Blackfriars, St Giles, Oxford OX1
A large chapel in a late Gothic style, and a late work by E. Doran Webb. It forms part of a Dominican Priory in the centre of Oxford, which is listed as a fine example of 1920s conventual architecture. The chapel has few furnishings but these are of high quality.
The first Dominican priory in Oxford was founded in 1221, which in 1245 moved to a new site outside the city walls (dissolved in 1538). The present Priory – the third in Oxford – was established by Fr Bede Jarrett, the first Dominican since the Reformation to study at Oxford. The present site was acquired by an American widow, Mrs Charlotte Jefferson Tytus, and donated to the Dominicans. The foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Bourne on 15 August 1921, the seven hundredth anniversary of the founding of the first Oxford priory and the anniversary of the death of Mrs Tytus’s husband. The building was completed in 1929. On 17 May the full community moved into the buildings and the church was consecrated three days later by Archbishop Goodier, titular Archbishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia. The architect was Edward Doran Webb (1864–1931). In c.1951, a staircase tower and a short ancillary range were added by Rayson & Partners.
The church is described in the list entry (see below) as ‘surprisingly large and flooded with light from the clear-glazed windows. Timber arched ceiling. Main altar on five steps; chancel and sanctuary with black and white tiling, contrasting with black and white bands marking the processional route round the nave. The chancel stalls inserted 1963 by Colin Fleetwood-Walker. The other fittings date from the1920s and more consistent in character. Nave with chairs; single aisle set with side altars’.
The following additional comments on some of the main furnishings follow conventional liturgical orientation (the church actually faces west.)
Dominican Friary. 1921-9 by Doran Webb, incorporating part of a C17 building in the front range, and with staircase tower and short ancillary range of c.1951 by Rayson and Partners to rear. Cotswold stone, tiled roofs. Quadrangular plan, with library, administration and teaching accommodation facing St Giles, friars’ accommodation in south and west wings over dining hall and large chapel with tower to east, linked in the centre by smaller first-floor chapel over narrow passageway. Chapel in late Gothic style, the rest of the conventual buildings in a Cotswold seventeenth-century vernacular style. Two storeys and attics, save for towers and main chapel, and where otherwise noted.
Four-part frontage to St Giles, each of three bays. Downpipes with large rainwater heads mark these divisions in the composition. The section to the left of the entrance is of three storeys with a gable, this upper part with sash windows and a dentil cornice; the rest is two storeys with attic dormers behind parapet, and all the other windows are stone mullion and transoms with leaded casements. Thick sill band at first floor level. Entrance to right of centre through gated round arch flanked by pilasters. Statue in shell niche over, with plaque commemorating the return of the Dominicans to Oxford in 1921. Rear elevation similar, save that the attic windows are set under gables flush with the parapet, and four-centred arch leading into courtyard. No evidence of seventeenth-century fabric survives externally. The south range is also similar, save that the attic dormers are set back in the roof above the parapet. This range culminates in the western staircase tower range, which is of larger ashlar slabs, and is set projecting flat roofed five-sided bay with stepped windows set in panels formed of long, vertical mouldings to give a fluted composition. Cornice band with gargoyles, Sloping sill band reflects internal changes of level. Entrance door between engaged columns with frieze above, bounded by inverted volutes in seventeenth-century Renaissance style. The side elevation left in brick, with windows set under exposed concrete lintels, awaiting subsequent additions that by 2000 had not occurred. Chapel with late perpendicular tracery, with cusped panels, each of three lights to chancel and five to nave. Crenellated parapet. Seven-light liturgical East window (faces west). Central square tower with cusped two-light belfry openings, crenellated parapet with finials and corner stair tower, rises over central linking chapel, which itself has simpler cusped three-light windows in a more seventeenth-century idiom.
Interiors: The friars’ rooms are as austere as might be expected, reached off long corridors. The communal areas are more elaborate. Front range has ground-floor reading or drawing room, panelled, with doubled panelled doors with pilaster surrounds either side of stone fireplace. The overmantel perhaps of C16 or C17 Spanish origins; pendant lamps. Turned baluster staircase leads to library, set on first floor and extending into attic balcony via further narrow stair, with exposed trusses complementing the timber bookcases. Memorial stained-glass panels commemorate important figures, mainly English, in Dominican history and patronage. In south wing, the ground floor corridor is particularly impressive, wide and with exposed timber ceiling. Also on the ground floor is the dining room, with flat plaster ceiling in late perpendicular style and chequered tile floor. Four-centred arched door leads to kitchen. In the west wing is the handsome cantilevered stone staircase by Rayson and Partners, with undercut ovolo moulded treads to the stone stairs forming a dramatic composition seen from below and complementing the unplastered stone walls. Steel balustrading. The staircase leads from a round-arched hallway to an eyrie meeting room. Night chapel over link C17 in inspiration. Three-light window gives on to main chapel to north, and is more elaborately cusped and moulded than the others. Timber altar with tripartite mural; timber roof pendant lights; stone doorway with four-centred arch. The main chapel is surprisingly large and flooded with light from the clear-glazed windows. Timber arched ceiling. Main altar on five steps; chancel and sanctuary with black and white tiling, contrasting with black and white bands marking the processional route round the nave. The chancel stalls inserted 1963 by Colin Fleetwood-Walker. The other fittings date from the1920s and more consistent in character. Nave with chairs; single aisle set with side altars.
Included as a fine example of 1920s conventual architecture in a domestic vernacular style, with a large and impressive chapel whose simplicity is its strength. The 1950s work further enriches this ensemble, and the staircase exhibits novelty in design and craftsmanship of a high order.
Listing NGR: SP5115106648
Architect: Edward Doran Webb
Original Date: 1929
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II