Christ Church is one of the most famous Oxford colleges for several reasons: its size, its wealth, its grandeur and, dare I say it, Harry Potter. But this college’s history spans back over 500 years as Christ Church was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII. That’s plenty of time for the college to work up a number of fun historical facts and traditions, which you’re only really privy to if you’re a student at Christ Church.
It couldn’t be more true that you don’t appreciate something until it’s gone. And it wasn’t until I left Christ Church that I really, really began to appreciate just how magical a place it was and how spectacularly lucky I was to study there for four years. So here are my 15 fun facts about Christ Church that you probably didn’t know about this Oxford college!
Some of these are fun facts about Christ Church that relate to the college’s history, others are fun facts that relate to Christ Church today. However, they all demonstrate just how wonderfully strange Oxford colleges can be. Christ Church receives over half a million tourists each year but I bet most of them don’t know even half of the facts presented below so enjoy these little insider snippets!
When you’re done reading the below, check out this post for ten reasons to apply to Christ Church in the first place.
Christ Church is the college’s third name
When Christ Church was founded in the sixteenth century, it was actually called Cardinal College. It was named after Thomas Wolsey, who was both Cardinal Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England at the time.
After Wolsey’s death in 1530, the college was taken over by none other than King Henry VIII and he (imaginatively) renamed it King Henry VIII’s College.
It was only in 1546 after the break with the Church of Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries that the college was renamed as Christ Church.
Christ Church is nicknamed “The House”
Christ Church is known affectionately as “The House” by its students and staff. At formal meals and other notable occasions, we’d toast “The House” and instead of saying “I go to Christ Church”, one porter would always insist you say said “I’m a member of The House”.
It’s slightly pretentious, but the college got this nickname from its Latin name “Aedes Christi”, meaning the house or church of Christ.
King Charles held court at Christ Church
Christ Church dining hall was once used by King Charles I as a seat of Parliament during the English Civil War in the early seventeenth century. During this time, the King made the Deanery his palace too!
The dining hall here has been replicated in many other universities and institutions globally and, perhaps most notably, as the Great Hall at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. More on that later.
Christ Church Cathedral is one of the smallest in England
Christ Church is very fortunate to have a cathedral as its college chapel. Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral of the diocese of Oxford serving Oxford, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. The interior is absolutely stunning and absolutely enormous by Oxford University standards.
As cathedrals go it is pretty small, it is one of the smallest in England. However, from its unassuming entrance in Tom Quad, you would have no idea that such a cathedral was even there and you cannot help but be impressed. It has a high vaulted ceiling, which has been replicated in other cathedrals and chapels across the world. Even in Christchurch, New Zealand!
The Dean of Christ Church is also Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and always holds this dual role as part of the church and the college’s governing body.
Tom Tower was designed by Sir Christopher Wren
Christ Church is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Oxford colleges and that’s all thanks to the wonderful architecture. The iconic Tom Tower which stands over the front entrance to Christ Church was designed by architect Sir Christopher Wren. He’s the very same man who designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London so that’s pretty impressive stuff. Wren himself was once a student at Oxford University, however, his alma mater is Wadham College.
Christ Church boasts the oldest form of graffiti on record
As you approach the “Harry Potter steps” at Christ Church, which lead up to the dining hall, you will notice a curious form of graffiti on a door to the right. On an old brown door, there is the word “Peel”, with each letter formed out of very small circles.
This is the oldest form of graffiti on record and the door was marked in protest against the Sir Robert Peel who was the British Prime Minister in the early nineteenth century. The reason it looks like there are lots and lots of tiny circles making up the word is because the name “Peel” was marked onto the door with nails.
13 British Prime Ministers Have Attended Christ Church
So far, thirteen British Prime Ministers have been educated at Christ Church, which means more prime ministers have been educated here than at any other Oxford college. Some of the most notable include William Gladstone (read about Gladstone’s Library in Wales) and Anthony Eden.
Christ Church has its own picture gallery
… where you’ll find pieces by Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Yes, really! At Christ Church picture gallery they have around 300 paintings and 2000 drawings, including many drawings by notable artists.
Christ Church even has a picture lending scheme whereby students can borrow a piece of work to put in their rooms for a year. Not the Da Vinci though I’m afraid.
NB If you’d like to visit the picture gallery, this is at an additional cost to the college entrance ticket price. Find out more here.
Tom Tower chimes 101 times every evening
Every evening at 9:05pm , Tom Tower chimes 101 times in honour of the 101 first students to ever attend Christ Church. It’s a ringing sound that can be heard throughout the centre of Oxford and signals to the students that the great doors are about to close!
It takes a whole 20 minutes for the bells to ring 101 times so I’m sure you can see why, as a student, I found this sound incredibly irritating and disruptive. However, now I appreciate it as one of Oxford University’s many quirks!
It’s a filming location for Harry Potter and more
Numerous notable movies have been filmed Christ Church, and it is famously known for being a Harry Potter filming location in Oxford. Here you’ll find the dining hall that inspired the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films as well as the steps that Harry and Ron run up when they arrive at Hogwarts late in the flying Ford Anglia.
