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Brazenose College, Stamford

Nicholas J Sheehan    2024


Brazenose College in Stamford was reputedly a house occupied by disaffected students and masters from Oxford University during the Stamford Schism in 1333-35, when the rebel academics defected from Brazenose Hall and Merton College. [1] Tradition has it that one of the students took a brass nose-shaped door knocker from Brasenose Hall to Stamford, thereby providing a name for their new abode in the Lincolnshire town. Apart from its alleged association with the secession, little is known of this building.

The designation of Brazenose College as an academic secular college or semi-collegiate hall [2] owes more to supposition than to hard fact. The first mention of a property in Stamford called Brasenose was in a lease in 1559, when a tenement belonging to the Corporation was known by this title. [3] A reference to ‘Phillip le maniciple atte Brasenose’ in 1335 [4] cannot necessarily be taken as evidence of occupation of the house by the migrant academics since Oxford antiquary Anthony à Wood added the words ‘in Stanford’ much later, [5] which may have been an unfounded assumption. Nonetheless, the surviving gateway indicates a thirteenth century date. [6] [7]

After 1335 there is no indication that the Stamford property was used as a place of study. [8] Thomas Blore speculated that Brazen-Nose College was attached to the Grey, or Franciscan, Friars’ monastery ‘from the scite of which it is separated by a lane only.’ [9] The lane in question is most likely the modern-day Brazenose Lane but debate continues as to whether the identities of the Whitefriary and the Greyfriary were erroneously transposed by historians. [10][11]

Details of the structure of Brazenose College are literally sketchy. The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) surmised that it was a large stone building around a courtyard but it offered no evidence for this. [12] No doubt it had undergone many changes by the time it was described in the sixteenth-century lease as ‘a messuage called Brassen Nose in St. Paul’s [parish], with all houses, barns, stables and other buildings.’ [13] There are no formal images of the property and the only known illustration is the simple drawing on John Speed’s map of about 1600 (Fig.1(a)), which shows it as standing back from the street (now St Paul’s Street). The drawing depicts a L-shaped, two-storey building with a tower at its northeast corner and a detached gatehouse to the north affording access from the public thoroughfare (Fig.1(b)).

Fig.2 Extract of a later version of Speed’s map showing the Brazenose Gate aligned with the boundary wall of the College grounds (Reproduced from History of Stamford by Rev C Nevinson)

Speed’s illustration has been described as a generic representation and possibly an imaginative reconstruction. [14] However, credence is given to it by the illustrations of the town’s churches, where St Michael’s, St John’s, St George’s and St Martin’s churches are correctly depicted with towers and All Saints and St Mary’s with spires; also Browne’s Hospital which is shown with a bell lantern centrally on the roof as was the case before the almshouse was altered in 1870. [15]

Sited centrally in front of the main college building, the freestanding gateway to the street appears to be recessed from the northern boundary wall. The rear of the College abuts the town’s east wall, close to where the latter veers away from Brazenose Lane before continuing southwards to St George’s Gate. Different versions of Speed’s map generally reproduce these characteristics of the central building faithfully but some show the gatehouse as being in line with the boundary wall (Fig.2). [16]

Certain features of the College can be verified. Based on the visit of Brian Twyne, the Oxford antiquary, to Stamford in 1616, Wood recounts that the building retained its old name of Brasenose [sic] and that it had ‘a great gate and a wicket; upon which wicket is a face or head of old cast brass with a ring through the nose thereof.’ It also had a sizeable refectory. [17] Twyne stated that there was by then an alehouse in the hall and that ‘ye other rooms are put to other uses.’ [18] He did not mention any annexes, outbuildings or other auxiliary buildings.

