Nov 262013

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On this date in 1379, New College, Oxford, was founded by William of Wykeham.  This is taken from the college’s website:

New College was founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham (1324-1404), bishop of Winchester, as ‘the college of St Mary of Winchester at Oxford’. Almost immediately it became known as ‘New College’ to distinguish it from the other Oxford college dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Oriel (1326).

New College was founded to praise God; support the Faith, pray for the souls of the Founder, his relatives and other benefactors; and to provide higher education for the clergy. Wykeham had risen from modest beginnings in rural Hampshire to become the chief minister of Edward III, his parvenu status being reflected in his self-confident personal motto adopted by his college: ‘Manners Makyth Man’.

His statutes provided for a college comprising a Warden and 70 fellows, both graduates and, a novelty at the time, undergraduates. Senior fellows taught the juniors, the beginning of a formal tutorial system. Every fellow had to have been a scholar of Wykeham’s other foundation, Winchester College (1382). The provision of religious services, chaplains and choristers were central to Wykeham’s scheme; the choir and choir school persist to this day.

Architecturally New College was innovative in its enclosed quadrangle (finished 1386). The cloisters were completed in 1400.


In its first medieval heyday, it produced leaders of church and state such as Archbishops of Canterbury Henry Chichele and William Warham and humanist scholars such as William Grocyn, the first teacher of Greek at Oxford.

The Reformation stripped the college of its intellectual leadership, late sixteenth and seventeenth century fellows tending to introspective learning. After the Civil War, during which the college supported the king, the college expanded in wealth and luxury. An additional storey was added to the Front Quad in the 1670s. Between 1682 and 1707 the Garden Quad was built to accommodate a handful of fee-paying Gentlemen Commoners.

Many fellows only lingered after taking their degrees until appointed to lucrative college parishes at which point they resigned and could get married. Until the 1860s, fellows could not marry, although Wardens had done so since 1551.

While not entirely a sybaritic, slothful backwater, New College was prevented by its medieval statutes from adapting to rising demand for university education. The largest college by far in 1379, by 1800, it was one of the smallest, with at most 20 of the 70 Fellows undergraduates, all exclusively Wykehamist and dominated by Founders’ Kin.

I like the “not entirely” in that last paragraph.  Of course, now New College is as up to date as any Oxford college (although I had a couple of pals there in my freshman year for whom “sybaritic” and “slothful” would have been entirely apt epithets).


At the time of its founding, the College was a grand example of the “Perpendicular style” (late English Gothic)  with the closest resembling college being Merton. New College was larger than all of the six existing Oxford Colleges combined.  At this time the Quadrangle did not have the upper storey seen today, and the the bell tower was added later in the fifteenth century. The upper storey was added in the sixteenth century as attics which, in 1674, were replaced by a third storey as seen today. Also, the oval turf is an eighteenth-century addition. Today, the college is one of Oxford’s most widely visited.  The College’s grounds are among the largest of the Oxford University colleges.


The Hall, the dining room and formerly lecture hall of the college, measures 80′ by 40′. The paneling was added when Archbishop Warham was bursar of the College in the late fifteenth century. The marble flooring replaced the original flooring in 1722. The open oak roof had been covered by a ceiling at the end of the eighteenth century and little is known of it. It was not until the Junior Common Room offered one thousand pounds to restore the hall roof, that work began on the roof seen today,under the architect Sir Gilbert Scott in 1865. The windows were replaced at the time with painted glass and the portraits moved to a higher level. In giving the uses of the Hall, Wykeham forbade wrestling, dancing, and all noisy games because the chapel adjoined it, and prescribed the use of Latin in conversation.

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The Cloisters and the Chapel are of particular note; much of the medieval stained glass in the ante-chapel has recently been restored. Renowned for its grand interior, some of the stained glass windows were designed by the 18th-century portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds and contain designs by Sir Jacob Epstein and El Greco. The organ was built by the firm of Grant, Degens, and Bradbeer in 1969, in a case designed by George Pace. Somewhat revolutionary at the time, it remains a remarkable instrument today.


