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All Souls' College

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All Souls' College

Colleges and halls of the University of Oxford

All Souls College

College name The Warden and the College of the Souls of all Faithful People deceased in the University of Oxford[1]
Latin name Collegium Omnium Animarum
Named after Feast of All Souls
Established 1438
Sister college Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Warden John Vickers
Undergraduates None
Graduates 8 (2012)[2]
Location High Street, Oxford

All Souls College, Oxford

Location of All Souls College within central OxfordCoordinates: 51°45′12″N 1°15′11″W / 51.753279°N 1.253041°W / 51.753279; -1.253041

Blazon Or, a chevron between three cinquefoils gules.

All Souls College (full name: The Warden and the College of the Souls of all Faithful People deceased in the University of Oxford[1]) is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England.

Unique to All Souls, all of its members automatically become Fellows, i.e., full members of the College's governing body. It has no undergraduate members, but each year recent graduates of Oxford and other universities compete in "the hardest exam in the world"[3][4][5] for Examination Fellowships.

It is the third wealthiest college in Oxford, with a financial endowment of £245m (2012).[6] The College's only source of revenue is its endowment and it ranks nineteenth among Oxford colleges with respect to total income.[7]

The college is located on the north side of the High Street and also adjoins Radcliffe Square to the west. To the east is The Queen's College and to the north is Hertford College.

The current Warden is John Vickers, a graduate of Oriel College, Oxford.


The College was founded by Henry VI of England and Henry Chichele (fellow of New College and Archbishop of Canterbury), in 1438. The Statutes provided for the Warden and forty fellows – all to take Holy Orders; twenty-four to study arts, philosophy and theology; and sixteen to study civil or canon law. The College's Codrington Library was built with the bequest of Christopher Codrington, sometime governor of the Leeward Islands. Today the College is primarily an academic research institution.

There are now no undergraduate members, but All Souls did once have them, especially around the early 17th century, introduced by Robert Hovenden (who was Warden of the college from 1571 to 1614) to provide servientes. The college decided to get along without them again, although four Bible Clerks remained on the foundation until 1924.[8] One such was the Rev. Thomas Forster Rolfe (born 1855), an undergraduate at All Souls from 1874–1878. Joseph Keble (1632–1710) was another undergraduate of the college.

Buildings and architecture

The Codrington Library

The All Souls library (formally known as the Codrington Library) was founded through a bequest from Christopher Codrington (1668–1710), a Fellow of the College. Christopher Codrington bequeathed books worth £6,000, in addition to £10,000 in currency. This bequest allowed the library to be built and endowed. Christopher Codrington was born in Barbados, and amassed his fortune from plantation slavery.[9] The library was completed in 1751, and has been in continuous use since then. The modern library comprises some 187,000 items, about a third of which were published before 1800. The collections are particularly strong in Law and History (especially Military History).[10]


Built between 1438 and 1442 the chapel remained largely unchanged until the Commonwealth – Oxford having been a Royalist stronghold, suffered a certain amount of the Puritans' wrath. The 42 misericords date from the Chapel's building, and show a family resemblance to the misericords at Higham Ferrers as they were, also, possibly carved by Richard Tyllock.

Christopher Wren was a Fellow from 1653 and in 1658 produced a sundial, which was placed on the South wall of the Chapel, until it was moved to the quadrangle in 1877. During the 1660s a screen was installed, which was based on a design by Wren. However, this screen needed to be rebuilt by 1713. By the mid-19th century, much work was needed and so, today's chapel is heavily influenced by Victorian ideals.


Examination Fellowships

If intelligence can be measured by exams, the All Souls Fellows by examination are the cleverest people in the country.
New Statesman[11]
It is thought to be the hardest exam in the world.
The Guardian[3]

Around 500 Oxford undergraduates who receive a First, and other Oxford students with equivalent results in their bachelor's degrees[12] during the previous three years, are eligible to apply for Examination Fellowships of seven years each; several dozen typically do so.[4][13] Two examination fellows are usually elected each year, although the college has awarded a single place in previous years, and made no award on rare occasions.[14]

The competition, offered since 1878[15] and open to women since 1979,[4] takes place over two days in late September, with two examinations of three hours each per day:

Two are on subjects of the candidates' choice. Options include Classics, English Literature, Economics, History, Law, Philosophy, and Politics. Candidates who choose Classics as their subject have a translation examination on a third day.[12]
Two are on general subjects. For each examination candidates choose from a list three questions,[16] such as;
    • "'If a man could say nothing against a character but what he could prove, history could not be written' (Samuel Johnson). Discuss."[11]
    • "Should the Orange Prize for Fiction be open to both men and women?"[16]
    • "Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?"[15]

Before 2010 candidates also faced another examination, a free-form "Essay" on a single, random word.[3][4][15]

Four to six[13] finalists are invited to the viva voce[14] or oral examination,[12] then dinner with about 75 members of the college.

About one dozen Examination Fellows are at the college at any one time.[4] There are no teaching or research requirements; they can study anything for free at Oxford with room and board.[12] As "Londoners" they can pursue approved non-academic careers[4][12] if desired, as long as they pursue academia on a part-time basis and attend weekend dinners at the college during their first academic year.[13] As of 2011 each Examination Fellow receives a stipend of £14,842[17] annually for the first two years; the stipend then varies depending on whether the Fellow pursues an academic career.[12]

Notable candidates


Subjects of the "Essay"

Other fellowships

Other categories of fellowship include Senior Research Fellows, Visiting Fellows, Post-Doctoral Research Fellows, Fifty-Pound Fellows (open only to former Fellows no longer holding posts in Oxford) and Distinguished Fellows. There are also many Professorial Fellows who hold their fellowships by reason of their University post.


Every hundred years, and generally on 14 January, there is a commemorative feast after which the fellows parade around the College with flaming torches, singing the Mallard Song and led by a "Lord Mallard" who is carried in a chair, in search of a legendary mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built.[27] During the hunt the Lord Mallard is preceded by a man bearing a pole to which a mallard is tied – originally a live bird, latterly either dead (1901) or carved from wood (2001). The last mallard ceremony was in 2001[28] and the next will be held in 2101. The precise origin of the custom is not known but it dates from at least 1632.[29]


Past and current fellows of the College have included:



External links

  • Current Examination Fellows
  • Virtual Tour of All Souls College
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