Oxford History: The High

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74, 75, & 76: Ruskin School of Art


74 High Street

This building is on the corner of Merton Street (originally King Street). It is now occupied by the Ruskin School of Art, but was origiinally built for the Oxford Delegacy for Non-Collegiate Students. It was designed by T. G. Jackson and was completed in 1887, five years after the adjoining Examination Schools to the west.

It is a Grade II listed building (List Entry No. 1369365), built of Caen and Gibraltar with Corsham and Doulton stone, with Taynton slates for the roof.

This building and the Examination Schools together necessitated the destruction of nine shops. Although the address of the present Ruskin School is officially just 74 High Street. the building is 66 feet wide and occupies the site of three former shops at Nos. 74, 75, and 76 High Street, which were in St Peter-in-the East parish until that parish was united with St Cross parish in 1957.

Jackson's Oxford Journal of 15 October 1887 reported as follows on the new building:

The blank space which was left at the east end of the new Examination Schools in the High-street at the time of their creation has now been filled in with the block to be placed at the disposal of the Delegacy for Unattached Students, Mr. T. G. Jackson being the architect. The building consists of basement, ground floor, and two stories above, 68ft. long, facing the “High,” and 83ft. over all from north to south. In the basement are porter's lodgings, a day room for non-collegiate students, lavatory, kitchen, Offices, &c. On the ground floor are examination rooms for the Oxford Local Examination and the Delegacy, with a clerk's room. The largest of these is 33ft. by 15ft., and the smaller 26ft. by 15ft. The first floor is mainly devoted to the library, which is approached by a wide and handsome staircase, the dividing walls being opened by arches with circular heads. The library itself is 33ft. by 35ft., and is divided by an arcade of three bays, with five pillars on moulded bases, and the arches resting upon boldly-moulded caps. The remainder of the space is occupied by a Censor's room 24ft. square, and on the top floor there are Tutors' rooms, the largest 23ft. by 24ft. The King-street [Merton Street] front is certainly effective, the leading feature being the octagonal oriel at the south-east angle. Caen and Gibraltar stone with Corsham and Doulton have been employed, and the roof is covered with Taynton slates. The old building which obstructed the view of the east front of the Schools has been removed, and a low stone wall with moulded coping, surmounted by wrought-iron work is to be erected. The building is heated with a similar apparatus to that employed successfully in the Schools.

A further report a year later on 13 October 1888 announced that the building had been finished.

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

  • 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”. In 1931 the Delegacy became known as St Catherine’s Society, and it remained in the building until 1936, when it moved to St Aldate's Street (to the building now occupied by the Faculty of Music). In 1962 its name changed to St Catherine's College, and it moved into its new building
  • The Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board, which was 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 Summertown. In the late 1990s it moved to Cambridge when it joined OCRA (the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations Board)

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 1891 and 1901 censuses shows the building's porter, William Biggs, living here with his wife and son. By 1911 the porter who lived here with his wife was William James Rutherford.

The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art was founded in 1871 by John Ruskin (then Professor of Fine Art) and was based in the Ashmolean Museum until it moved here over a hundred years later in 1975. Its name has been shortened to the Ruskin School of Art


Former shops on this site

The Revd W. Tuckwell in his Reminiscences of Oxford describes two of the shops that were on this site in the 1840s, 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.

74 High Street

The 1851 census shows Robert James (74), a widowed confectioner, living here with his unmarried daughter Emma (32), and his granddaughter, a servant, and a lodger.

75 High Street

The 1851 census shows Vicenzo Guidotti (40) living at No. 75 with his wife Harriett, aged 35, and his children Harriett (13), Clementina (11), Antonio (6), Vicenzo (4), Rafello (2), and Angelina (three months), plus their niece Mary Ann Hall  (14). Living separately in the house was a widowed infant school mistress and her two daughters, and also a lodger, John Evans, who was a cook.

76 High Street

The cabinet maker Charles A.  Green announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 3 September 1842 that he had commenced business here, but just a year later on 9 September 1843 that he had moved to No. 131.

The 1851 census shows the shoemaker Thomas Harris (49) living her with his wife Harriet, their five children, and a servant.

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

Date

74 High Street

75 High Street

76 High Street

By 1846–1852+

Robert James
Confectioner

Vincent Guidotti
Figure maker

Thomas Harris
 Boot & shoe maker 

To 1864

 

John Buggins
Artist's colourman & general
dealer in fine arts

(bankrupt in 1864)

 

1866–1876

Miss James
Confectioner
(to 1874)

James French,
Butcher & greengrocer
(1874–1876)

 

Joseph Colegrove 
Bootmaker

J. H. Brewer
Cab & fly office

1888–1936

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

1939–1966

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

1968–1975

Oxford University Registry Annexe

1975–present

Ruskin School of Art

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 28 July, 2021

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