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Lincoln College

The 20th Century

During the decades that followed Pattison's death Lincoln's financial fortunes, like those of other institutions heavily dependent on profits from agricultural land, brought renewed pressures and the necessity of admitting more students for the fees they paid. The additional accommodation was found by moving the Rector out of the old College into new Lodgings on Turl Street, designed by Herbert Read, in 1930. The Grove was provided with a substantial new block, the work of the Oxford architect T.G. Jackson. An ambitious scheme to reconstruct the far side of the Turl and build a connecting bridge across it, all in Gothic style, was foiled when the Great Depression of 1929 scuppered an appeal campaign. Lincoln remained a relatively small college, manifestly underfunded and its future increasingly uncertain. There was even talk of merging the college with its neighbour Brasenose but negotiations broke down on the naming of a new, joint foundation.

Rescue was, however, at hand  Keith Murray (later Lord Murray of Newhaven), became Bursar of the College in 1937 and its 32nd Rector in 1945. Murray, an agricultural economist by training, put the College's estate on a footing that enabled it to gain from economic trends after the Second World War. The College's domestic economy also benefited by shrewd management of post-war demands for more student places, properly supported by public funding, and by Murray's attention to much-desired amenities. The then revolutionary expedient of installing running hot and cold water into the bedrooms was adopted and accommodation greatly increased, partly by taking in rooms above the shops on the other side of Turl Street, partly by the use of outlying housing in Museum Road and Cowley. Rector Murray's innovations set the tone for fifty years and more of improvement and expansion. Between his departure in 1953 and the end of the century the number of tutorial and professorial Fellows grew from a dozen to some thirty-five. The buildings in the immediate vicinity of the medieval College were brought increasingly into College use, most by conversion from commercial activities, some by purchase. The Mitre Hotel, one of the College's oldest properties, was taken over (apart from its restaurants) as student accommodation. In 1971 All Saints' Church was handed over to the College by the Church Commissioners for conversion into the superb library that can be visited today. The site to the south of the College between High Street and Bear Lane was progressively rebuilt as student accommodation, much of it to absorb the growing numbers of postgraduate students, who have represented in recent years one of the College's major commitments. Lincoln was the first college in Oxford to provide a 'Middle Common Room' specifically for the use of graduate students who were too senior to fit naturally into the undergraduate or Junior Common Room but too junior to join the Senior or Fellows' Common Room.

The development of the late twentieth century was not simply a matter of expanding numbers and facilities. As the university's range of disciplines and activities grew, so the College's studies diversified. Its close connection with the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology brought it intimate involvement with what many consider the most important of all modern scientific discoveries, those which biochemistry and pharmacology have brought to bear on the life-threatening diseases. One of the most famous of its Fellows, Lord Florey, won the Nobel Prize after the Second World War for his role in discovering and developing the first of the great antibiotic drugs, which he named as penicillin. Another, a pupil of Florey's, was Sir Edward Abraham, who went on to produce the cephalosporins, antibiotics of still greater power which are dispensed to countless patients today.

Over the centuries Lincoln has been the social base and centre for intellectual and scientific activities that have served the varied needs of different eras of civilised progress. Its Fellows have figured in many of the great intellectual endeavours of modern history. In the fifteenth century it provided a home of Renaissance learning deployed for theological purposes. In the seventeenth it led the way in the study of English and Gothic philology. In the eighteenth it housed the founder of a faith that was to enfold the globe. In the nineteenth it played a leading role in one of the great debates of what a university is about. And in the twentieth it was associated with some of the crucial breakthroughs in modern medical science. At the start of a new millennium its Fellows are engaged in an extraordinary range of explorations, in science, social studies and humanities. Where the next 'gold-strike' will next occur we cannot say, but the pioneering spirit continues in full vigour.

It is not only through the work of its Fellows that the College has made its mark. Over the centuries many of the undergraduates and graduates who have studied in it have gone on to achievements that reflect in lesser or greater part their experience in Oxford. During the last century alone they include many illustrious names. The First World War poet and author of numerous writings on English life and the countryside, Edward Thomas, was a History Scholar in the 1890s. Theodore Geisel, better known as the Dr Seuss whose works have enlivened and enhanced the education of generations of young children, was a Rhodes Scholar at Lincoln in the 1920s. David Cornwell, John Le Carré to the millions who have read and relished The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or others of his novels, read Modern Languages here in the 1950s. The College can boast a great number of distinguished sportsmen and women, including two Olympic gold medallists, one of whom, Stephanie Cook, won the modern pentathlon at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Even now, perhaps, as you stroll through these ancient quadrangles, there is behind a window a student working at a desk who will one day become such another household name.