Drawing of archaeologists on the Radcliffe Infirmary burial ground
Archaeologists on the Radcliffe Infirmary burial ground
credit: drawing by Weimin He

From the 18th century

Dr John Radcliffe played an important role in the development of Oxford, albeit posthumously, through a large bequest to the University of £140,000 which became known as the Radcliffe Trust. He had acquired a large fortune as a private London doctor, treating the rich, the royal and the famous. He always maintained that his success sprang from his Oxford University education.

Radcliffe’s main intention was to create a new library – the Radcliffe Camera – but sufficient funds remained after its completion for two further building projects: the Radcliffe Observatory and the Radcliffe Infirmary.

The key milestones of the history of the site from the beginning of the building of the Infirmary in 1759 are given below. There is further historical information in the column on the right.

Between June and August 2013, Oxford Archaeology excavated the site of the burial ground for the old Radcliffe Infirmary. The excavation ensured that the skeletons of people who died in the hospital would be treated with care and reburied on an alternative site, under the guidance of Oxford’s City Archaeologist and the Diocese of Oxford. In total, over 400 burials were found and they provide valuable evidence about medical intervention which will inform research into the development of surgery and hospital practice.

Key Dates

8 March 1759

Architect Stiff Leadbetter presents plans for the Infirmary to the Radcliffe Trustees and building work begins. Leadbetter dies before it is completed and John Sanderson oversees its completion.

18 October 1770

The Radcliffe Infirmary is opened.


Interaction with the University begins with the inauguration of a University professorship for the reading of clinical lectures.


The Radcliffe Infirmary about 1860The Radcliffe Infirmary about 1860
credit: Oxfordshire Health Archive

A new Outpatients' block is completed. The Triton fountain, designed by James Bell, is added to the front courtyard.


St Luke’s Chapel is built after a design by AW Blomfield (later Sir Arthur).


The Oxford Eye Hospital took over the old fever ward of the Infirmary.


The Outpatients' building is pulled down and replaced by the present building, designed by Edward Warren.


The new Outpatients' building opens.


William Morris (later to become Lord Nuffield) presents the Infirmary with £90,000, which ushers in a new era of expansion.


The Observatory site is purchased, which allows the Infirmary to expand. Over the next ten years the Infirmary transforms from a competent county hospital to a world leader in medical research.

27 January 1941

The first dose of penicillin is given to a man intravenously at the Infirmary.

4 July 1948

The Board of Governors of the United Oxford Hospitals take over responsibility for the hospitals in the city and the Radcliffe Infirmary becomes a state hospital.


The Holford report, which is an appraisal of future land requirements, identifies theRadcliffe Infirmarysite as the only sizeable plot of land available for development in the city centre.


The development of theRadcliffe Infirmarysite stops with the opening of the new John Radcliffe Hospital in Headington.


The importance of this site is emphasised in the Lucas report.


Professor of Cybernetics, Kevin Warwick, became the first person to undergo transplantation of a neuro-surgical device known as the Utah Array (later known as 'BrainGate'). This provides a link between the central nervous system and a computer which is expected to lead to benefits for people who are brain injured.

23 March 2003

The site is sold to the University, with a lease to the National Health Service until 2 February 2007.

Late 2004

A competition for the Masterplan is launched.

April 2005

Rafael Viñoly appointed as architects for the Masterplan.


An informal consultation process begins.

3 February 2007

The operational hospital closes on the Radcliffe Infirmary site and relocates all its activities to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Headington.

11 February 2007

The site is formally handed over to the University of Oxford.

5 March – 20 April 2007

A formal public consultation process takes place.

November 2007

The Masterplan is submitted to Oxford City Council.

October 2008

Demolition work begins.