The Clarendon Building was built in 1711–13 to the designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor. It is a Grade I listed building (ref. 1485/146).
It was built to house the Oxford University Press, which had previously been occupying a large room over the ceiling of the Sheldonian Theatre. It owes it name to the fact that it was partly paid for by the profits from the History of the Great Rebellion by Lord Clarendon, whose son presented the University with its copyright. It was known as “The Printing House” until the University Press moved to Walton Street in 1832.
Nine lead figures of the Muses by Sir James Thornhill originally stood on top of the building. Thomas Hearne (Reliquiae, p. 380) says that they “were at first refused, and suffered to lie at the Wharf for above two years; they cost £600”. Seven of the originals remain. (Euterpe and Melpomene fell down and were flattened, one in 1810 and one a few years earlier. They were replaced by fibre-glass replicas by Richard Kindersley, given by Blackwell’s in 1974.)
A statue of Lord Clarendon (left) now stands in a niche on the upper floor of the west side of the building. From 1721 until the 1940s, however, this statue by Francis Bird stood in the central niche on the upper floor at the south side of the building, which has now been converted into a window (below).
In 1829 the University police took over part of it as their police station: the cells were in the basement. It only became known as the Clarendon Building after it was adapted by the University for use as a registry in 1832. It continued as the university registry until the present University Offices were opened in Wellington Square in 1975. The Clarendon Building was then taken over by the Bodleian Library, and it now houses their admissions department and the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire.
In 1896 it housed the Registrar of the University, the Secretaries of the Curators of the Chest, of the Boards of the Faculties & Studies, of the Oxford Appointments Committee, of the Association for the Education of Women, and of the Local Examinations Delegacy, and the controller of the Lodging Houses Delegacy. There was also a Delegates’ Room
Kelly’s Directory for 1891 describes the building thus:
The Clarendon building, situated at the eastern end of Broad street, is a stately but somewhat heavy rectangular structure in the Classic style, erected in 1711–13 from the profits of the sale of Lord Clarendon’s “History of the Rebellion”, and was designed by Nicholas Hawkesmoor, one of Wren’s pupils.; the building is pierced by an arched passage way and is approached from the street by a broad flight of steps supporting a lofty portico, with pediment and pillars of the Tuscan order: from October 1713 to September 1830 it served as the University Press, but is now occupied by the offices of the University Registrar and University Chest, and includes also offices for the use of the Proctors: over the south entrance is a fine statue of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon and Lord High Chancellor, in his robes of office.