Exeter College, Oxford’s fourth oldest college opens itself every year to a group of Williams College students. Williams students are encouraged to interact with Exeter’s three hundred students and can participate in all of Exeter’s sports and activities including the Exeter College Boat Club (crew). Exeter’s main quadrangle is arranged in the traditional Oxford style, with a large tower entrance, chapel, hall, and students’ quarters surrounding a manicured grass lawn. The Fellow’s Garden is located in the rear of the college and in the spring provides students with a comfortable grassy space for any number of purposes.
Exeter’s Junior Common Room (JCR) serves both as the home of Exeter’s student government and as the student lounge. The JCR lounge is an informal room with couches newspapers, a television and vending machines. Every Sunday night the JCR holds open meetings. The issues to be discussed are proposed early in the week and printed on “bog sheets” which are posted around college and in all the bathrooms (hence the name). The proposed motions range from the serious to the absurd.
As ‘Visiting Students’, Williams students are full members of Exeter College. They are members of the JCR and can join all college clubs, sports teams and other organizations; they enjoy full access to the college library; finally, they may dine as often as they please in Hall during term-time, a splendid early seventeenth – century structure. Hall dinner is served at three long tables where Williams and Exeter students can sit together. Williams students, like their Oxford counterparts wear gowns, short black vests, to dinner at Hall. After dinner, students can go to the Exeter College bar, which offers great prices on a pint of beer. In addition to a dart board, there is also a billiards table and arcade games.
The College is located just a block from Oxford’s city center, right around the corner from Oxford’s covered market, and it shares its rear wall with the Bodleian library. The entrance lies on Turl Street, a small side street which it shares with Jesus and Lincoln colleges.
Exeter College has occupied a large part of its present site since its foundation in 1314. Its founder, Walter de Stapeldon, was a Devon man who rose from a humble background to become Bishop of Exeter and Treasurer of England under Edward II. One of his main intentions in endowing his new college was to provide an educated clergy for the parishes of his diocese, and, during the first centuries of its existence, Exeter drew its members from the south-western counties, and especially from Devon and Cornwall.
At this time the College, then known as Stapeldon Hall, was a small and relatively poor foundation. Of this medieval college, all that remains is the building known as Palmer’s Tower, due east of the Chapel, which takes its name from a fifteenth-century Rector. In the next century the College’s fortunes were transformed. Sir William Petre, a former undergraduate, gave the College much new property, widened the area of its recruitment, and revised its constitution.
The results were seen in the early seventeenth century, when Exeter became one of the leading colleges in the University, with a high reputation as a school for academics and learned men. Numbers expanded, and the present Hall was built in 1618, together with a matching chapel on the opposite side of the quad. The rest of the front quad was completed in stages between 1672 and 1710. After the university reforms of the 1850s, the Fellows of the College became a professional teaching body and undergraduate life took on its modern outlines. Team sports rose in popularity, the Junior Common Room was founded in 1887, and societies and discussion groups were numerous.
Among twentieth-century undergraduates have been J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings; Lord Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Sir Roger Bannister, the first runner to break the four-minute mile; Alan Bennett, the author of The Madness of King George (1954); and the contemporary novelists, Will Self and Philip Pullman.