The college was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester, for twenty fellows. Undergraduates were formally admitted in the early 1380s, when John Wyliot, a former fellow and subwarden, endowed a number of scholarships, known at Merton as postmasterships. Eminent old members include Sir Thomas Bodley, JRR Tolkien, TS Eliot, Lennox Berkeley, Leonard Cheshire and Sir Roger Bannister.
The Merton archives comprise administrative records of the college and its estates, and papers created by a number of former members. Records of the college proper begin with the foundation statutes of 1264, bursarial accounts from 1277, and decisions of the governing body from 1483. Records of college estates include deeds, surveys, court rolls and maps, and date from the twelfth century onwards. The college owned estates in Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Surrey, Leicestershire, Yorkshire, County Durham and Northumberland, among others.
A register of fellows was begun c.1420, and postmasters are recorded from 1660, but there was no official record of commoners until 1881.
A History of Merton College, G.H. Martin and J.R.L. Highfield, (OUP, 1997)
A Short History of The Buildings of Merton College, A. Bott, (Merton College, 1993)
Merton College: A Longer History of the Buildings and Furnishings, A. Bott, ((Merton College, 2016)
The Early Rolls of Merton College, J.R.L. Highfield (ed.), (OUP, 1964)
Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1483-1521, H.E. Salter (ed.), (OUP, 1923)
Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1521-1567, J.M. Fletcher, ed., (OUP, 1974)
Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1567-1603, J.M. Fletcher, ed., (OUP, 1976)
Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1603-1660, J.R.L. Highfield, ed., The Boydell Press (2006)
A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, A.B. Emden, 3 vols., Clarendon Press, (1957-9)
A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford A.D. 1501-1540, A.B. Emden, Clarendon Press, (1974)
Alumni Oxonienses, 1500-1714, Joseph Foster, 4 vols., Parker & Co., (1891)
Alumni Oxonienses, 1715-1886, Joseph Foster, 4 vols., Parker & Co., (1888)
Merton College Register, 1900-1964, (1964)
Merton College Register II, 1891-1989, R.H.C. Davis, (1990).
St Alban Hall existed as an academic hall before the foundation of Merton College, and belonged to the convent of Littlemore. Merton purchased the hall in 1548 following the dissolution of the convent and exerted a strong influence over it, although in principle it remained an independent academic institution. The hall was finally annexed to Merton in 1881, when the remaining eighteen students were absorbed into the college. The buildings were largely rebuilt as St. Alban Quad between 1905 and 1910, although the Elizabethan entrance onto Merton Street still survives. Noteworthy members of St Alban Hall include Cardinal John Henry Newman (Vice-Principal 1825) and George FitzErnest (c.1815-17) natural son of Ernest, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover.
As an academic hall, St Alban Hall had no fellows or estates. Surviving records include the admission register, 1856-77, with retrospective lists of members from 1661; account books, 1856-79; and an incomplete series of buttery books, 1758-1847.
The Archivist is normally in College on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, when archives are made available 10:00-12:00 and 13:30-16:30. An appointment is essential and appropriate picture ID must be produced.