Oxford University is made up of thirty-eight colleges, some of which were built when the University was first established. This includes Merton College, whose alumni include TS Eliot and Thomas Bodley (who founded the Bodleian Library). It’s also where J.R.R. Tolkien taught as a professor of English Language and Literature.
Many of the buildings that make up Merton were built in the thirteenth century. The so-called “Mob Quad” is claimed to be the oldest quadrangle in Oxford. And, like many of the older colleges, for a small fee, you can get a glimpse of this history in person.
It must be odd for the students to have tourists wandering around and gawking at where they live. But visitors are only allowed to explore the external areas and chapel, and the entry fee is invested back into the university.
As you can tell from the photos there’s a big “Harry Potter” vibe here, with plenty of gothic architecture including archways, lead-lined windows, and gargoyles hanging off the church.
I wanted to visit Merton primarily because of its association with Tolkien who worked here from 1945 to 1959. The handy map you’re provided with tells you that he worked in one of the rooms overlooking the quad below. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you exactly which one.
Perhaps because it was a Sunday, and a sunny one at that, the place was surprisingly quiet. Amid the hustle and bustle of Oxford, it felt like a bit of an oasis, especially inside the large chapel.
I would have loved to take a peek inside some more of the buildings, but it was an interesting and inexpensive way to spend a bit of time. I got the feeling it must be both inspiring and overwhelming to be a student here, with the centuries of history and famous ex-students present all around you. On my next visit, I’d like to explore more of the college buildings dotted around this beautiful city.