The Origins of Campion Hall

When the Jesuits opened a Roman Catholic Hall in Oxford University and for a time named it "Pope's Hall", they may well have seemed to be acting defiantly and provocatively. The explanation is more innocent, however. Oxford Private Halls were initially called after their Master, so what is now known as Campion Hall was for a time named after its then Master, one Thomas O'Fallon Pope, SJ. That was but one stage in an interesting history of Campion Hall.

No Catholics need apply

In 1581, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Edmund Campion, a Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, who later became a Catholic convert and an under-ground Jesuit priest, was executed at Tyburn for treason. In the same year it was decreed that all Oxford undergraduates must henceforth subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. This requirement, which obviously excluded non-Anglicans from entering the University, was eventually removed in 1871, as Catholicism became less unacceptable. But then the Catholic bishops of England prohibited their subjects from attending Oxford, for fear they would be contaminated by what their pastors considered a Protestant and heretical University.

This episcopal prohibition was relaxed in 1895, and the opportunity was immediately seized upon by the Ampleforth Benedictines and the Jesuits to open houses of study in Oxford to enable their respective members to gain Oxford degrees and then staff their schools in England and overseas. (The Dominicans, having no schools, established Black friars later in 1929).

Becoming established

The Jesuits had been in Oxford since 1875, when they had discreetly built a parish church behind a wall in St Giles under the patronage of the Jesuit student saint, Aloysius Gonzaga. Now, with the permission of the local Catholic hierarchy and the approval of the University, one Fr Richard Clarke SJ, MA (Oxon), a Fellow of St John's, and later of Trinity, who became a Catholic at Farm Street, exercised in 1896 his right as an Oxford Master of Arts to set up his private hall in the university, near St Aloysius' Church, and to teach Catholic undergraduates for Oxford degrees. In accordance with custom, this private hall was named after its Master, Clarke's Hall, and in due course it took on the name of succeeding Jesuit Masters: Fr Pope, who moved it to larger premises in St Giles, and Fr Charles Plater, under whom Plater's Hall was granted University status as a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) and was formally renamed Campion Hall by the Jesuits. The Masters of the Hall were subsequently Fr Henry Keane and Fr Ernest G. Vignaux, until on the death of the latter in 1933, Fr Martin D’Arcy became the Hall's Master for twelve years until 1945, when he was appointed Provincial Superior of the British Jesuits. On his appointment as Master, Fr D'Arcy fast became the celebrity he remained for most of his life, and after his death in 1976 Campion Hall established in his honour the annual Martin D'Arcy Memorial Lectures, delivered usually by a fellow-Jesuit.

As the new Master, D'Arcy inherited plans to re-build Campion Hall in St Giles' on the impending expiry of its current lease, but he found the pro-posals displeasing to his taste. He favoured instead pur-chasing in 1935 a site in Brewer’s Street, and moreo-ver, and highly sig-nificantly, through a mutual friend he arranged for the celebrated architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, to de-sign the new university hall for him there.

Lutyens (1869-1944) was considered the outstanding contemporary British architect. He had been commissioned in 1912 to design the city of New Delhi when it was designated capital of India in succession to Calcutta. He was also responsible for many country houses in Britain and Europe, the cenotaphs in Whitehall and elsewhere, the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the highly ambitious Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool, although building this last was suspended during the Second World War, and after the war and Lutyen's death a less magnificent and less expensive completion was commissioned of another architect.

The new Campion Hall was built in local Cots-wold stone and opened in 1936, winning many tributes for the way Lutyens had made such impressive use of the rather cramped site he was offered. The Hall shows some reminiscences of New Delhi, including the carved Hindu bells which top the pillars on its wooden staircases. Lutyens' full design for the Hall remained incomplete until 1956, when a new west wing was built in order to house more Jesuit students studying at the University.

A pleasing synergy

The relationship between Oxford University and the Society of Jesus over the years is an interesting one. Until recently, all Masters of Private Halls had to be Oxford graduates, like the founder, Clarke, so that particular Jesuit connection was for long automatic; but in addition other celebrated Jesuits, or future celebrated Jesuits, have been connected with the University since Campion himself. These included his suspected colleague, Robert Persons, the head of the Jesuits in England: previous to his conversion to Catholicism and Jesuitry he had been the Bursar of Balliol College! In more modern times one thinks of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Cyril C. Martindale and Frederick C. Copleston, not to mention current members of the Hall's Senior Common Room. The coat of arms of Campion Hall, commemorates the martyrdom of the Jesuit Saint, Edmund Campion, by depicting a cross flanked with two campion flowers and with a wolf's head at its centre, this being a heraldic symbol of the Loyola family (lobo = wolf), of which a distinguished member, Iñigo, founded the Jesuit Order. Above are two crossed palm branches of victory and a gold crown of triumph, illustrating the Christian belief in the significance of dying for one's faith.