The history of Univ is a fascinating one. University College owes its origins to William of Durham, who died in 1249; however a legend grew up in the 1380s that we were actually founded even earlier, by King Alfred in 872, and, understandably enough, this became widely accepted as the truth. Nowadays, however, William of Durham is accepted as Univ’s true founder, but that still gives us a claim to be the oldest college in Oxford or Cambridge.
A Brief History of Univ
Univ began life as a small and poor College, with enough funds to support just four Fellows reading Theology. During the Middle Ages, this number gradually increased thanks to additional benefactions. The College had next to no undergraduate members until the sixteenth century, when most other colleges had begun to accept undergraduates, and Univ decided to follow suit. The earliest undergraduates had to pay their own way, but towards the end of the century the College found benefactors to endow undergraduate scholarships. Such scholarships were important ways of helping boys from middling to poor backgrounds to better themselves.
As Univ slowly grew in size and wealth, work began in 1634 to replace its medieval buildings with a new Front Quad, paid for with gifts from many Old Members. Although half the new Quad was finished by 1640, it took almost thirty years to complete the remainder, because of the Civil War. The College was luckier with its other main quadrangle, Radcliffe Quad, built in only three years, 1716-1719, thanks to a bequest from one Old Member, John Radcliffe, whose statue can be seen there.
In the eighteenth century, Univ became one of the most intellectually active Colleges in Oxford: former students and Fellows could be found in senior positions in the government and the judiciary. One of our greatest members at this time was the philologist, orientalist and polymath, Sir William Jones, who was elected a Fellow in 1766 when still only an undergraduate. The early nineteenth century, however, was a less distinguished period: the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley came here in 1810, but was expelled the following year.
It was only later in the century that Univ began to expand and improve again. In 1842 the so-called New Building was erected to the designs of Charles Barry, and a Library was built in 1861. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries also saw a great rise in organised student activities: the College first produced a rowing team in 1827; and a Music Society was founded in 1930, which gave the first Oxford performance of Faure’s Requiem. The most significant event in recent years, however, came in 1979 when the College admitted its first women students.
For those wanting to find out more, A History of University College Oxford, written by our Archivist Robin Darwall-Smith and published by OUP, is available to buy from, amongst other places, amazon.co.uk
Greater detail on the history of individual Univ buildings can be found on our College Buildings pages.
Timeline of Mastership
Baroness Valerie Amos 2020–
Baroness Amos joined Univ from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where she was Director from 2015 to 2020. Previous roles she has held include Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, Cabinet Minister during Tony Blair’s second and third terms of office, and Leader of the House of Lords.
Sir Ivor Martin Crewe 2008–2020
Sir Ivor served as President of the Academy of Social Sciences in addition to being Master at Univ. While at Univ he spearheaded the implementation of the Opportunity Programme and the creation of the Young Univ Gallery, among other projects.
Robin Butler, Lord Butler of Brockwell: 1998–2008
Lord Butler attended Univ as an undergraduate, then going into the Civil Service, serving as Head of the Home Civil Service for a decade.
Wyndham John Albery: 1989–97
Albery held a Weir Junior Research Fellowship then a Fellowship and Praelectorship in Chemistry at Univ, serving as Junior Dean, Tutor for Admissions, and Dean before being Master of Univ. A celebration of his 75th birthday was held in Oxford in 2011.
Kingman Brewster: 1986–8
Brewster was United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom and President of Yale University, before his tenure at Master of Univ. During this time, he was also the chairman of the Board of the United World Colleges.
Arnold Abraham Goodman, Lord Goodman: 1976–86
Lord Goodman was chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain as well as Director of the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells, among other organisations. He retired from the Mastership in 1986.
John Primatt Redcliffe Maud, Lord Redcliffe-Maud: 1963–76
Lord Redcliffe-Maud was educated at New College, Oxford, and after a year at Harvard he returned as a Junior Research Fellow at Univ. He was Fellow and Dean at Univ. Following WWII, he became Master of Univ after working at the Ministry of Education and as Ambassador to South Africa.
Arthur Lehmann Goodhart: 1951–63
Goodhart was Professor of Jurisprudence (Law) at the University and the first American to be the Master of an Oxford college. Bob Hawke, later Prime Minister of Australia, was a student during his tenure. The Goodhart Quad and Goodhart Building are named after him.
John Herbert Severn Wild: 1945–51
J. H. S. Wild was a Chaplain Fellow at Univ and then became Master, before being Dean of Durham Cathedral. He was the only clerical Master of Univ in the 20th century.
William Henry Beveridge, Baron Beveridge of Tuggall: 1937–45
Beveridge worked in the Civil Service before being Director of the LSE and Master of Univ. He was the author of the Beveridge Report. He also served as an MP and was subsequently elevated to the House of Lords, eventually becoming leader of the Liberal Party there.
