Oxford History: The High


24–31: Brasenose College new buildings

24–31 High Street

These Brasenose College buildings that face the High Street are not as old as they look: they were designed by the well-known later Victorian architect T. G. Jackson. The tower and the four bays to the right of the above photograph date from 1887, and the three bays on the left from 1911. Both parts are Grade II listed (1887 section 1046735; 1911 section List Entry No. 1046736).

In all, Brasenose demolished seven shops and Amsterdam Court (see below) in order to build its New Quadrangle stretching down to the High. Nos. 24–26 to the west were in the parish of All Saints until that church was deconsecrated in 1971, while Nos. 27–31 to the east have always been in the parish of St Mary-the-Virgin.

First part of Brasenose building


The phototgraph on the left shows the same scene as above before 1911, when only four of the seven bays were built, and the archway to the left of them led into Amsterdam Quad.



Jackson's Oxford Journal of 15 October 1887 reported thus on the first phase of this development (on the site of the four shops Nos. 27–31), showing how the plans were altered at the last minute :

An extensive line of buildings is to be added to Brasenose, and to provide room for these a row of shops—Messrs. Standen and Co., Bassett, Gee, and Tester's—have succumbed to the pick-axe and the crowbar, and a long tract is laid bare. Eventually, when leases have expired, we believe there is an intention of continuing the base of operations as far as All Saints, but that idea is yet but a dream of the future. The plans had been accepted, and the foundations had reached an advanced stage, when objections were made, and the designs for all the main portions of the buildings above the line of the street were recalled. A serious difficulty had arisen as to the incongruity of the block—and particularly the tower— with the steeples of St. Mary-the-Virgin and All Saints. There was some hesitation before the present deigns were accepted, to risk a work which must, to a certain degree, be experimental, and which might, if incorrectly designed, mar the beauty of the incomparable “High,” which has been well and truly said to have no equal in the world in point of architectural beauty. At the eleventh hour the accepted plans were rejected, and new designs are in course of completion. Mr. Mogford, the clerk of the works, beyond the foundations, which, having been almost completed, are to remain unaltered, has as yet had no further official instructions with regard to future movements. We have been able, however, to ascertain that the whole superstructure is to be materially altered; that the tower hitherto intended to stand back some distance from the line of frontage is now to be brought on a level with the street, and to be, perhaps, of dwarf construction. The basements on which the men are now at work are the Principal's house, sets of Undergraduate's rooms, and the foundations of a tower.

In the event only three more shops were demolished (Nos. 24, 25, and 26), and the other five shops to the east of All Saints Church (19-23 High Street) still survive.

A very full description of the first phase of this building work is given in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 12 October 1889.

Some of the shops that stood on this site

The detail from an 1814 Oriel College plan below shows the shops that once stood on this site. On the left is No. 25 (Sewell), next to the entrance to Amsterdam Court, and after the gap comes No. 26 (Cox), and No. 27 (Tester),: all three are still listed at these shops in Robson’s Directory of 1839. Then come No. 28 (Spiers), No. 29 (Barrett), No. 30 (the Lodgings of the Principal of Brasenose College), and 31 (Sindry) in front of the Oxford Arms pub in St Mary’s passage.

Brasenose site in 1814

Nos. 24 & 25

At the time of the 1851 census Jane Ryman (her husband apparently absent for the night) lived over Nos. 24 and 25 with two servants. Ryman’s, who had occupied Nos. 24 and 25 since before 1846, retreated into No. 23 when their old pair of shops was demolished by Brasenose College in 1909.

No. 26

The photographer Edward Bracher lived over No. 26 with his wife, two little children and two servants. At the age of 14, Henry Taunt, the famous Victorian/Edwardian photographer, started his photographic career here with Bracher. In c.1865 Bracher sold the business to Wheeler & Day and it was transferred to 106 High Street, but Taunt remained at No. 26 as their photographic manager for a short period. By 1866, however, the shop had been taken over by R. E. Farrant, a turner and brushman, and Taunt had moved to a shop of his own in Cornmarket. In 1874 he moved to 9–10 Broad Street, but moved back to the High Street in 1894 when the lease ran out, spending a year or so at No. 41 and then moving to No. 34.

