Tim Hughes follows in the footsteps of some impressive alumni on an overnight stay at Wadham College, Oxford

What do the following have in common: the actress Rosamund Pike, presenter Lord Melvyn Bragg, Labour Party Leader Michael Foot and great architect Sir Christopher Wren?

The answer is, they are all Wadhamites – former students of one of Oxford University’s grandest, if often overlooked, colleges Wadham.

Sitting solidly on Parks Road, next to that other, less cerebral but almost as famous Oxford institution, The Kings Arms, Wadham is a grand dame among colleges. Yet, like most, it can appear to those outside the University, a mysterious cloistered world locked behind heavy oak doors and a castellated walls.

No longer, though.

If you have ever harboured an ambition to wander around a quad, have a few drinks in a creaky old pub, and retire to your college room for tea and a comfortable bed, you’re in luck. Now we can all get into Oxford University. Kind of.

Universityrooms.com is a scheme which allows non-academics to spend the night in some of the Uni’s prettiest colleges for far less than the price of an average B&B. A great alternative to staying in a bland, corporate hotel, it’s also perfect for putting up visiting relatives during the holidays.

But for me, it was the chance to spend a night in an area of my city, which while passing on an almost daily basis, I had never entered, which saw me packing an overnight bag and checking in at the Porter’s Lodge at Wadham.

I took my 12 year-old son Eddie, in a vain attempt to instil some of the spirit of academic brilliance which must surely radiate from those hallowed halls – and perhaps inspire him to one day follow in Chris Wren’s elaborately pointed boot-steps. He was more interested in getting the wi-fi code. But while Minecraft, YouTube and the vicinity of Boswell’s toy department and the myriad cake shops on Broad Street, may have been upper most in his mind, I’m sure some of the grandeur of our night in a part of the college which dates back to 1610 will have rubbed off on him. He just doesn’t know it yet.

While the accommodation may be 17th century, it certainly doesn’t feel it. It may be spartan and the bed a little rickety, but with an en-suite and shower, good wi-fi, a kettle and some thoughtfully provided coffee sachets, tea bags and biscuits – and a rather snazzy Wadham College toiletry kit, embossed with the college coat of arms, there was everything you’d expect from a reasonable hotel. And the benefit of those thick stone walls is that it is quiet. So quiet indeed, that we slept in and almost missed out on the highlight of any stay – breakfast.

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Grand: The Dining hall at Wadham

For travellers, like me, used to a rushed cuppa and slice of toast in a bland hotel dining room, breaking fast in a ‘proper’ Oxford college is an experience never to be forgotten. It is taken in the 400 year-old dining hall, beneath a hammer and beam ceiling, on a long, highly polished ancient oak table beneath the gaze of Wren and fellow Wadamites. It’s grand and deliciously austere – voices reduced to hushed whispers as if we were sat not in a dining room but the nave of a grand cathedral, which in an academic sense, it is.

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“It feels like being in Harry Potter,” said Eddie while heaping scrambled eggs and sausages onto his plate. And he was right. For me it was more like being in Brideshead Revisited, Shadowlands or Chariots of Fire – with great coffee and a full English to rival any country house hotel.

You can reserve bedrooms with separate sitting rooms, and twin-bedded rooms. Rooms overlooking the Front Quad include 15 single bedrooms, 14 twin bedrooms and a disabled single – all with en-suite facilities. Where rooms do not have en-suite facilities, there is always a bathroom nearby and wash basins in all rooms.

So why has a college as rich as Wadham opened up its rooms to non-academics? I asked someone at the college. “We like to give visitors to Oxford the opportunity to explore the city and the university while staying somewhere which is good value for money and provides an authentic Oxford experience,” I was told. “We cater for tourists, travelling academics, our alumni, the families of students hoping to study here and many more. All are welcome to stay at Wadham for either a one night passing through Oxford, to a few weeks stay.

“You can really soak up the atmosphere of the college by staying here, getting to know our porters in the lodge, our catering and housekeeping teams, exploring the college gardens at your leisure and enjoy breakfast in the dining hall.”

Would it inspire Eddie to study there? “Maybe,” he said, as we walked around the college chapel. “The sausages are definitely good enough!”

High praise indeed.


Wadham’s gardens:

Full details of facilities with a 360 degree virtual tour are available at: http://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/venue-hire-conferences

* For more details on statying in a university acommodation, go to www.universityrooms.com


Wadham offers rooms built as part of the college in 1610 to more modern accommodation. Rooms are available at Wadham from now until April 18,  from £53. Rooms are also available in the summer.

Accommodation is also available at Merton, St Hugh’s and other colleges. For details go to universityrooms.com/en/city/oxford/colleges/

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