Arthur Blackburne Poynton: 1935–7
Poyton studied at Balliol College, Oxford, and was a Fellow, Tutor and Bursar at Univ before becoming Master. While at Univ, he was a tutor to C.S. Lewis and E.R. Dodds. He was also Public Orator at the University for seven years.
Sir Michael Ernest Sadler: 1923–34
Sir Michael was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds and led the Sadler Commission before returning to Oxford as Master of Univ in 1923. He collected paintings and encouraged artists throughout his life.
Reginald Walter Macan: 1906–23
Macan was only the second layman Master of Univ. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, he was an undergraduate at Univ, coming back from Christ Church to serve as a Fellow and Tutor. He delivered addresses in the Chapel at least annually.
James Franck Bright: 1881–1906
Bright studied at Univ before being a history tutor at Balliol College, Oxford. He then became Dean of Univ in 1874 and subsequently Master of Univ. The Shelley Memorial was constructed during his tenure. Plumptre was also shot by a woman in an incident at Univ but survived.
George Granville Bradley: 1870–81
Bradley studied at Univ and was then appointed a Fellow in 1844. As Master of Univ, he presided over the celebration of the thousandth anniversary since the College’s supposed founding by Alfred the Great.
Frederic Charles Plumptre: 1836–70
Plumptre was elected a Fellow in the same year he finished his degree at Univ. He became Dean and Tutor of Univ from 1821 then Master from 1836. He was involved in the establishment of the Oxford University Museum.
George Rowley: 1821–36
Rowley was Dean and Master of Univ as well as Vice-Chancellor of the University. He was Dean when Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled. He was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society in 1811.
James Griffith: 1808–21
Griffith was appointed a Fellow of Univ in 1784. As Master of Univ he expelled Percy Bysshe Shelley because of his pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism. He is also responsible for the south side of the main quad, including the Hall and Chapel.
Nathan Wetherell: 1764–1807
Wetherell was Dean of Hereford as well as Master of Univ and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford. He set up the Oxford Paving Commission in 1771 to supervise paving, cleaning and lighting in Oxford.
John Browne: 1745–64
Browne was also Vice-Chancellor of the University in addition to Master of Univ. He chose the design for the Oxford Almanack, including King Alfred in front of Radcliffe Quad. Browne bequeathed his books to Univ, where they can be found in fitted bookcases in the Master’s Lodgings.
Thomas Cockman: 1722–45
An undergradate then Fellow of the College, he became Master of Univ following the first election held in 1722. This was contested by Denison but Cockman was successful when the appeal was brought to the Crown, in part by accepting that King Alfred had founded Univ.
William Denison (a rival claimant to the Mastership): 1722–9
Denison was a Percy Fellow at Univ and was appointed by the second election to occur in 1722. The decision was brought to the Vice-Chancellor of the University who approved Dennison’s election. However, the Crown decreed in 1729 that Cockman was the true Master of Univ.
Arthur Charlett: 1692–1722
Master of Univ for thirty years until his death, Charlett had been a Fellow at Trinity College, Oxford. He died in his lodgings at Univ and is buried in the college chapel.
Thomas Bennet: 1691–2
Bennet was an undergraduate, Fellow then Master of Univ. His relative, Sir Simon Bennet, funded the Bennet Fellowship, which Thomas Bennet held for a time.
Edward Farrer: 1689–91
Farrer was only Master of Univ for two years before his death on his close-stool. He was a Fellow at Univ from 1651 and curate at Flamstead in Hertfordshire for twenty-five years.
Obadiah Walker: 1676–89
Walker taught John Radcliffe, later Master of Univ, before becoming Master. Walker was responsible for the statue of King James II on the tower in the main quad, one of only two in English. Walker was very loyal to the king and he was imprisoned for following him when he fled.
Richard Clayton: 1665–76
Matriculated at Univ in 1618 then elected a Percy Fellow before being bursar twice. While he was Master there was a lot of rebuilding at Univ, with funds sought for the completion of the library and main quadrangle.
Francis Johnson: 1655–60
Johnson was appointed Master during the Commonwealth of England and had to defend his post when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. However, his protestations fell on deaf ears and he was replaced by Thomas Walker, the previous Master.
Joshua Hoyle: 1648–54
Hoyle was Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, Dublin, before he was appointed as Master following Walker’s expulsion, dying in 1954. Hoyle was employed by the committee of parliament for the reformation of University of Oxford.
Thomas Walker: 1632–48 & 1660–5
Walker was a Fellow at St John’s College, Oxford before becoming Master of Univ. His tenure was divided by the Civil War during which he was expelled from the University for his Royalist sympathies.
