Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oxford on Foot

By Chuck

Determined to put our technology woes behind us, we had a delightful dinner at the Duke of Monmouth pub in Oxford last night. Starters were two pints of ale—Abbot in this case. My standard request is for the darkest ale on tap. Claire had Swiss Farmer’s Soup with homemade bread and a hearty mixed salad. I had Cordon Bleu with potatoes and carrots. The owner was Swiss: She quit her administrative job in Switzerland because she thought she wanted to be cooking and serving lovely meals to people. She settled in England because it was easier to become established here, as opposed to culinary countries like France and Italy. The food was fantastic and the atmosphere warm and friendly.

Mixed Salad

Cordon Bleu

Today we bused into Oxford, to visit the University and to see Blackwell’s bookstore. Oxford is the 3rd oldest surviving university in the world, after the University of Bologna and the University of Paris, having been established in 1088 AD. Oxford is comprised of 46 colleges and halls, some of them familiar names: All Souls, Balliol, Blackfriars, Christ Church, Merton, and Trinity. Colleges are highly independent of each other and originally had entirely separate curricula; they are governed by the Fellows (aka Dons) of the College, who are, effectually, its Trustees and are appointed for life.

Building on Broad Street in Oxford

We signed up for a tour of the University and our excellent docent, Philip Way, began with Jesus College; although founded by Hugh Price, a prominent Welshman, Queen Elizabeth I provided the land for Jesus College and offered the timber for the roof, asking if it wouldn’t be appropriate for her, therefore, to become the founder; she apparently made Hugh an offer he couldn’t refuse. Prominent former students include T.E. Lawrence. “It is probable that in 1904 Lawrence hurt his leg in a playground scuffle. At first he did not think the injury serious and continued the day’s lessons despite considerable pain. His brothers wheeled him home on a bicycle, and when the doctor was called, the leg was found to be broken just above the ankle. It took a long time to mend and as a result he missed the rest of the term.” During his convalescence he amused himself with extensive reading, probably in history and archaeology. This is interesting to me because of episodes in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom where he endured great discomfort. I dimly recall, too, a scene in the film Lawrence of Arabia where he deliberately burns his fingers with a match; an officer asks, "Doesn't it hurt?" Lawrence: "Certainly it hurts." Officer: "What's the trick then?" Lawrence: "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

Lawrence of Arabia

Scouts at Jesus College served the students in a variety of ways; there was a ratio of about one scout for every six student rooms, I believe. If you had a hangover, your scout would recommend a remedy and shop for and prepare it for you; if your friends dropped in and you needed refreshments, your scout would get them for you; if you were about to rush off to an official event in inappropriate garb, your scout would suggest, “You might not wish to wear that gown to this event, sir.” At the end of a student’s college career, he might leave all his room furnishings to his scout. [I use the term ‘men’, advisedly, for “Women were not admitted to membership of the University until 1920, although they had been allowed to sit some University examinations and attend lectures for over forty years by that date.” We were told that there is gender equity in the Colleges, today.]

Arthur Edwin Stevens was a successful graduate and major benefactor of Jesus College. He invented the first wearable electronic hearing aid; Winston Churchill was a personal client. Returning to Jesus for a special occasion, 20 years after his graduation, Stevens was met by his former scout, who greeted him cheerfully: “Good day to you sir; your former room is available; would you like to reside there during your stay with us?” Astonished that the Scout remembered him, he accepted; later, at dinner, he approached the Master of the College at table and indicated that he had been made most welcome at his alma mater and would like to donate £1 million to Jesus College. And that was when a million pounds meant something. Do you see how valuable scouts were?

In 1525, Cardinal Wolsey founded Cardinal College. Upon his fall from grace, Henry VIII refounded it in 1546 as Christ Church College. Its chapel also serves as Oxford Cathedral, “the only college chapel in the world designated as a cathedral."

Jesus College-Example of Elizabethan Architecture

Dining Hall of Jesus College

Jesus College-Example of Jacobean Architecture

John Wesley, a member of Christ Church College and co-founder of the Methodist movement, was a great preacher; but not everybody, of course, liked him. One day as Mr. Wesley was out walking, he was on a narrow path when he met another fellow from Oxford who didn't like him. One of the men would have to step aside to let the other pass. The fellow came charging ahead saying, "I never make way for fools!" John quickly stepped aside saying "I ALWAYS DO!"

Christ Church College

Divinity School has been described as having “the most beautiful room in Europe, a perfect example of Perpendicular-Gothic architecture. Sir Christopher Wren constructed the doorway along the north wall so that the room could be used for robing on degree days.”

Divinity School

The so-called “Bridge of Sighs” in Hertford College is a 19th century copy of the Venetian original. It actually looks more like the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

Trinity College

The famous, but ugly—hence, no pictures—Bodleian Library has 8 million volumes in its stacks. Book orders are sent over from either the round Radcliffe Camera reading room or the New Bodleian Library and the books are returned to requestors via an underground tunnel. One is not allowed to check the books out: "King Charles I once asked the chief librarian of the Bodleian Library in Oxford if he could borrow a book. He was told, politely, to get lost. A few years later, as the wheel of history turned, Oliver Cromwell also wondered if he might take a book away from the great collection, to read it at his leisure. He received exactly the same answer."

Radcliffe Square

Radcliffe Camera

The Sheldonian Theatre was “designed and built in the manner of a Roman theatre by the young Christopher Wren between 1664-68 while he was Professor of Astronomy at the University.” It is used for awarding academic and honorary degrees, as well as musical concerts. Unfortunately, the wooden seats are extremely uncomfortable.


All Souls College

At the end of the tour, we were introduced to the Turf Tavern pub. Claire had the Deli Board and I had Sausage, Mash and Peas. I had my typical darkest draft, a porter in this case, and Claire got the mid-range Fossil Fuel. It was delicious! Next door was the old Roman Wall to the city.

Turf Tavern

Deli Board

Sausage, Mash & Peas

We are visiting during final examinations at Oxford. Students dress formally for examinations, in black and white, with gowns and mortarboards or hats to indicate that at this time as when they receive their degrees, they are members of the University rather than just their individual colleges. Candidates wear a carnation in their buttonholes: white for the first exam, pink thereafter, and red for the final exam of the run. Men are formally distinguished from women by the color of their ties: men wear white and women wear black.

Sign at Turf Tavern

We entered Blackwell’s Bookstore to browse and to visit the site of many book purchases (for me) from college and graduate school years. We also sat in their cafĂ© and had a delicious cappuccino.

Blackwell’s Bookstore

By now we were tired and decided to find the bus stop and mosey on back to Homer. Tomorrow we move on…

I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all . . . like an opera. ~ William Butler Yeats


David said...


Thanks for the wonderful tour of Oxford....Quite amazing...David

Nanci said...

I am in love with "the most beautiful room in Europe" ~ I think that it is ~ wow!!! Have to put this on bucket list ~ thank you. Nanci

Joy E said...

Fun to see Oxford thru your eyes! I disagree about the "Bridge of Sighs" as the Oxford one looks just like the Venetian original...the Rialto being much larger and longer. The sausage, mash and peas (YUM!)looks just like its counterpart that I had recently in O'Malley's in, of all places, Weston, Missouri....a little town just north of Kansas City where we stayed with a friend during our recent midwest visit to mom.