The Pre-Raphaelite murals in the old Library at the Oxford Union were painted between 1857 and 1859 by a team of young artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The paintings depict scenes from the Arthurian legends.
The ceiling design is by William Morris. it was painted in 1857 and subsequently restored by Morris in 1875 to a modified design.
Viewing the murals
The murals and ceiling may be viewed at any time when the Library is open. Check here for opening hours in 2014 and 2015. There is a charge of £1.50 per person for visitors who are not members of the Oxford Union Society.
To make the most of your visit, try our audio guide. For an additional £1.50 per person, this 20-minute tour introduces you to the fascinating history of the Oxford Union murals and the artists who painted them. If you wish you may download the guide to your MP3 player as a podcast.
Postcards and a booklet about the murals are on sale in the library. Photography is not permitted in the Old Library.
Especially for groups
Group visits (up to 25 people per group) are welcomed during University vacations For an additional charge of £15 per group a short talk (approx. 30-45 minutes) on the history of the murals can be provided.
During the University term groups may visit on a self-guided basis in the autumn (Michaelmas) and spring (Hilary) terms. It is best to arrange this for times when the Library is quiet - usually first thing in the morning. In the summer (Trinity) term, group visits are not permitted because of University exams.
Additionally in term time there may be scope to arrange group visits and talks outside normal Library opening hours. Options are Saturday mornings between 10.00 a.m. and 12.00 noon or weekdays (Mon-Fri) between 8.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. Please ring the Library on 01865-241353 or email to find out more about this.
The Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford
The Oxford Union murals are featured in a 2011 podcast prepared by Oxford Brookes University. Also included are significant Pre-Raphaelite art works at Christ Church College, Exeter College and the Ashmolean Museum.
A study prepared by Rossetti in preparation for painting his mural "Sir Lancelot, prevented by his sin from entering the Chapel of the Sangreal", is held by the Ashmolean Museum. The image may be viewed and copies ordered from the Ashmolean Museum.
The Debating Chamber
The Debating Chamber was designed by Alfred Waterhouse (who was also the architect of the Cambridge Union buildings) and completed 1878. Subject to availability, the Debating Chamber may be viewed on weekdays when the Union Library is open, between 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. Check here for opening hours in 2014 and 2015. Please enter the main buildings and enquire at Library Reception. There is a charge of £1.50 per person for visitors who are not members of the Oxford Union Society.
Full Union tour
A tour of the Oxford Union including the Debating Chamber, the Old Library and the other rooms in the main buildings can be provided for groups (maximum group size 25 people). A leaflet is available here which gives an indication of what there is to see. Tours are available on weekdays when the Union Library is open, between 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. Check here for opening hours in 2014 and 2015.
The cost of the full Union tour is £3.00 per person for admission to the Old Library and Debating Chamber, plus £15.00 per group for the tour.
Booking a visit
For further information or to book a visit, please ring 01865-241353 and ask for the library, or email giving the following details:
- Contact name, telephone number and/or email address
- Interest in murals, Debating Chamber (or both), or full Union tour
- Date(s) of proposed visit(s)
- Number of people in party
- Talk on the murals required? (additional charge of £15 per group)
- Any other requirements