No. 27

Mrs Susan Tester (whose husband also seems to have been away) lived over No. 27 with her son (a partner in the family fishmonger business), two daughters, and a servant. The Testers, who had started business in this shop before 1836 remained there until it was demolished in 1876. Their family tomb is in the churchyard of All Saints, and reads:

Samuel Tester, died 1 May 1879, aged 86. Susan wife of Samuel Tester died 20 April 1854, aged 67. John son of Samuel & Susan Tester, died 16 August 1845, aged 27. Elizabeth Whiting, daughter of Samuel & Susan Tester, died 25 October 1880 aged 58 years. Also Robert, son of Samuel & Susan Tester, died 30 March 18– aged 68 years.

English Heritage: Nos. 27–31 from west, 1887

English Heritage: Workmen preparing Nos. 27–31 for demolition in 1887

Amsterdam Court
Amsterdam Court (or simply “Amsterdam” as it is usually described in directories) was a narrow passage which until 1911 ran between 25 and 26 High Street. Originally it stretched back almost to Lincoln College, but in the 1820s Brasenose cut it off roughly level with its chapel. Anthony Wood first mentions Amsterdam in May 1667, and in July 1671 he writes of two visiting Benedictine monks, “Their lodging was in Allsaints parish, in the back-side housing called Amsterdam.”

The cottages in the passage were pulled down by Brasenose College in 1881. Jackson's Oxford Journal of 15 October that year reported:

A very considerable addition has just been commenced at this College, the whole of the cottages and shops in the passage known as “Amsterdam” having recently been pulled down to make room for about 30 sets of rooms and two lecture rooms. The area at present cleared is about 150 feet from north to south, by about 46 feet from east to west, but in course of time the extension will be carried to High-street. Owing to the nature of the soil the foundations have had to be dug to a depth of 29 feet, and upon the gravel no less than six feet of concrete has been placed, surmounted with stonework. The buildings will consist of basement, ground, first, and second floors. In the excavations which have been made some interesting specimens of pottery, coins, and other articles have been found. The architect is Mr. Jackson, of London, and the clerk of the works Mr. T. Mockford, but the contract for the building itself has not yet been let.

The old passage now lies under the west side of the New Quadrangle, and the passage between Staircases XI and XII is called Amsterdam in its memory.

English Heritage: Amsterdam Court area from east, 1908


Occupiers of the site, 1814–1911
Darker background = former buildings on this site, now demolished


 High St


26 High St


28 High St

29 High St

30 High St

31 High St


William Sawell

Frederick Cox
Ladies’ shoe maker

Samuel Tester



Lodgings of Principal of Brasenose College



Edward Standen
Mercer & Shirtmaker


Mrs Elizabeth Hickman


James Ryman

Charles Maltby
Boot & shoemaker

Mrs K. Standen


James Ryman
Carver & gilder, Printseller

Edward Bracher

Catherine Sirman Standen
Hatter, mercer & tailor later Standen & Co.

Smith Bridges
Stationer & fancy warehouseman
Mrs Bridges

Richard J. Hansard
Surgeon (1852)

Henry Carter (1861)


James Ryman
Printseller, publisher, & frame maker

Mrs Winfield
Berlin wool repository

W. H. Gee
Secondhand bookseller

Edward Bassett
Hair cutter & stationer

Standen & Co.
Tailors & robe makers


Ryman & Co.
Print sellers & publishers

Miss A. E. Stew
Berlin wool repository

1887 extension to
Brasenose College




1911 extension to
Brasenose College

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 19 July, 2018

The High home Small Shark Oxford History home