John Bancroft: 1610–32
Bancroft was a student at Christ Church, Oxford and elected Master unanimously, in part owing to the influence of his uncle, Richard Bancroft, who was Chancellor of the University. After his tenure he became Bishop of Oxford.
George Abbot: 1597–1610
After being Master of Univ, he was three times Vice-Chancellor of the University, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, from 1612 to 1633.
Anthony Gate: 1584–97
Gate was the first layman to be elected Master of Univ, taking his MA degree in 1571 and B.Med in 1580. His four sons all attended Univ. The next layman to be Master would be in 1906.
William James: 1572–84
James graduated with an MA degree from Christ Church, Oxford, and became Master of Univ seven years later. He was twice Vice-Chancellor of the University, and Dean of Christchurch.
Thomas Caius: 1561–72
Caius was elected Master on the same day that James Dugdale lost it. He was rejected as Master of Univ in 1552 but elected in 1561. With his treatise, An Assertion of the Antiquity of Oxford University, he strengthened the claim that King Alfred founded Univ and the University, prompting Queen Elizabeth I to visit Cambridge.
James Dugdale: 1558–61
Dugdale was a Fellow at Univ for a year before becoming Master at Univ. He refused to support Queen Elizabeth I with the Oath of Succession and, therefore, lost his Mastership.
Anthony Salveyn: 1557–8
A Fellow then Master of Univ, Salveyn resigned from the post the month after Queen Elizabeth’s succession. He was probably the brother of former Master Richard Salveyn.
George Ellison: 1551–7
Ellison was a Fellow at Univ before becoming Master, dying during his tenure in June 1557.
Richard Salveyn: 1547–51
From Durham, like John Roxborough, Richard Salveyn was a Fellow at Univ before being Master. He reisgned from the post and was later depriving of his livings by Queen Elizabeth I for not supporting the Reformation.
John Crayford: 1546–7
Crayford was Master of both Univ and Clare College, Cambridge. He was also Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge before becoming Master of Univ, but he died only a year into his tenure.
Leonard Hutchinson: 1518–46
Hutchinson was a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and became a Fellow of Univ in 1514-15. He was Master for 28 years, during this period he was rector at Bladon and vicar of Yarnton. While he was Master, the College moved away from being largely a postgraduate institution, accepting Univ’s first commoner undergraduates.
Ralph Hamsterley: 1509–18
Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, failing to become Warden there in 1507 and 1508, but elected Master of Univ in 1509 not without controversy. His appointment was contested by the Visitors of Oxford but was upheld by the Chancellor of Oxford and Archbishop of Canterbury.
John Roxborough: 1487/1488–1509
Roxborough, hailing from Durham, held parishes in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Surrey. He was Senior Fellow at Univ before being appointed Master.
William Gregford: 1473–1487 or 1488
Fellow from 1453/4, then vicar in west Oxfordshire before becoming Master until his death. The College Chapel was dedicated in 1476.
John Martyn: 1441–73
Martyn became Master as the Senior Fellow of Univ and held the position until his death, 32 years was probably at that point the longest period anyone had been Master at an Oxford college. Under his tenure, Univ gained its first quad.
Thomas Benwell: 1428–41
Mature commoner, Fellow at Univ, tenant of College property. According to a later Master, Thomas Caius, he was an excellent preacher.
Richard Witton: 1423/4–1428
Fellow at Univ and tenant of a College property. Burton claimed incorrectly that King Alfred had endowed the College with 78 Fellows.
Robert Burton: 1420–1423/4
Burton was a mature commoner, when he was Fellow he was part of the sentence of excommunication alongside John Castell and the rest of the College. The College was granted a dispensation owing to poor financial circumstances.
John Castell: c.1408–20
Fellow at Univ before becoming Master, he then became Chancellor of Oxford. During his tenure, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, issued a sentence of excommunication against the College.
John Appleton: c.1401–08
Appleton was a mature commoner, Fellow and Master until 1408, receiving a special fellowship from Univ in 1438. Under Appleton, Univ received Marks Hall manor from King Henry IV and developed the area around Logic Lane (previously known as Horseman Lane).
Edmund Lacy: 1398–c.1401
Mature commoner at Univ, Fellow and then Master. Lacy was appointed Canon of the ninth stall at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in 1401.
Thomas Duffield: 1396–8
Fellow of Univ before becoming Master.
Thomas Foston: 1393–6
Foston was a mature commoner and Fellow of Univ before becoming Master.
John Middelton: possibly Master early 1390s
William Kexby: fl.1376–9
Fellow of Univ prior to becoming Master. In 1379 he became Archdeacon of Cleveland.
Roger de Aswardeby: fl.1353–62
Fellow of University College, Oxford before becoming Master. He then became a proctor of University in 1350.
Robert de Patrington: possibly Master 1340–3
William de Nadale: possibly Master 1332
Hugh de Warknetheby: possibly Master 1307