Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the great romantic poets and a revolutionary at heart. He came to University College in 1810 and by only his second term had got himself into trouble with college authorities for writing a pamphlet on atheism (in those days you had to be a member of the Church of England to attend Oxford). He was sent down (i.e. expelled). At age 30 he was drowned in a storm off the coast of Italy. During the 19th century his fame grew and 70 years after his death the college decided to claim him as one of their own. He went from troublemaker to attraction. The college wanted to build a suitable memorial. This sculpture, which depicts the drowned naked body of Shelley washed up on a beach, had been rejected by the cemetery and somehow Univ got stuck with it.
The problem was, what to do with the sculpture. It certainly wasn't suitable for the chapel, and putting it in one of the quads would have been asking for trouble. So they decided to build this little rotunda for it. It's off the beaten path down a dark, narrow corridor. Even so, it has been the inspiration for many pranks by undergraduates over the years--often involving the application of brightly colored paint to portions of the poet's anatomy. As a result access is carefully controlled, that's why we were lucky to get to see it on Oxford Open Doors weekend.