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The Radcliffe Camera (colloquially, "Rad Cam"; "Radder" in 1930s slang) is a building in Oxford, England, designed by James Gibbs in the English Palladian style and built in 17371749 to house the Radcliffe Science Library.
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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.
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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.
On 17 May 1737, the foundation stone was laid. The progress of the building and the craftsmen employed is detailed both in the Minute Books of the Trustees and the Building Book, which supplement information given by Gibbs in his Bibliotheca Radcliviana. An extract states:
Francis Smith, the father of William, was chosen as one of the masons, but died in 1738 and was succeeded by his son near the beginning of building. In 1739, John Townesend also succeeded his father on the latter's death.
After the Radcliffe Science Library moved into another building, the Radcliffe Camera became home to additional reading rooms of the Bodleian Library. The freehold of the building and adjoining land was transferred from the Radcliffe Trustees to the University in 1927. The interior of the upper reading-room houses a six ft. marble statue of John Radcliffe, carved by John Michael Rysbrack. It now holds books from the English, history, and theology collections, mostly secondary sources found on Undergraduate and Graduate reading lists. There is space for around 600,000 books in rooms beneath Radcliffe Square.
Contemporaries found great irony in the fact that the iconoclast Radcliffe, who scorned book-learning, should bequeath a substantial sum for the founding of the Radcliffe Library. Sir Samuel Garth quipped that the endowment was “about as logical as if a eunuch should found a seraglio.”
The building is the earliest example in England of a circular library. It is built in three main stages externally and two stories internally, the upper one containing a gallery. The ground stage is heavily rusticated and has a series of eight pedimented projections. The central stage is divided into bays by coupled Corinthian columns supporting the entablature. The top stage is a balustraded parapet with vases. The construction used local stone from Headington and Burford, which was then ashlar faced. The dome and cupola are covered with lead. The original plan was for a stone dome, but after building 5 ft. 8 in. of the stonework, it had to be removed and the design was changed. Inside, the original walls and dome were distempered but this was later removed, revealing the decorations to be carved in stone. Only the decorative work of the dome is plaster.
Originally, the basement was an open arched arcade with a vaulted stone ceiling, with Radcliffe's coat of arms in the centre. The arcade arches were fitted with iron grilles, three of them were gates which were closed at night, and which gave access to the library via grand staircase. In 1863, when the building had become a reading-room of the Bodleian, the arches were glazed, a new entrance was created on the north side in place of a circular window, with stone steps leading up to the entrance.
The area around the Library was originally partly paved, partly cobbled, and partly gravelled. In 1751 stone posts and obelisks surmounted by lamps were placed around the perimeter. All but the three at the entrance to Brasenose Lane were removed around 1827 when the lawns were laid and iron railings, which were removed in 1936, installed.
References in popular culture
J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, remarked that the building resembled Sauron's temple to Morgoth on Númenor. It also features in The Notion Club Papers.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Radcliffe Camera".
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