Rhodes House History

A hidden delight situated in the heart of Oxford, Rhodes House is a beautiful venue steeped in history. Rhodes House serves as a memorial to Cecil Rhodes, a central headquarters for the Rhodes Trust, and a meeting venue for Rhodes Scholars. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who had been Cecil Rhodes’s architect in South Africa and also collaborated on the design of New Delhi.

The site upon which Rhodes House is built was purchased in 1925 from Wadham College and was built between 1926 and 1928. Rhodes House itself reflects a number of influences: Cape Dutch farmhouse, English country mansion, and the arts and crafts movements of the 1900s. The building is thus described in the Oxfordshire volume of Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England:

The mansion is large, the rotunda a bijou size.  The mansion has mullioned and transomed windows, a balustrade, a hipped roof and a cupola, a tetrastyle portico two columns deep, a lobby, and the rotunda itself with windows with much sturdier columns set in and the dome of ashlar… From the rotunda one moves into a second oblong anteroom and then the great hall, with a W gallery and an E apse, three sides of an octagon and hence covered with three sides of a domical vault.

The main wall faces consist of squared rubble, an Oxford fashion which began with Rhodes House and was imitated elsewhere, as in the New Bodleian library and at St. Anne’s College.

Various features of the building, for example, the massive beams and the wood-and-glass fanlights above some of the doors, were designed by Sir Herbert Baker to resemble features of the Cape Dutch style of Groote Schuur, the house he designed for Mr Rhodes in South Africa. Groote Schuur is now a residence of the President of South Africa.

There are three main function rooms on the ground floor, The Milner Hall, The Beit Room and The Atlantic Room. Three further function rooms can be found on the first floor, The Rosebery Room, The Mandela Rhodes Room, and The Saïd Foundation Room. In addition, there is a grand, circular, domed entrance-hall known as the Rotunda, and an oak-panelled gallery, reminiscent of a Cape Dutch stoep — a covered verandah.

Step outside to find the beautifully maintained, typically English Rhodes House gardens, which have won the Gold in the Oxford Colleges in Bloom competition for three years running. The Rhodes House gardens offer green lawns, gravel pathways and herbaceous borders. This secluded walled garden, which catches the sun from early morning to late evening, is perfect for photographic shoots and garden parties, and the West Lawn is large enough for a marquee.