Christ Church's library in the early 19th century
In 1525, at the height of his power, Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England and Cardinal Archbishop of York, suppressed the Priory of St Frideswide in Oxford and founded Cardinal College on its lands, using funds from the dissolution of Wallingford Priory and other minor priories. He planned the establishment on a magnificent scale, but fell from grace in 1529, with the buildings only three-quarters complete, as they were to remain for 140 years.
In 1531 the college was itself suppressed, but it was refounded in 1532 as King Henry VIII's College by Henry VIII, to whom Wolsey's property had escheated. Then in 1546 the King, who had broken from the Church of Rome and acquired great wealth through the dissolution of the monasteries in England, refounded the college as Christ Church as part of the reorganisation of the Church of England, making the partially demolished priory church the cathedral of the recently created Diocese of Oxford.
Christ Church's sister college in the University of Cambridge is Trinity College, Cambridge, founded the same year by Henry VIII. Since the time of Queen Elizabeth I the college has also been associated with Westminster School, which continues to supply a significant number of undergraduates to the college. The dean remains to this day an ex officio member of the school's governing body.
Major additions have been made to the buildings through the centuries, and Wolsey's Great Quadrangle was crowned with the famous gate-tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren. To this day the bell in the tower, Great Tom, is rung 101 times at 9 pm at the former Oxford time (9:05 pm GMT/BST) every night, for the 100 original scholars of the college (plus one added in 1664). In former times this was done at midnight, signalling the close of all college gates throughout Oxford. Since it took 20 minutes to ring the 101, Christ Church gates, unlike those of other colleges, did not close until 12:20. When the ringing was moved back to 9:00 pm, Christ Church gates still remained open until 12.20, 20 minutes later than any other college. Although the clock itself now shows GMT/BST, Christ Church still follows Oxford time in the timings of services in the cathedral.
"By way of light entertainment, I should tell the Committee that it is well known that a match between an archer and a golfer can be fairly close. I spent many a happy evening in the centre of Peckwater Quadrangle at Christ Church, with a bow and arrow, trying to put an arrow over the Kilcannon building into the Mercury Pond in Tom Quad. On occasion, the golfer would win and, on occasion, I would win. Unfortunately, that had to stop when I put an arrow through the bowler hat of the head porter. Luckily, he was unhurt and bore me no ill will. From that time on he always sent me a Christmas card which was signed 'To Robin Hood from the Ancient Briton'" — Lord Crawshaw, House of Lords.