Joining the club

For more information on The Corner Club and how to join, please click here or email Amanda Jacobs at Amanda [at] thecornerclub [dot] co [dot] uk

The QI Building at night

The QI Building

The QI Building

After a year spent restoring the building to its original Georgian roots, QI Oxford opened its doors in Autumn 2004.

On the ground floor, a small bookshop stuffed with only the most interesting current titles and arranged thematically so that a novel might end up next to a work of popular science or a reference book. Behind the bookshop, a bar selling quite interesting drinks and food all day and evening.

Upstairs a Club with Club rooms, a dining room and a library where members could relax, work, talk, eat and drink from morning into the small hours...

...when the Vodka bar in the cellar became a favourite party place, in fact voted the 7th Best Party Venue in Britain by The Independent in 2006.

And, on the top floor, the researchersÕ base for the TV show and the hub of the QI Club events programme, created in turn by Rachael Kerr, Alice Barnsdale and Victoria de Wolfe.

Those of you who have known the building over the years will remember its most famous incarnation from 1947 to 1992 as The Taj Mahal, one of BritainÕs first and best Indian restaurants. What you might not know is that in the late 18th century, soon after it was built as lodgings for the university by a Mr Pridys, it became a coffee house, a place where people came to relax, read and discuss the issues of the day. So the QI Building returned 16 Turl Street to its roots, a place of refreshment for body, mind and soul.

In March 2007 we passed on the baton to the aptly named Curious Group, who own the delicious contemporary country hotel, Cowley Manor, near Cheltenham and LÕHotel in Paris. They have in turn taken on the building next door, no.17 Turl Street, and are in the process of building works which will add a separate membersÕ Bar, meetings rooms and a dedicated events room to the existing Club facilities - now called The Corner Club.

For more information on The Corner Club and how to join, please click here or email Amanda Jacobs at Amanda@thecornerclub.co.uk.

History of the QI Building

The hole in the wall called the Turle... (Oxford City Lease Book, 1590)

The QI Building is a four-storey Georgian building that stands at the corner of Turl and Ship Streets in the centre of Oxford, flanked by Exeter and Jesus Colleges.

Turl Street is named after the Anglo-Saxon word tirl, meaning 'narrow street' or 'gate'. The 17th century historian Anthony à Wood described as:

...a little postern leading from the city to Balliol College and Durham [now Trinity] College, called Trill Gate or Turl Gate, from a 'trill', or, as some call it, a 'wherle', sometimes ther to keepe horses and other cattle out of the city.

The street was also called Sylver Street because of the gold and silversmiths' shops gathered at the High Street end.

The Turl gate was an important passage through the old city wall, so probably dates from the early 13th century. Fragments of the wall survive in the vaults of the QI building, previously our Vodka Bar. There is an old story that it was on the site of this building, within the city wall, and not outside it in Broad Street, that Archbishop Cranmer was burnt at the stake. Rumours of his ghost stalking the vaults persist, but we can report no recent sightings.

The present building, a handsome, spacious Georgian town house, was erected in 1785 by a Mr Priddy to provide accommodation for the scholars of Exeter College. By 1820, the Ship Street side of the building had become a coffee house (the Ship Inn, from which the Street takes its name was further down towards Cornmarket).

Then as now, Oxford was famous for its coffee houses. Jacob, a Turkish Jew, opened one of the first in England on the High Street (now the Bus Depot) in 1650. Its coffee was described as 'A simple Innocent thing, incomparable good for those that are troubled with melancholy'. Coffee houses weren't universally admired. In 1674 a group of women drew up a Petition Against Coffee claiming, 'Coffee makes a man barren as the desert out of which this unlucky berry has been imported.' You have been warned.

The partioned layout of the upper floors suggests they were used as commercial offices rather than residential accomodation throughout the 19th and early 20th century and a top storey was added sometime before 1865.

From 1945 to 1992 16 Turl Street housed the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant, opened by the Bahadur brothers from Sylhet in Bangladesh, one of the first and best Indian restaurants in Britain and a legend for generations of undergraduates. Since then a number of other businesses have occupied parts of the site, but QI is the first to have united all floors in a single business and restored it to its original 18th century layout and function as a place of rest, refreshment and inspiration.

We don't know what the 18th century building would have looked like, but the poet Thomas Warton, writing in a guide book of 1760 may offer us a clue:

Besides the libraries of Radcliffe and Bodley and the Colleges, there have been of late years many libraries founded in our coffee houses... As there are books suited to every taste so there are liquors adapted to every species of reading. Amorous tales may be perused over Arrack, punch and jellies; inspid odes over Orgeat or Capilaire; politics over coffee; divinity over port; and Defences of bad generals and bad ministers over Whipt Syllabubs. In a word, in these libraries instruction and pleasure go hand in hand; and we may pronounce, in a literal sense, that learning no longer remains a dry pursuit.