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Merton College Sports Pavilion

A Grade II Listed Building in Holywell, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.7568 / 51°45'24"N

Longitude: -1.2424 / 1°14'32"W

OS Eastings: 452387

OS Northings: 206723

OS Grid: SP523067

Mapcode National: GBR 8YY.YGF

Mapcode Global: VHCXV.F31L

Entry Name: Merton College Sports Pavilion

Listing Date: 14 October 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1419922

Location: Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1

County: Oxfordshire

District: Oxford

Electoral Ward/Division: Holywell

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Oxford

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Oxford St Mary the Virgin with St Cross with St Peter-in-the-East,

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

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Sports pavilion for Merton College, 1966 by Michael GD Dixey in association with Richard Sudell and Partners.

The separate garages and stores to the west of the sports pavilion are not included in the listing.


Sports pavilion, 1966 by Michael GD Dixey in association with Richard Sudell and Partners. Landscape assistant DW Breeze, structural engineers GKN Reinforcements Ltd, general contractor Marshall Andrew and Co Ltd. Cost £87,615.

MATERIALS: reinforced concrete frame. Hollow walls, externally clad in dark grey brick, internally in light grey facing brick. Dark grey pavior and quarry tile external paving, internal floors and skirtings. Consistent use throughout of British Columbian pine for stairs, doors and architraves, glazed screens and sliding windows, changing room fittings and seating, the bar counter and soffit. The main stair has afrormosia wood treads. Original aluminium window units and roof lights; replacement steel or anodised aluminium framed rear windows.

PLAN: two-storey pavilion, rectangular on plan, set on a shallow plinth, overlooking playing fields to the south and east, the entrance to the north. Double-height, full-width clubroom with a first-floor gallery on four sides. To the east, men's changing rooms on the ground floor, women's above. In the western three bays, a bar and kitchen with a caretaker's flat above, reached by a separate stair. The first-floor gallery opens onto an upper terrace overlooking the sports field on the south and east elevations that is also reached by an external stair at the east end. To the north are two squash courts linked to the main buildings by a glazed bridge at first floor level. The building is designed to be seen from all quarters, and is framed by birch trees, planted at the time of construction, and by moss-clad boulders. It is set in open playing fields and in close proximity to St Catherine's College.

STRUCTURE: exposed, finely board-marked, concrete frame and floor slabs, the soffits fair-faced. On the upper floor and blank east and west elevations facing brick is flush with the frame. On the south and north elevations the bays are expressed by projecting concrete piers, placed at 3m centres in emulation of St Catherine's College, and lintels which carry the first floor external terrace to the south and provide a shallow covered walkway to the north, while to the south the roof slab projects over the upper terrace. On the east elevation the slabs project beyond the core, supported on full-height outer posts, forming a continuation of the external first-floor terrace which at the south-east angle remains open beyond the later enclosed gym space. On the west elevation the ground floor is set back by a bay, beneath the caretaker's flat, stairs enclosed by a glazed lobby rising to the first floor. The rear, north wall of the entrance bay and clubroom has been rebuilt in similar brick to the originals, replacing formerly full-height windows.

EXTERIOR: it is a geometrically precise building, carefully detailed and executed in high quality materials inside and out. The south elevation is treated as one concept visually, the upper terrace, which has a horizontal timber balustrade, extending the full length of the building and wrapping round the pivotal south-east corner of the building to the east elevation. The lower level of the club room is lit by full-height south-facing timber sliding door units. To the east, and similarly on the north elevation, the brick wall of the ground floor changing rooms has clerestorey glazing incorporating upper ventilation panels. To the west, entrances to the bar and kitchens and flat have pine, vertically-panelled doors or ledge and braced doors. On the first floor, the upper level of the clubroom has full-height sliding door units, with continuous clerestorey ventilation above, opening onto the terrace. The originally external and now internal south wall of the first-floor changing rooms is treated similarly to the equivalent ground floor walls. The new enclosing wall observes the original brickwork. The caretaker's flat, occupying the three western bays, retains most components of its original pine window frames. The stair, against the west elevation, also has pine treads and balustrades, and is enclosed in a part-glazed pine-framed lobby. On the east elevation sculptural external stairs rising to the terrace have a steel frame and timber treads supported on a concrete spine beam. On both levels vertically panelled pine doors with a vertical glazed light open onto or beneath the terrace.

