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Exeter College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxfordmarker in Englandmarker and the fourth oldest college of the University. The main entrance is on the east side of Turl Streetmarker. As of 2006, the college had an estimated financial endowment of £47m.


Still situated in its original location on Turl Street, Exeter College was founded in 1314 by Walter de Stapeldon of Devonmarker, Bishop of Exetermarker and later treasurer to Edward II, as a school to educate clergy. During its first century, it was known as Stapeldon Hall and was significantly smaller, with just twelve to fourteen students. The college grew significantly from the 15th century onward, and began offering rooms to its students. The College motto is "Floreat Exon", meaning "Let Exeter Flourish".

In the 16th century, donations from Sir William Petre, a former Exeter graduate, helped to expand and transform the college. As a result, Exeter College became one of the leading colleges in the University. The present Hall was built in the year 1618 with the rest of the college completed by 1710, with the exception of the old gatehouse, Palmer's Tower, which dates from 1432. In the 18th century the college experienced declining popularity, as did all of Oxford's other colleges. University reforms in the 1850s helped to end this period of stagnation.

The college saw much building work during the 1850s to the designs of Sir George Gilbert Scott, including the chapel (1854-60, inspired by the Sainte Chapellemarker in Paris), the library 1856, also in a 13th century style, the rector's lodgings from 1857 in Georgian style, and the Broad Streetmarker range from 1856.
The stained glass of the Exeter College Chapel
The college expanded again in the 20th century when it acquired new buildings, thereby enabling it to accommodate more undergraduate students. Until 1979 the college did not allow women students, but in 1993 Exeter College became the first of the former all-male colleges to elect a woman, Marilyn Butler, as its Rector. When Butler's tenure expired in October 2004, the college elected another woman – Frances Cairncross, former Senior Editor of The Economist – as Rector.

Student life

As one of the smaller Oxford Colleges, Exeter has a reputation for having a close-knit student body, and Common Rooms that are noted for their friendliness and openness to new students. First year undergraduates are housed on-site in the College’s Turl St. site, and there is dedicated Graduate accommodation for the college on Iffley Road.

As the University’s fourth oldest college, a certain emphasis is placed on tradition, especially during special occasions such as the annual ‘Burns’ Night,’ a dinner in honour of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, when a traditional meal of haggis is always served. The College’s ties with Williams College in the United Statesmarker, as well as the generally international composition of the MCR makes the annual Thanksgiving dinner a popular occasion as well. The MCR hosts a large number of married students, and non-studying spouses are encouraged to actively participate in the life of college.

The MCR hosts a large number of specialists in Law and Byzantine studies, and the JCR has a high concentration of students reading the popular Modern History and PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) degrees. However, like most other Oxford colleges no single discipline can be said to dominate either common room, and the atmosphere is one of a great deal of interdisciplinary mingling.

Like all Oxford Colleges Exeter prides itself on its athletic achievements as well as its academic: in 2005/2006 Exeter students competed at a University level on the varsity Lacrosse, football, golf, fencing, rugby, powerlifting, gymnastics, darts, ice hockey and wine tasting teams. It also fields several teams on an intra-university college level, particularly in rowing (see Exeter College Boat Clubmarker)

The college also places an emphasis on preparing students for their future careers once they leave the university. Unusually for an Oxford college, Exeter boasts a dedicated Careers Office and internship programme, with links to a wide range of companies around the globe. The college’s Development Office works not only to help fund the college but also to provide networking opportunities for students through its alumni contacts, and through its annual ‘City Drinks.’

Notable former students

Prominent academics/tutors

Rectors of Exeter College

In fiction

Exeter College is the real-life basis for the fictional Jordan College in Philip Pullman's novel trilogy His Dark Materials. The 2007 film version of the first novel, The Golden Compass (originally Northern Lights), used the college for location filming.

In the 1997 novel Great Apes by Will Self, an old Exonian, the author imagines an Earth where chimpanzees have evolved as the dominant, sentient species. One scene is set in Exeter College Hall, where the chimpanzee dons rampage around the High Table, showing in their conversation the very high intelligence to be expected of Oxford academics, but all the while exhibiting in their behaviour the manners and habits of chimpanzees.

In the final Morse episode, "The Remorseful Day", Inspector Morse collapses from a heart attack in the front quadrangle as Fauré's In Paradisum is being sung in chapel.

Williams College

Exeter College has a close relationship with Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusettsmarker. In 1985, The Williams at Exeter Programme in Oxford (WEPO) was founded. Each year, twenty six undergraduate students from Williams spend their junior year at Exeter as full members of the college. They live at the Ephraim Williams House on Banbury Road, which is south of Summertown in North Oxfordmarker.


  1. Oxford College Endowment Incomes, 1973-2006 (updated July 2007)
  2. Nikolaus Pevsner and Jennifer Sherwood: The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, 1974 pp. 136-7.
  3. Leonard, Bill, The Oxford of Inspector Morse Location Guides, Oxford (2004) pp. 77 and 79. ISBN 0-9547671-1-X.

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