Radley College, in Oxfordshire, is an independent boarding school for boys set within a beautiful 800-acre estate. It was founded in 1847 by the Reverends W. Sewell and R.C. Singleton with the purpose of providing a quality Church of England education.

At the heart of school life is the Grade II* listed Victorian Chapel, designed by Sir T.G. Jackson in 1893, where the entire school has always gathered each evening to meet, reflect and worship. As the school planned to increase its intake by 10 per cent in 2020/2021, a sympathetic extension was required to provide an additional 200 seats so that all staff and students could continue to gather in the Chapel comfortably.

The Design

The approach of Purcell’s Oxford studio was to create a series of localised extensions, which respected the integrity of the collegiate Chapel form as a 'conscious continuation of Jackson’s work, whilst having its own distinctive character and presence'. As a place of both worship and community, great importance was placed on the synergy between ritual and architecture, giving a sense of drama and procession in keeping with the ‘spirit of the place’.

Central to the design was the introduction of a glorious new octagonal Sanctuary at the east end of the Chapel, housing the altar, the restored 15th century Flemish altarpiece, and other furnishings. The north and south apses were also expanded, to provide extra raised seating.

Complex brickwork

The scale, proportion and architectural detailing of the extension, developed using BIM modelling, was driven by a sense of design unity, which is reflected in the intricate geometry of the brick and stonework facades.

Northcot Brick worked closely with the architect and brick factor, All Brick and Stone, to create three bespoke brick blends in imperial sizes that matched the colour and texture of the existing Chapel, both internally and externally. The complexity of the architectural features also required 87 different brick specials, which were made with over 50 different bespoke moulds.

The exterior facades of the new extension mirror the ornamental elements and polychromatic brickwork of the existing Gothic Revival Chapel. Northcot’s mid-red smooth-faced ‘Radley Chapel machine-made’ blend, slightly textured to be in keeping with the original brickwork, alternates with darker courses of ‘Radley Chapel handmade’ facing bricks with their contrasting soft creases and folds. A traditional English bond was used throughout.

Inside, the monochrome quality of ‘Radley Chapel machine-made’ bricks, and the bands of light stone, add an elegant simplicity to the new Sanctuary, which is entered from the nave through a series of brick arches.

The new north and south apses are made from a bespoke blend of red multi ‘Radley Chapel apse’ machine-made bricks, reminiscent of the common bricks used in the original Chapel.

The complex brickwork with its multitude of different special shapes is a testament to the craftsmanship of the manufacturer and construction team. Over 20,000 hours of labour went into the brick and masonry work over the course of the project.