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At the right of this photograph of Pusey Quad part of the building containing both the dining hall and library appears.

In the following passage from his magisterial study of the architect, Paul Thompson examines the complex compositional techniques and modes in the “the largest group of buildings by Butterfield” in this period. As he points out, Butterfield combines obviously picturesque elements with regular structure. The picturesque appears

in its composition, not only in the varied colour and texture, but in the asymmetry of the great quadrangle, and especially in the lively chequered dormers which break the roofline of the less formal south quadrangle. The use of trees here, and the dramatic glimpse of the chapel between the library and the gatehouse, are very much in the tradition of the picturesque. So is the handling of the approach from the south, where Butterfield had the difficult problem of a very long frontage to a narrow slightly curving road with trees on the opposite side. He therefore broke up the front by a series of major and minor projecting gables, principally the warden's house at the corner, the gatehouse towards the centre, and a smaller block at the far end, with the east end of the chapel towering up behind it. The actual entrance to the college through the gatehouse is kept very low, a wide ribbed tunnel vault with white brick strips leading the eye inwards. And the great height of the chapel itself is undeniably romantic; its massive brick walls windowless until they rise above the parapets of the main ranges, only then breaking into stone chequering, pinnacles, and the whiteness of the long lead roof.

These many picturesque elements, however, “play on a regular structure” in which horizontals dominate —

the long rooflines, and the continuous stone bands and string courses. Except on one side of the south quadrangle, the buildings stand in tightly disciplined lines, and in spite of its asymmetry the main quadrangle is very formal. Its great sunken central lawn is crossed by two paths at right angles. To east and west are low ranges of rooms, with a slow alternating rhythm of dormer and shallow porch. To the south are the hall and library under one great high roof, entered by a tall central porch, with similar regular window bays on each side. Finally, to the north stands the chapel, its entrance facing the hall door, but its main mass clearly off centre towards the east corner of the quadrangle. Here, instead of symmetry, Butterfield balanced its height by the long range running westwards. The chapel itself repeats the same type of balance with its east transept as the principal axis. The minor transept is to the west, but the two great nave bays and windows are slightly wider than the two of the choir. This carefully controlled asymmetry is punctuated by the regular rhythm of tall pinnacled buttresses, and the strong horizontals of banding, eaves and uninterrupted ridgeline. Once again the picturesque detail operates upon a classic frame. [335-36]

Left: Looking from the college entrance into Pusey Quad. Right: Detail of clock tower.

Looking in the direction of Liddon Quad, one encounters the large building containing both the dining hall and library. At the right one catches sight of part of the chapel.

Other images of Keble College, Oxford, and related materials

Coming soon


Crook, J. Mordaunt . The Dilemma of Style: Architectural Ideas from the Picturesque to the Post-Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Thompson, Paul. William Butterfield, Victorian Architect. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971.

Last modified 19 August 2012