In 1673, when the College was in a very poor state of repair, Anthony Markham was given a building lease instructing him to spend £300 on the property within three years [19] but he paid to be discharged from the lease before any work was done. In 1688 Alderman Richard Burman was awarded a grant towards ‘flooring such roomes and glaseing soe much of ye windows as hee shall thinke necessary’ [20] but the building was instead pulled down in that year. Thirty-seven years later, in 1725, Alexander Morris, a workman involved in the demolition, told Stamford antiquary Francis Peck that the refectory, or hall, was a strange wide place with a fire hearth in the middle, adding that there were many little rooms and apartments about the rest of the house, with stone stairs leading up to them. [21] William Stukeley embellished this by stating that the house had ‘a fine hall or refectory and spacious lodgings with stone staircases up to the chambers.’ [22] Perhaps its use had changed again since Twyne’s visit. It is debatable whether there were sufficient grounds to justify Peck’s contention that the building was a typical university hall, or the supposition that the multiple little rooms were the students’ lodgings. [23] Nothing is known for certain about the use of the building.

Fig.3 William Stukeley’s drawing of Brazen-Nose College* (Designs of Stanford’s Antiquitys, 1735) [*referred to herein as Brazenose Hall]

After the medieval property was demolished, a new building, Brazenose Hall, [24] was erected close by on the site using recycled materials from the old college. [25] Stukeley’s drawing of this building in 1735 (Fig.3), [26] four years before it became the town workhouse, [27] indicates that it was erected immediately to the west side of the ancient gateway. The gateway is now incorporated into the front wall of the garden of the current Brazenose House at number 28 St Paul’s Street.

James A Knipe’s plan of Stamford, from a survey carried out in 1833 (Fig.4), confirms the location of the original Brazen Nose College. It shows the northern boundary of the College site extending eastwards along St Paul’s Street to Brazenose Lane from the smaller of the two listed barns (A1, A2) flanking the entrance to what is now Stamford School’s car park (Fig.5).

Fig.4 Extract of James Knipe’s map of Stamford, with the site of Brazen Nose College circled
Fig.5 Site of Brazenose College (Drawing based on Knipe’s Plan of the Borough of Stamford and Saint Martin’s Stamford Baron, 1833)

Unlike Speed (Fig.1(a)), Knipe does not show the east wall cutting sharply into the college site. The course favoured by the Royal Commission (Fig.6) corresponds to the present wall along the southern boundary of the car park and the ditch below it now occupied by cottages and gardens.[28]

Fig.6 Line of the medieval town wall with its suggested course across the Brazenose site (A. is the site of St Paul’s Gate and B. the site of St George’s Gate. ‘scarp’ marks the present wall and ditch) [Drawing based on RCHME map]

It has been queried whether the Brazenose Gateway was originally the entrance gate to the college, or alternatively whether it might first have been a doorway inside the building. [29] Twyne’s description of the brass knocker on the wicket door suggests that it was indeed the entrance gate. It has also been questioned whether the gateway now stands in its original position. Based on the information that he received from Alexander Morris, Peck tells us that the gateway ‘stood formerly more backward than it does now; but, when pulled down with the college, the corporation.....ordered it to be set up again, though not in the very same place where it stood before, yet as near as might be.’ [30] However, Markham’s lease in 1673 implies that the gate already stood alongside the street and the Royal Commission found no structural indication that it had been moved. [31] Stukeley’s drawing shows it directly alongside the new Brazenose Hall and opening on to the street (Fig.3). The gateway was left intact when this later building was itself razed to the ground in 1822. [32] 

Fig.7 Sketch map combining details from the maps of 1600 (Speed) and 1833 (Knipe) showing the possible location of the college buildings (From Clark, M. Archaeological Recording at New Carpark Stamford School, Stamford. Site of Brazenose College Stamford, 1995)

An archaeological evaluation of Stamford School in 1992, and subsequent ground works in 1995, revealed the remains of walls which were thought to have been part of Brazenose College. [33] One of the walls, comprising irregularly-sized and rough-faced limestone blocks with a rubble core, was approximately 0.4 metres in width and mainly dry stone in construction. Roof tiles and a stone-lined well shaft were also discovered. Although lying within its precinct, no evidence was obtained that the well had existed in the time of the College. However, after the demolition of the college buildings there was no substantial building in that area of the site that might have warranted the construction of a new well. [34] Because the 1559 lease described an extensive range of buildings to its east, it has been surmised that the college may have been located slightly further to the west on the site than shown on Speed’s map (Fig.7). [35]

