Oxford History: The High


74: Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art

74 High Street

This building on the corner of Merton Street, now occupied by the Ruskin School, was designed by T. G. Jackson and completed in 1888, six years after the adjoining Examination Schools. It was built of Caen and Gibraltar with Corsham and Doulton stone, and Taynton slates for the roof. It is a Grade II listed building (List Entry No. 1369365).

This building and the Examination Schools together necessitated the destruction of nine shops. Although the present Ruskin School is officially numbered simply 74, it is 66 feet wide and actually takes up the site of the former three shops at Nos. 74–76 High Street.

The Revd W. Tuckwell in his Reminiscences of Oxford describes two of the shops that were on this site in the 1830s, saying,

From Coach and Horse Lane [Merton Street] to the Angel stretched a great block of shops, swept away to make room for the new schools. The corner house (No 74] was tenanted by James, a confectioner, cook of Alban Hall, where the traditional dinner grace ran, ‘For what James allows us make us truly thankful’: another [No. 75] exhibited the graceful plaster casts of Guidotti, an Italian image-seller with an extremely handsome English wife.

The 1851 census shows Vicenzo Guidotti, then aged 40, living at No. 75 with his wife Harriett, aged 35, and his children Harriett, Clementina, Antonio, Vicenzo, Rafello, and Angelina. They have a male cook and three lodgers (a widowed schoolmistress and her two daughters).

The two original occupants of this new building from 1888 were:

  • The Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board, founded in 1873 to provide external examinations for pupils at public schools. It was based in this building from 1888 to 1964, when it moved to Elsfield Way. In the late 1990s it moved to Cambridge when it joined OCRA (the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations Board)
  • The Non-Collegiate Students’ Delegacy. Non-collegiate (formerly known as unattached) students were admitted to the University from 1867, to open it up to “a much larger and poorer class”. The Delegacy became known as St Catherine’s Society in 1931, and remained in the building until 1936, when it moved to St Aldate's Street (the building now occupied by the Faculty of Music).

When this building opened in 1888 (see Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 13 October 1888, p. 6b) it comprised the following offices:

  • Basement: Porter’s lodging, day room for non-collegiate students, lavatory, kitchen, offices, etc.
  • Ground floor: Examination rooms for Oxford Local Examinations and Delegacy, clerk’s room
  • First floor: Library, Censor’s rooms
  • Second floor: Tutors’ rooms

The 1901 census shows the porter, William Biggs, living in the lodgings with his wife and young son.

Here is a description of the new building from Kelly’s Directory for 1891:

Adjoining the east end of the Examination Schools, and facing the High street, is the new building, erected during the years 1887–8, for the Delegacy of Unattached Students, from the designs of T. G. Jackson esq. M.A.; it accords in style with that of the schools, and is arranged in three floors, with three gabled bays towards High street; the King Street [Merton Street] front being relieved at the angle by a fine circular oriel supported on octagonal corbelling, and terminating upwards in a cupola with finial; on the ground floor are examination rooms for the Delegacy and the Oxford Local Examination Board, with a clerk’s room; the first floor is mainly devoted to the library, 31 by 35 feet, divided by an arcade of three bays, with fine pillars on moulded bases; and the remaining space is occupied by a Censor’s room; on the top floor are tutors’ rooms, and in the basement the porter’s lodgings, a day-room for non-collegiate students, lavatory, kitchen, offices &c.

The present occupant of the building, the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, was founded by John Ruskin (then Professor of Fine Art) in 1871 and was based in the Ashmolean Museum until it moved here in 1975.

Occupiers of the site of former 74–76 High Street
Darker background = former buildings on this site, now demolished


74 High Street

75 High Street

76 High Street

By 1846–1852+

Robert James

Vincent Guidotti
Figure maker
(1846 directory only)

Thomas Harris
 Boot & shoe maker 


Miss James
(to 1874)

James French,
Butcher & greengrocer


Joseph Colegrove 

J. H. Brewer
Cab & fly office


Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board (to 1914 only)
Non-Collegiate Students’ Delegacy


Delegates for the Examination of Schools,
Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board


Oxford University Registry Annexe


Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 August, 2016

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