Reeling at the Rad Cam

Secretly, I think if I'd been pushed, I could easily have read English at university (never mind the whole dropping out of Sixth Form, yeah). Language, and words and their formation fascinate me; not just English but how words changed from one part of the world to another to make up all these different languages we speak. I'd like to think- though I am more than likely seeing the world through rose tinted glasses- that I could have hung out at Oxford and read.

The Radcliffe Camera, named for John Radcliffe a fellow of Lincoln College- he studied at the college from the age of 13 and became a fellow at the tender age of 18. He had a successful career in medicine, with some high profile patients including William III & Queen Anne, and died childless with a large fortune. Camera is Latin for the word, "room". Locally the library is known as the Rad Cam. 

It had been known in the last two years of his life that he planned to build a library at the university, though it had originally been thought as an extension of the Bodleian. When he died and his will was read, it showed that he had left money for the purchasing of any houses standing between St. Mary's church and the Bodleian library so that this new room could be built. 

Whilst no work to build the library could start until Radcliffe's sisters died- as that was when the payments would start. The acquisition of the land for the site of the new library did commence, with houses being bought and land being cleared. Though Brasenose college decided they wanted land on the High Street- at the front of St. Mary's Church to make up for the land they were being asked to give up. It meant the trustee's of the new library had to negotiate with the tenants of the houses there. Eventually an act of Parliament was passed, and negotiations were made for the homes of Catte Street. Then twenty years later, the building could finally commence.

James Gibbs was the architect who designed the library, though not the first choice, out of the seven original choices, most of whom died before construction was ready to start. It was built between 1737- 1749 in a Neo- Classical style. The interior work wasn't started until after the outside was completed, and the entire thing was completed in 1748 and was opened on 13th October 1749, the opening delayed because of disturbances around the city. 

The library's book collection grew slowly to begin with and, in spite of it housing a variety of books until 1811, it became known as "The Physic Library". After that the collections stored there were of a scientific nature. Though the library was independent of the university, the sum of money for new books seemed insufficient and a plan was written to bring the Camera under control of the Bodleian library. 

A new reading room had been added, as well as hot water and the light to the inside improved greatly by Henry Wentworth Acland, who came up with the plan to incorporate the library into to Bodleian. The whole of the library, under the control of the university would become a reading room connected to to the Bodleian by an underground passage. The plan was accepted by both library's and put into action in 1861. The library's still function is as a reading room of the Bodleian. In 2010 the building was occupied by students for more than 24hrs protesting about the cuts in funding and the cost of tuition rising in the UK. 

My favourite picture of the Rad Cam.

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  1. Studying at the age of 13 at college? Pretty impressive Sammi. Thanks!

    1. Amazing, right?! I couldn't believe it when I heard that.


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