Merton College

Merton College information

Oxford , England
Merton St
+44 1865 276310
More information
adult/child £3/free
Opening hours
2-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat & Sun
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Founded in 1264, Merton is the oldest of Oxford’s three original colleges (the other two being Balliol and University) and the first to adopt collegiate planning, bringing scholars and tutors together into a formal community and providing a planned residence for them. Its distinguishing architectural features include large gargoyles, whose expressions suggest that they’re about to throw up, and the charming 14th-century Mob Quad – the first of the college quads.

Just off the quad is a 13th-century chapel and the Old Library (admission on guided tour only), the oldest medieval library in use (look for the chained books). It is said that Tolkien, a Merton English professor, spent many hours here writing The Lord of the Rings and that the trees in the Fellows’ Garden inspired the ents of Middle Earth. Other literary giants associated with Merton include TS Eliot and Louis MacNeice; Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, was a fellow here.

From July to September, you can join 40-minute guided tours of the college grounds (£5). Also in summer, keep an eye out for posters advertising candlelit concerts in the chapel.

Behind Merton College is the ominously named Dead Man’s Walk , so called because the medieval Jewish community, who were not allowed to bury their dead within the city, would take bodies along this route to the Jewish cemetery (now the Botanic Garden).