When William Waynflete founded Magdalen College in 1458, he inherited all the buildings of the Hospital of St. John which stood on this site. The political troubles of the next few years delayed any plans for the redevelopment of the site, and so the earliest members of Magdalen presumably occupied the Hospital’s buildings.

Finally, in 1467, work began on the wall, now known as Longwall, which circled the whole of the site of Magdalen, and in 1474 work began on the Cloisters, with their Chapel, Hall and Library. These were largely finished by 1480. 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.

Waynflete and Orchard planned a College on the grandest scale, but several important additions were made after Waynflete’s death in 1486. In 1492, work began on a splendid bell tower, 144 feet high, which was ready for use by 1505. Other major work from this time was the completion of the High Street range, to link the Tower with existing buildings, and, in 1508/9, the erection of the large allegorical gargoyles in the Cloister 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 late 1720s, Edward Butler, the then President, planned to replace most of the Cloisters with a grand new quadrangle in the Palladian style, and commissioned Edward Holdsworth to design it. Work started in 1733 on what would have been the north range of this new quadrangle, but after this range was finished by the end of the decade. the project went no further, presumably due to a lack of energy and funding.

In the 1820s and 1830s the College saw a major rebuilding programme, 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.