The choir stalls contain 62 14th-century misericords (folding shelves to lean against during long standing prayers), which are of outstanding beauty.


The niches of the reredos (altar screen) were provided by Sir Gilbert Scott and were fitted with statues in the 19th century.  Near the east end of the chapel is the Founder’s Crosier, a relic overlaid with silver gilt and enamel that resembles a pastoral staff. The bell tower contains one of the oldest rings of ten bells in England, rung by the Oxford Society of Change Ringers and the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry, English change ringing is a mystery to all but the chosen few.  Just accept that a tower with a ring of ten bells is a BIG DEAL. Bell ringers wait years to have a chance to ring them — once or twice in a lifetime.


The cloisters are often used for dramatic productions.  As an undergraduate I saw a wonderful set of Medieval plays performed here — a perfect location. The cloisters can also be seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Some Oxford colleges are famous for their recipes.  Queen’s college, for example, originated the tradition of the decorated boar’s head for Christmas, and Magdalen college has served specially marinated venison (culled from its deer herd) once a year at a special dinner every year for over 250 years.  These recipes have entered modern cookbooks.  Other colleges’ recipes are less well known, and may not be used nowadays, although they can be found in the college archives.  Such is the case with New College puddings. Recipes can be found in several eighteenth century cookbooks such as this one in English Housewifry by Elizabeth Moxon (1764)

422. To make new COLLEGE PUDDINGS.

Grate an old penny loaf, put to it a like quantity of suet shred, a nutmeg grated, a little salt and some currans, then beat some eggs in a little sack and sugar, mix all together, and knead it as stiff as for manchet, and make it up in the form and size of a turkey’s egg, but a little flatter; take a pound of butter, put it in a dish or stew-pan, and set it over a clear fire in a chafing-dish, and rub your butter about the dish till it is melted, then put your puddings in, and cover the dish, but often turn your puddings till they are brown alike, and when they are enough grate some sugar over them, and serve them up hot.

For a side-dish you must let the paste lie for a quarter of an hour before you make up your puddings.

The entire text of the original book can be found here:

A virtually identical recipe is reported by Janet Clarkson, “the old foodie,” in her excellent blog:,, taken from Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (1736), entitled “To make New-College Puddings.” I am ever so slightly perturbed by the lower case “n” in Moxton, making it seem that this is a new recipe for college pudding (a boiled suet pudding reminiscent of Christmas pudding) rather than a recipe from New College.  But I am going to tamp down my qualms and accept that this recipe is, indeed, from New College, even though I asked an old friend who went to New College about them and he said he had never heard of them.  Not surprising; my college has old recipes it never uses, even for special occasions.  Here is my effort at creating the dish.

New College Pudding


Combine 1 cup of breadcrumbs and 1 cup of shredded suet. Rub the flour and suet well together with your fingers as you would for pastry, and then add a small handful of raisins and a pinch of salt.  The recipe calls for currants, but I cannot get them in Argentina. Currants would be more delicate.


Mix together 1 egg with an equal volume of sherry (sack) or brandy, 1 tbsp of sugar, and 1 tsp of nutmeg, and add this to the flour/suet mix.  Knead with your hands to form a stiff dough.  Let it rest 15 minutes.


Form into slightly flat egg-shaped balls.


Fry in ½ inch of vegetable oil heated to 325°F/160°C until they are browned on one side, then flip them.  Do this in batches to avoid lowering the temperature of the oil too much, and overcrowding.


Drain on a wire rack and dust with granulated sugar.


They are delicious hot, but a bit heavy cold.  Using self raising flour in place of the breadcrumbs would make them lighter. They screamed to me to be dipped in whipped cream.


I was not willing to spring for 1lb of butter for frying but I did save one pudding to shallow fry in a knob of butter. It was definitely richer and sweeter than those fried in oil.  In future I will shallow fry them all in butter.

Yield: 6 puddings.