Hertford College

You can always feel the history and the presence of those famous people who studied and lived in here.

Did you know that Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited novel, once studied at Hertford? His rooms were used in the filming of his classic novel. What you must know for sure is Hertford’s iconic Bridge of Sighs, one of Oxford’s most photographed landmarks.

Another feature which makes the college so different from the rest of the Oxford University Colleges is the delightfully broken history as Hertford is a college without a beginning. The college derives from two ancient halls of the University: Hart Hall and Magdalen Hall. Hertford College therefore has two major dates, the foundation of Magdalen Hall in 1448, and the granting of its current charter in 1876.

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

Hertford was originally known as “Hart Hall”, it began its life about 1284 with the purchase of the land by Elias de Hertford who established Hart Hall (Aula Cervina), a residence for for students and tutors. In 1312, Hart Hall was purchased by Walter de Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, who founded Exeter College which however controlled Hart Hall for many years.

In 1710, Revd Dr Richard Newton became the Principal of Hart Hall and dedicated himself to raising the Hall from debt and securing a firmer financial endowment while also expanding its grounds (which were financed entirely from Newton’s pocket, to the sum of around £2000, around £270,000 adjusted for inflation). After Newton died, however, the college declined and it was dissolved in 1816. Hart Hall was rescued from its decline by a wealthy benefactor, Sir Thomas Baring, who provided the funds necessary to re-establish it as Hertford College by an Act of Parliament in 1874.

Want to see more? Visit the full gallery and get to know Hertford College better.

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks”

Hertford College motto, Psalm 42:1.


Most people know or remember Hertford college for the Bridge of Sighs, one of Oxford’s most photographed landmarks. The bridge, also known as the Hertford Bridge, designed by Thomas Jackson and built in 1913, does not bear much resemblance to Venice’s Bridge of Sighs.

According to a legend, a survey of the health of the university’s students was taken many decades ago, and as Hertford College’s students were (supposedly) the heaviest, the college closed off the bridge that links the old and new quads to force them to take the stairs while also taking extra exercise. In fact, the bridge was never closed, and it’s a route that requires more stairs than other alternatives – but it’s a good story, nonetheless.

Image credit: Hertford College by Bernd Kronmueller.

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

Hertford college was not modelled on the traditional collegiate model, but was designed to be affordable to students from more modest backgrounds. It was also one of the first colleges to encourage applicants from state schools in the 1960s as well as one of the first Oxford colleges to admit women undergraduates.

Hertford College Boat Club is one of the best in Oxford, with both its men’s and women’s first boats in the first division for the main annual races, Torpids and Eights Week. In August 2013 Hertford College Rugby Club became the first team from the UK to tour Mongolia in official partnership with the Mongolian Rugby Football Union.

Hertford College has the largest and most active music society of any Oxford college, drawing in musicians to Hertford College Orchestra, the Hertford College Chapel Choir, the Hertford College Wind Band, the Hertford College Jazz Band and the Hertford College Bruckner Orchestra.

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

Opening hours:
As a small college, unfortunately Hertford is closed to the general public.

Famous alumni:
A list of Hertford College alumni includes: John Donne, John Falkner, Charles James Fox, Thomas Hobbes, Jonathan Swift and William Tyndale.

Worth knowing:
One of the Hertford’s most prized possessions is a signed copy of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, who composed the volume while a student of Magdalen Hall. The book is held in the Old Library.

Image credit: Herfford College by Rog Del.

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