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The Randolph, Oxford: an eccentric design hotel steeped in history given a modern makeover

 (A Baxter)
(A Baxter)

For most people who have never spent much time there, Oxford is as much an idea as a real place, legendary, romantic, historic, perhaps even a little magical. The Randolph hotel is part of this mythology, a place associated with a host of literary ghosts and scene of countless undergraduate teas with visiting parents.

The hotel has existed since 1866 but came under new ownership a couple of years ago, and underwent a comprehensive makeover (after suffering a fire reportedly caused by a flambéed steak gone awry). This turned it from a somewhat staid spot surviving on legacy reputation, into a comfortable, modern interpretation of that mythical ‘Oxford’.

The solid Victorian Gothic building was built to accommodate noteworthy visitors passing through the city and as a result boasts an impressive roster of royals and heads of state, actors and authors as past guests.

The hotel has also claimed a starring role itself, notably in several episodes of Inspector Morse – memorialised in the Morse Bar.

One of the heavily patterned guest rooms (Graduate Hotels)
One of the heavily patterned guest rooms (Graduate Hotels)

Style

Having been taken over by the Chicago-based Graduate hotel group, the Randolph now embraces a quirky English maximalism in its interiors. Clashing prints are dialled up to the max, with floral wallpaper, chintz curtains, crested upholstery and tartan cushions.

The interiors were dreamt up by Graduate Hotels’ in-house team, alongside Upperworth Studios, who worked on the 151 guest rooms, and A J and SHH Architects in the restaurants and bars.

The mash-up of literary-inspired styles plays on the city’s eccentric and academic heritage and references Alice in Wonderland, Oscar Wilde, Brideshead Revisited but most prominently calls to mind Harry Potter, thanks in large part to the Hogwarts-style flags hanging dramatically in the atrium.

The Alice (Graduate Hotels)
The Alice (Graduate Hotels)

There are tongue-in-cheek touches too – room keys are designed to look like notable Oxford graduates’ student cards so you can choose if you want to be Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Hawking or Oscar Wilde during your stay. Gimmicky, perhaps, but a fun bit of theatre at check in.

Local design gem

The hotel is directly across the street from the Ashmolean Museum, which provides plentiful inspiration for a browse.

For shopping, interiors nuts should head straight to Objects of Use on Market Street, a curated hardware store where a good hour can easily be lost perusing the most beautiful functional items from all over the world.

The Snug (Graduate Hotels)
The Snug (Graduate Hotels)

Good to know

Don’t bother packing the shampoo – Malin + Goetz toiletries are provided in the room and there’s a spa for more involved grooming needs.

Aim to enjoy at least one drink in one of the cosy, convivial bar areas – both the wood-pannelled Morse Bar and the boho Snug provide ideal cocktail quaffing conditions. Leave plenty of space and time for breakfast, a sprawling multi-course buffet affair taken in the Alice Brasserie Bar, with its candy pink leather booth seating, ornate chandeliers and patterned ceiling.

That said, despite having been recently refurbished, you might struggle to find a convenient plug point to charge your phone. We’re in Oxford, not the 21st century.

How to book

Rooms range from cosy singles to suites and cost from £190 per night.

graduatehotels.com/oxford-uk