New College was founded in 1379. The majority of the College buildings date from the 14th through to the 18th century, and are grade I listed. The College today is a community of close to 800 undergraduates and graduates.
The buildings of the Front Quadrangle are of the earliest date. An enclosed quadrangle was an innovation at the time of their completion at the beginning of the 15th century. The buildings of the Garden Quadrangle, to the east, date from the late 17th through to the early 18th century, and overlook the College garden and the Mound. The majority of the Garden Quadrangle was built by the mason William Byrd, with later work by William Townesend. Between the Garden Quadrangle and the College garden is a wrought iron screen. The gates within the screen are by Thomas Robinson and date from the early 18th century; the screen is a late 19th century replica of Robinson’s original.
The Mound is a man-made landscape feature within the College garden. Records indicate that it was begun in the late 16th century, and was complete by the mid 17th century. Originally it would have been a tiered form, with steps rising up its west side from a formal garden of parterres; as depicted in an engraving for William Williams’ ‘Oxonia Depicta’ of 1732. An archaeological investigation undertaken in the 1990s generally supported the depiction shown in the engraving. The Mound is thought to have been remodelled in the late 18th century; the tiered form was removed, trees and shrubs were planted, and an informal pathway replaced the steps.
In 1993 a single uninterrupted flight of stone steps, designed by the architect John Robins, were constructed as part of landscape renovations. The stone steps rise from the lawn to a stone paved summit and complete an axis from the College quadrangles. Mature Holm Oaks flank the steps, underplanted with shrubs.
We were asked to develop proposals for adding handrails to the steps, to improve access for the upkeep of the Mound. We worked in close collaboration with John Robins, and the Devon-based blacksmith John Churchill; developing the design with full-size drawings and test pieces.
The simply detailed fluid forms of the forged metal handrails are intended to express a difference between existing handrails and other metalwork associated with the formal College spaces and the more informal garden setting; slowly becoming more inconspicuous as the existing underplanting develops.
The stanchions arc gently from within the underplanting positioning the handrail above the edge of the stone steps; and footings were designed to minimize the impact on existing tree roots. The joints between components were spliced and riveted in the forge so that they could be transported in sections with copper rivets used for site connections. The whole assembly is hot-zinc sprayed and finished using graphite enriched dark grey paint and a coating of beeswax.
We were subsequently asked to develop proposals for improving accessibility to the buildings within the Garden Quadrangle that form part of routes connecting to the wider College.
Two new stone ramps replace existing dilapidated temporary timber ramps; formed from Yorkstone – a material already used for perimeter borders, gullies and other details within the Garden Quadrangle. Hand forged metal handrails, again made by John Churchill, are designed to complement the existing metalwork within the close proximity of the ramps; a corner-mounted lamp, boot-scrapers, vents and gratings.
The stanchions rise from a Yorkstone plinth, with upstands to either side of a sawn Yorkstone paved ramp surface. They are formed from round metal bar, using forged connections to flat bar handrails with a gently profiled surface that is shaped to meet the end stanchions.
The ramps are part of the ground surface and don’t touch the quadrangle buildings. Cast-iron grates bridge between the top of each ramp and the building entrances; and perforated stone slabs at the bottom of the ramp provide surface-water drainage connecting into the existing surface-water gully system. The work avoids alterations beyond the immediate site of the ramps, in preparation for a future repaving project.