The main north entrance has a pair of vertically-panelled doors flanked to the left by a replaced casement window. Beneath the bridge, the entrance to the clubroom has the original configuration of doors flanked by full-height margin lights. On both floors the club room windows have been replaced with steel or aluminium units. Anodised aluminium or steel window units and spandrel panels, all in matt brown, wrap round the north-west angle, set back slightly from the corner. Similar windows light the glazed bridge.

The pavilion sits on a shallow concrete slab clad in concrete slabs, which extends beyond the building. The extent of the building itself, beneath the protective canopy of the floor slabs, is reflected in a slightly raking platform of grey paviors which match the colour of the brick walls.

INTERIOR: the internal frame and floor slabs and masonry balustrade to the club room gallery are in board-marked or polished concrete. Internal walls of the lobby and club room are faced in light grey brick, flush skirtings are in darker grey brick. The lobby floor is in grey paviors; the club room has a timber floor laid over the original paviors. The main stair has afrormosia treads supported on a concrete spine beam and British Columbian pine balustrades on steel posts fixed to the treads. The ceiling is clad in pine slats.

The club room, which is a striking internal space, and the most important space architecturally, fills the width of the building, and was originally glazed on both sides giving the room a transparency which was enhanced by the floor surfaces which were closely matched inside and outside the building. Also top-lit and overlooked by the gallery it has a sense of space which is uncommon in a sports building. A part-glazed pine screen and doors separate it from the lobby, while upstairs similar doors open onto the now enclosed section of terrace that was formerly external. Against the west wall of the lower level the bar has a pine counter and soffit. The ceiling is of interlocking pine slats fixed to the concrete frame. Ventilation panels have hinged pine shutters. As outside, the soft grey colour and texture of the brick and exposed concrete contrast with the rich brown colour and texture of the pine. Hard-wearing afrormosia is reserved for the stair treads. Double doors lead onto the bridges which like the lobby has a pine clad ceiling. Throughout the building many doors and windows retain their original furniture.

A similar palette is used in the changing areas, a functional zone, but one that is carefully detailed in contrasting materials, where walls are clad in more practical light grey glazed brick and floors have dark grey quarry tiles. Doors are flush pine in pine frames beneath overlights or flush panels. Changing rooms on both floors have slatted pine seating supported on brick piers, hinged pine shutters over the ventilation panels and pine battens for hooks.

To the north of the main pavilion and seen first on arrival, is a rectangular flat-roofed brick-built squash court, also in dark grey brick. It is a windowless geometric form, the two halves divided on the south side by entrances at both levels and on the north by a full height stair window. Internally it is laid out with a court to each side of a central stair and gallery which opens on to the connecting bridge. It sits on turf flanked by trees.

To the west, originally a single range flat-roofed garage or store, later extended, in similar dark grey brick. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned buildings, namely the garages and stores, are not of special architectural or historic interest.


The sports pavilion for Merton College was designed by Michael GD Dixey who at the time was working for Richard Sudell and Partners. Richard Sudell (1892-68) trained first as a horticulturist and was influential in bringing landscape design professional recognition. In 1929 he was appointed first chairman of the British Association of Garden Architects, shortly after renamed the Institute of Landscape Architects, becoming its president in 1955. He published a number of notable books on garden design and practical gardening of which 'Landscape Gardening' (1933) and the quarterly magazine 'Landscape and Garden' received wide recognition. He had an interest in sports grounds and their facilities, 'Sports Buildings and Playing Fields', being published by Batsford in 1957, and amongst his wide-ranging staff and trainees he employed architects who specialised in sports centres and pavilions. In the post-war years he also specialised in memorial gardens, in Oxford designing the landscape and gardens at the crematorium.