Besides Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, based on the Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, was also filmed here. They use Christ Church meadow in the beginning sequence when Lyra and Roger are playing.
Check out this post for my ultimate guide to Harry Potter filming locations in Oxford.
Alice in Wonderland was real… and lived at Christ Church!
Lewis Carroll attended Christ Church at Oxford and this is where he found inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. The character of Alice is based on a girl called Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church at the time.
You can find many references to Alice in Wonderland in Oxford (check out my literary guide to Oxford for more info) but at Christ Church you’ll find a small door leading to the Deanery Gardens named after her as well as a piece of stained glass in the Great Hall with a picture of Alice.
In the college’s private Pococke Garden you can also find “The Alice Tree” or “The Jabberwocky Tree” as this pococke tree is thought to have inspired the poem The Jabberwocky.
For other literary connections here, you’ll also find mention of Christ Church in Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.
Check out this post for my self-guided literary tour of Oxford. You’ll discover places that inspired Lewis Carroll, C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien and more!
Christ Church library was first built on stilts
Christ Church library first came into existence in 1564 but this was tiny compared to what it is today. In the eighteenth century, a new library was designed but the ground floor was made “open loggia”, which means exposed to the elements. The main library could be found upstairs but it was built on columns, essentially fortified stilts, and it was decided that this wasn’t wise (duh) and the ground floor was eventually closed in.
There’s a pond with Koi Carp gifted by the Japanese Prime Minister
Mercury pond in the centre of Tom Quad is home to lots of lovely koi carp. It’s rumoured that these koi carp were originally gifted to Christ Church by a Japanese Prime Minister and therefore they are worth a lot of money. Koi fish can live for up to 25-35 years but whether these koi are the original ones that were donated is unknown to me.
Christ Church is also home to a resident stalk which is routinely chased away by the porters so I’m guessing these koi fish are indeed rather valuable. There’s also a pretty hefty fine for students found in the pond, which is another reason to think they may be worth a healthy sum. It’s a tradition for sportsmen at Christ Church to jump into the pond in the dead of night and unfortunately the presence of the koi carp has done little to dissuade them from continuing these antics.
You can stand on the grass… under one condition!
Christ Church is one of the those places where you can’t stand on the grass. Not even if you’re a student! There are numerous porters stationed around the Tom Quad, the largest quadrangle at Christ Church (and one of the largest in Europe actually), and if you step onto the grass I can guarantee that one will start walking sternly towards you. Eek!
However, there is one instance when you are allowed to walk on the grass. There are two dinner sittings at Christ Church each evening and the second of which is called “formal hall”. After formal hall, you are permitted to stand on the grass but only if you are still wearing your Oxford gown! It really is quite like Hogwarts…
Notable Alumni include…
Over the years, many famous figures have studied at Christ Church including Lewis Carroll, John Locke, King Edward VII, W H Auden, Robert Hooke, the 13 prime ministers mentioned above and more. In fact, there are so many that there’s actually a whole wikipedia page dedicated to notable Christ Church alumni! Maybe I’ll make it onto there someday…
Visiting Christ Church, Oxford
If you’re planning a visit to Christ Church then I suggest you take a look at all the below info as the college is very popular and can get incredibly busy.
Mondays to Saturdays – 10.00 – 17.00
Sundays – 14.00 – 17.00
Last entry: 16.15
Opening hours vary depending on the season so please check the website here for further information.
Adult tickets cost £10 per person in July and August but £8 per person throughout the rest of the year. There are concessions and child tickets available too.
This ticket will grant you entry to the college quads, cloisters, the hall staircase, the dining hall and Christ Church Cathedral. If you wish to enter Christ Church picture gallery too, you will have to buy an additional ticket there.
Tickets are available to buy at the college from the Meadow Gate; however, it’s best to book your tickets online as there can be incredibly long queues outside the college.
Find out all you need to know about tickets and book online here.
As a visitor to Christ Church you will need to enter via Meadow Gate. You can access Christ Church Meadow from St Aldates and the gate is found further down from Tom Tower. Do NOT attempt to enter via the Tom Tower entrance or via Canterbury Gate. The porters will stop you from entering here so don’t waste your time.
By Bus from London
By far the best and most convenient way to get to Christ Church from London is to get the Oxford Tube or X90 and get off at the stop at St Aldates. This stop is right outside Christ Church’s Tom Tower and then you simply need to walk a couple of minutes down the road to find the entrance to Christ Church Meadow, the visitor entrance.
By Train from London
Finding where to park in Oxford city centre is tricky. If you are visiting Christ Church by car then the best place to park is at Oxford Thornhill Park and Ride. You will have to pay a fee to park here and then take a short bus into the centre of Oxford. Alight at St Aldates.
Pin this post for later!
If you liked this post, check out these:
10 Reasons to Apply to Christ Church
Beautiful Libraries at Oxford University
Most Beautiful Oxford Colleges
Best Brunch Places in Oxford
Literary Tour of Oxford
Harry Potter Tour of Oxford
Tips for Applying to Oxford University
What is like studying French at Oxford University?