Fig.8 Brazenose Gateway in Stamford

The Brazenose Gateway (Fig.8) is now the only vestige of the putative medieval college. One of the oldest surviving architectural structures in Stamford, it was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1951 and was listed Grade I in 1954. [36] The gateway has been rebuilt on several occasions [37] but the general design has been retained throughout the various restorations. [38] Acquired by Brasenose College in 1890, the original Brazenose Knocker holds pride of place above the high table in the hall of the Oxford college (Fig.9(a)), while the present knocker in Stamford is a replica (Fig.9(b)). [39]

Brazenose College is integral to the story of Stamford’s ephemeral medieval university. Of all of the supposed colleges dubiously linked with the university, it has the strongest claim to a semblance of the truth.

 A print version can be downloaded HERE



[1] Sheehan N J (a). Stamford University: the stuttering dream. Stamford, 2012. pp.28-46

[2] Knowles, David and Hadcock, R Neville. Medieval Religious Houses England & Wales. London: Longman, 1971 (first edition published 1953). pp.455-56

[3] Hartley, John S and Rogers, Alan. The Religious Foundations of Medieval Stamford.  Stamford Survey Group Report 2, 1974.  Published by University of Nottingham. pp.76-7

[4] Hartley and Rogers 

[5] Wood, Anthony à. Historia et Antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis, 1674, Vol.1. First published in English by John Gutch. Oxford, 1792; I: 432

[6] Royal Commission on Historical Monuments England (RCHME). An Inventory of Historical Monuments. The Town of Stamford. London: HMSO, 1977. p.144

[7] Madan, F. The Name and Arms of the College, including the Brazen Nose and the Stamford Migration. Brasenose College Quatercentenary Monographs. Vol.1. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909. pp.15-20

[8] Madan

[9] Blore, Tho.  An Account of the Public Schools, Hospitals, and other Charitable Foundations, in the Borough of Stanford in the Counties of Lincoln and Rutland. Stanford: Drakard, 1813. pp.23-24

[10] RCHME, pp.32-34

[11] Ball, Linda. Grey Friars or White Friars?:  In search of Stamford’s Friaries. North Chailey: Chalybeate Books, 2021

[12] RCHME, p.144

[13] Hartley and Rogers 

[14] Smith, John F H (ed.). Stukeley and Stamford, Part II. Tribulations of an Antiquarian Clergyman, 1730-1738. Lincoln Record Society. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2023. p.82

[15] RCHME, Plate 67

[16] Nevinson, Rev C. History of Stamford. Stamford: Henry Johnson, 1879

[17] Wood

[18] Twyne, Brian. Stanforde in Lyncolnshyre. Bodl. MS Twyne 22. fol. 92r (p.152)

[19] Hartley and Rogers 

[20] Simpson, Justin. Stamford Parish Registers. (Extracted from the Reliquary Quarterly Journal and Review). p.216

[21] Peck, Francis. The Antiquarian Annals of Stanford (Academia tertia Anglicana). London, 1727.  XI VII

[22] Hartley and Rogers 

[23] Peck

[24] Sheehan N J (b). The Brazenose Site in Stamford.

[25] Hartley and Rogers 

[26] Stukeley, William.  Designs of Stanford’s Antiquitys, 1735. Plate 70; Designs, 75

[27] Hartley and Rogers 

[28] RCHME, pp.4-5

[29] Hartley and Rogers 

[30] Peck

[31] RCHME, p.150

[32] Drakard, John. The History of Stamford in the County of Lincoln. Stamford: Drakard, 1822. p.609

[33] Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record. Site of Brazenose College, Stamford. HER number 30625. Accessed 11.12.2011

[34] Clark, Michael. Archaeological Recording at New Carpark Stamford School, Stamford. Site of Brazenose College Stamford, SAM 256. Lindsey Archaeological Services, 1995

[35] Clark

[36] British Listed Buildings. Brazenose College Gate. Retaining Walls of College

[37] Rogers, Alan. The Medieval Buildings of Stamford. Stamford Survey Group Report 1, 1970. pp.42-43

[38] Sheehan, N J (c). Stamford’s Brazenose Gateway. Lincolnshire History and Archaeology. Volume 50 (2015). December 2018. pp.105-16

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