Magdalen College was founded in 1458 by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, and Lord Chancellor, on the site of the Hospital of St. John, just outside Oxford’s East Gate. This replaced his earlier foundation, called Magdalen Hall, founded elsewhere in Oxford in 1448. The political upheavals of the next few years meant that it was not until 1467 that building work started on his new College, first on Longwall, circling the whole site, and then from 1474 on the main Cloister Quadrangle, with its Library, Hall, and Chapel. The quadrangle, planned on the grandest scale, was finished about half a dozen years later. The mason employed was William Orchard, who also worked on the Divinity Schools. The only major portions of the Hospital to survive were part of the High Street range and its Hall, converted into a Kitchen.
Several additions were made after Waynflete’s death in 1486: in 1492, the foundation stone was laid for a grand new bell tower, 144 feet high. Ready for use by 1505, Magdalen Tower has become one of Oxford’s iconic images. The College then completed the High Street range, to link the Tower with existing buildings, and in 1508/9 erected the large allegorical gargoyles in the Cloister later known as the ‘hieroglyphics’.
Other buildings, now lost or replaced, were erected at this time, including the earliest President’s Lodgings, and the first home of Magdalen College School. The latter building, which also housed Magdalen Hall (now Hertford College), was badly damaged by fire in 1821, and its only extant fragment is the so-called Grammar Hall. Little major architectural activity then took place until 1635, when the Kitchen Staircase was added.
In the early 1730s, Edward Holdsworth designed a grand new quadrangle in the Palladian style to replace most of the medieval buildings. Only the north range of this quadrangle, the New Building, was ever completed. This occupies part of the Grove, which had been planted as a formal garden in the 17th century. In 1710, however, appear the first definite references to the famous herd of deer that still occupies the Grove. At around the same time, Addison’s Walk (Joseph Addison was an undergraduate and Fellow of Magdalen), began to assume its modern appearance.
In the 1820s and 1830s a major rebuilding programme occurred, precipitated by an unwise decision, swiftly reversed, to demolish the north side of the Cloisters. The Cloisters were restored, the Chapel refitted, and the Grammar Hall made good. Meanwhile, in 1847 Charles Daubeny, Magdalen’s first great scientist, built a laboratory across the road—the first laboratory administered by a College, and now the only one to survive—and in 1849–51 the College built a new Hall for Magdalen College School.
In the 1880s George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner carried out several projects at Magdalen, namely St. Swithun’s Quadrangle, a new President’s Lodgings, and a gate from High Street. St. Swithun’s Quadrangle was left half-completed, but in 1928–31 Giles Gilbert Scott finished the work, creating Longwall Quadrangle, and also converting Magdalen College School Hall into the College’s Library. The College’s newest buildings are the Grove Buildings (1994–9) and Holywell Ford (1994–5), designed respectively by Porphyrios Associates and RH Partnership Ltd.
For further information, an illustrated history of Magdalen College, with text and illustrations by Rena Gardiner, is also available.