Michael GD Dixey was strongly influenced by European modernism, notably by the work of Le Corbusier, which he had seen at first hand in Chandigarh, in India. He came to specialise in recreation centres, projects including a swimming pool, sports hall and squash courts at St John Moore Barracks, Winchester, Hampshire designed when he was working in the government service, and Old Dean Common sports centre and social centre, Frimley and Camberley, Surrey, which, he observed, influenced Merton College in their choice of architect. 'Local Recreation Centres, a research study undertaken by MGD Dixey' and published in 1974 was sponsored by the National Playing Fields Association.

Merton College required new sports facilities, including a pavilion, squash courts and hard and grass tennis courts, to replace the Mansfield Road site which was earmarked for development by the university. A scheme for the Hollywell Great Meadow site, designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1960-64, was never carried out, but Dixey's building has a sympathetic rapport with Jacobsen's St Catherine's College, which was by then nearing completion. Indeed, St Catherine's was built on land acquired from Merton College, so determining the access to the new college. Planning consent for the sports pavilion was first granted in July 1965, and a revised scheme for a pavilion and groundsman's flat was agreed in February 1966.

The building was published in the Architects' Journal in January 1969. Noting the prestigious nature of the building compared to many others of its kind in Britain, the article entered into the wider debate concerning the quality of sports' facilities at the time. It posed the question, whether sponsors in Britain should be prepared to raise the standard of sports and social facilities, as was increasingly case in North America, to meet clients' growing expectations. Following from this, it considered whether new sports facilities should be designed for more intensive use than is commonly the case. In this case, had the club room been a little larger, the article suggested, it could have doubled up as a badminton court, while outside all-weather surfaces and floodlighting could have extended the use of the site.

Re-appraising Dixey's building in the Architects' Journal in September 1974, Peter Collymore reiterated many of the views expressed in 1969. Despite some problems, particularly concerning heat loss - double glazing was included at the design stage and then omitted - and the suitability of the club room flooring, he considered it to be one of the best of its type. In his words, 'This was no conventional pavilion. It was rather a grand affair'. The north wall of the club room has since been rebuilt, replacing glazed walls with smaller windows and the club room has been given a wood floor over the original brick paviors. He noted too that the first-floor viewing terrace tended not to be used for that purpose, supporters and players preferring to use the ground floor, and since 1974 the set-back SE corner of the terrace, which was previously open, has been enclosed. The caretaker's flat at the opposite end of the building was given the same elevational treatment as the main pavilion. Again, a minor niggle, as Collymore put it, ventilation grilles, behind hinged wooden flaps, and ideal for the changing rooms, were in his view excessive for the caretaker's flat.

Reasons for Listing

The sports pavilion for Merton College, Oxford, 1966 by Michael GD Dixey in collaboration with landscape architect Richard Sudell, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest and materials: the sports pavilion and squash courts, is precisely and elegantly composed in a Modernist idiom, and built using a carefully chosen palette of high quality materials. The pavilion in particular is detailed and finished to a standard that is unusual in sports buildings, and its quality was recognised in the architectural of press of the day.
* Interior: striking, double-height galleried clubroom, approached from the stair lobby and opening onto a south-facing terrace on two levels;
* Intactness: it has been subject to some change, but survives well and the original intention of a freestanding pavilion and its associated squash courts remains clearly legible;
* Group value: the design of the building and landscaping was informed by the adjacent St Catherine's College (Arne Jacobsen, 1963-4, listed Grade I, Grade I Registered landscape);
* Historic interest: a post-war sports pavilion commissioned by Merton College for their sports field next to St Catherine's College, which was at the time nearing completion.

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