath.

Planning permission was granted (via Zoom) in December 2020 and the garden to Canal House now becomes the site entrance for the best part of two years, with portakabins and cranes temporarily displacing the croquet.

The Master, Professor Buchanan said: "St Peter’s is a beautiful college, but it is compact. Being able to offer more accommodation for our students matters crucially. Oxford’s private rental market is extremely expensive in ways that hit the poorest hardest. This eco-friendly new development enables us to extend our accommodation offer to undergraduates in ways that are economically so important for them, while making a transformative difference to the feel of our whole estate."

The land was purchased under the former Master and Bursar, but the development project has been moved through the planning stages and on into its construction phase under the current Master and Bursar. “This has been a baton-passing project,” reports Professor Buchanan. “The Bursar and I pay tribute to our predecessors who saw the possibilities back in 2018 and took action. The project is being ably managed by Andy Waterman and has been wonderfully aided by the warm and sustained interest of our alumni community. They have responded to both the vision and the need for this ambitious project with striking generosity for which we are enormously grateful.” 

Having more affordable College accommodation to offer is attractive to applicants and particularly reassuring to those applicants with concerns about the potential costs of living in Oxford. As a result, the new development will help College to continue to attract the brightest students irrespective of means or background. Living alongside each other within the College brings other social and community benefits also. It makes the differences between students’ financial means less conspicuous than they can become when students live out; it is both safer and more convenient for our students; it boosts the community life of the College; and it enables the College community to keep a better eye on those experiencing tough times. The overall difference it will make for individual students, and for the College community, is transformative and represents a step-change difference for College. 

As the campaign to raise the funds got underway, a wonderful match-funding offer of £5m helped to inspire others to give and accelerated our rising totals. A generous gift of a further £5m from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust helped us to realise the match-fund total of the first gift. As a result of these two gifts, one of our two new student accommodation buildings will be named after our previous Master, Mark Damazer – a pleasing tribute to the energy and vision which characterised Mark and Rosie’s nine years at St Peter’s. And the other will be called Alexander Mosley House in memory of a gifted St Peter’s alumnus who died tragically young. A new courtyard will sit between these two houses which will provide podium views across Canal House garden to Nuffield Tower and Castle Mound beyond. 

This campaign, however, has been notable as much for the support it has generated across the College community as for these foundational gifts. The number of alumni who have given has placed us in one of the highest participation rates for any college.  We are proud and touched that the St Peter’s community has stepped forward to help in this impressive way. In referencing what has inspired them to give, donors have mentioned both their recognition of College’s very positive contribution to their own lives and their understanding of the clear need for the accommodation for future generations of students. We could not be more grateful: thank you all. 

This is, in its very nature, a shared project in which we collectively have an investment in the future of St Peter’s: thinking about it in these shared terms has been a pleasure and we have loved hearing from so many friends and alumni about why College matters to you. Thank you to all who have joined in making this project happen. We look forward to celebrating with as many as can join us when the new development opens in Spring 2023.

An orange digger in front of a pile of dirt, with a building in the background