'The students in their gowns walking animatedly to their graduation ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre, against the backdrop of the ancient buildings was a nice juxtaposition.' J J Marshall
Radcliffe Square is widely regarded as the most beautiful in Oxford. It is a quiet oasis in the centre of the city, completely surrounded by ancient University and college buildings, yet just a few paces away from the bustling High Street. The square is named after John Radcliffe, a student of University College and doctor to the King, who in 1714 bequeathed £40,000 (to be paid annually in £10,000 sums ‘after the decease of my two sisters’), to build a science library known today as the Radcliffe Camera.
In 1734 Nicholas Hawksmoor and James Gibbs were invited to submit plans and Gibbs’ circular, English Palladian style design was chosen. Externally, Gibbs divided the building into three stages: the ground stage which has eight pedimented projections; the central stage with bays divided by coupled Corinthian columns; the top stage decorated with a balustrade and vases. Work began in 1737 and finished in 1749. In 1909-12 a two-floor underground book store was added with a tunnel to connect it with the Bodleian Library on the north side of the square. Today, the Radcliffe Camera is used as a reading room for the Bodleian and isn’t open to the public.