Forming part of the original furnishings for The Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor

English, 1751


This wonderful pair of reading tables have an exceptionally interesting history, having formed part of the original furnishings for the interior of the Codrington Library at All Souls College, Oxford. The great library was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the notable 18th century architect whose highly original designs made a remarkable contribution to English architecture. Hawksmoor made his name specifically with church and university architecture, and many consider his contribution to All Soul's College his finest university work.

The building of the great library started in 1716 and was completed in 1751. Hawksmoor's original plan was to construct the library in a uniformly Gothic style, to match its surrounding architecture. However, upon following the advice of the library's patrons, these plans were later altered and the resultant building is of an unusual architectural form. The exterior of the library, as originally planned is in the Gothic style and blends harmoniously with the surviving medieval buildings around, however the interior is absolutely of classical form. The interior itself is a long, relatively narrow and lofty room, with tall ceilings all lined with bookcases. These bookcases are each articulate by super-imposed fluted pilasters of Doric and Ionic capitals. The upper tier is surmounted by a row of alternating classical urns and busts.

The college itself is well known in more recent history for its infamous entry process. The full name of the college is 'The Warden and College of the Souls of all Faithful People deceased in the University of Oxford' and is unique in only admitting graduates. All Oxford graduates who received a first or equivalent, are eligible to apply to All Souls. The entrance exam, however, is widely considered to be the hardest in the world, as it is nearly impossible to revise for, with abstract questions that have no right or wrong answer. The New Statesman commented, "If intelligence can be measured by exams, the Souls Fellows are the cleverest people in the world."

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