John Radcliffe began to explore the idea of a library about two years before his death. It seems that at first he intended it to be an enlargement of the Bodleian Library, extending west into the garden of Exeter College. There are a number of fascinating designs for such a library that, although unsigned, have been unanimously attributed to the brilliant architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. Three of his schemes propose a rectangular building and two a rotunda.
Radcliffe soon changed his mind and settled on its eventual site to the south of the Schools Quadrangle (now part of the Bodleian Library), and Hawksmoor made a number of designs for this site as well, showing a round library attached to the Schools. It would, however be more than thirty years after Radcliffe's death before the first stone was laid, for the doctor's gift was subject to the life interest of his two sisters (one of whom lived to a great age) and the negotiations for buying and demolishing the existing properties on the site were long and complicated.
Hawksmoor's final design, a round library on a square base, was turned into a scale model in about 1735, but he would never live to see its completion, and was succeeded by the Scottish architect James Gibbs.
John Johnson Oxford folder IV, 7a Wooden model of the Radcliffe Library by John Smallwell, 1734-5
Library Objects 616 Wooden model of the Radcliffe Library by John Smallwell, 1734-5
Library Objects 616 Portrait of James Gibbs (1682-1754) by John Michael Williams, 1752
LP254 Portrait of Francis Smith (1672-1738) by William Winstanley
LP 709 James Gibbs' elevation drawing for the Radcliffe Library, 1737
MS. Top. Oxon. a. 48, fol. 110r James Gibbs' section drawing for the Radcliffe Library, 1737
MS. Top. Oxon. a. 48, fol. 111r James Gibbs' plan for the basement of the library
Redrawn from 1737 engraving James Gibbs' plan for the first floor and gallery of the library
Redrawn from 1747 engraving