Radcliffe Camera

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The Radcliffe Camera (colloquially, "Rad Cam"; "Radder" in 1930s slang[1]) is a building in Oxford, England, designed by James Gibbs in the English Palladian style and built in 1737–1749 to house the Radcliffe Science Library.



It was known that John Radcliffe, physician to William III and Mary II of England, intended to build a library in Oxford at least two years before his death in 1714. It was thought that the new building would be an extension westwards of the Selden End of the Bodleian Library. Francis Atterbury, Dean of Christ Church thought a 90 ft room would be built on Exeter College land, and that the lower storey would be a library for Exeter College and the upper story Radcliffe's Library. Such plans were indeed prepared, by Nicholas Hawksmoor (fourteen 'Designs of Printing and Town Houses of Oxford by Mr. Hawksmoor' were among the drawings offered for sale after Hawksmoor's death), the plans are now in the Ashmolean Museum. Radcliffe's will, however, proved on 8 December 1714, clearly showed his intention that the library be built in the position it now occupies, stating:

And will that my executors pay forty thousand pounds in the terme of ten years, by yearly payments of four thousand pounds, the first payment thereof to begin and be made after the decease of my said two sisters for the building a library in Oxford and the purchaseing the house the houses [sic] between St Maries and the scholes in Catstreet where I intend the Library to be built, and when the said Library is built I give one hundred and fifty pounds per annum for ever to the Library Keeper thereof for the time being and one hundred pounds a year per annum for ever for buying books for the same Library.[2]

A number of tenement houses fronting Catte Street, built right up to the Schools, some gardens, Brasenose College outbuildings and Black Hall occupied the site required for the library. A number of colleges became involved in the development of the site. An added problem was that Brasenose required an equal amount of land fronting High Street in return for the land they were being asked to give up. As a consequence, the Trustees had to negotiate with the owners and the tenants of the houses. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1720 that enabled any corporations within the University to sell ground for building a library. The negotiations dealing with Catte Street took over twenty years.[2]

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