Power and Personalities – Politics in Victorian and Edwardian Oxford

Speaker : Simon Wenham

Simon began by giving us an overview of the national and international politics at that time, It was a time of great change as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation which led eventually to reform and social change. The two main parties – Tories and Whigs – were led by MPs who needed to be wealthy as they were unpaid, and also property owners, Anglican in religion, and male. The shadow of the French Revolution still hung over politics early in the 19th century, but
protectionism gradually gave way to a more philanthropic and tolerant view of society.

The Irish Potato Famine led under Peel to reform of the Corn Laws, and Electoral reform
came in 1832. The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 caused outrage. Corruption
was rife in the voting procedure as a result of bribery and “rotten” and “pocket” boroughs.
Catholic emancipation was also an issue, as were the £10 property requirements. The Poor Law Reform Act of 1836 made provision for the setting up of workhouses, but these were regarded as a last resort for the most desperate. The workhouses in Oxford were built on the Cowley Road, and in Gladstone Road, Headington. The Chartist movement was inspired by Poor Law reform, and locally Minster Lovell became known as Charterville.

Simon Wenham then moved on to talk about Oxford in particular and the rivalry that
existed between Town and Gown. This had surfaced early on in 1355 with the St
Scholastica riots. This began with a student protest about poor ale at the Swindlestock
Tavern, and it escalated into full-scale riot in the town.

The population of the city rose significantly from around 12,000 at the beginning of the
19th century to around 49,000 by 1901. Flooding and the risk of Cholera was a constant issue and eventually improved drainage and lowering of the water level in the rivers alleviated the problem, although as we know flooding in Oxford still occurs rather too often.

The 1882 rule allowing Dons to marry resulted in increased philanthropy in the town, under the influence of wives and daughters. There were three attempts to bring the railway to Oxford. These were opposed by landowners and the University but eventually the first station was built on Western Road, although the workshop went to Swindon.

Parliamentary elections in Oxford were marred by corruption, and Oxford was at one point stripped of its franchise. But from the 1870s onwards the power of the town became more dominant, as did non-conformism. The town was led by several notable figures, including James Hughes, Walter Gray and Robert Buckle. All of them became mayors.

Oxford gained County Borough status in 1889, after adjusting the figures to reach the required number of 50,000 inhabitants. The Town Hall was built in 1897.

The Suffragette movement was also active in Oxford. A rally at the Martyrs’ Memorial ended in chaos. The most significant event in Oxford’s economic life came with the arrival of William
Morris. His car factory had a transformative effect, changing a rather sleepy city into a
major manufacturing centre.

Summer visit – Oxford Morse tour

On July 12th Alistair Lack led a group of members around various venues associated with the filming of the Morse series, and later the Lewis and Endeavour episodes.

He began by giving us some facts about the number of episodes involved, the scriptwriters, the composer Barrington Phelong and the relevant viewing figures. Kevin Whateley was by far the longest -serving actor, having been in all three series and for 30 years. An interesting addition to the information about personalities was that there was a close bond between Colin Dexter and John Thaw who played Morse. They enjoyed a mutual fondness for liquid refreshment in the Morse bar of the Randolph Hotel.

We began our tour outside St John’s College in St Giles, which was the fictional college attended by Morse. He failed to complete his degree course after an unhappy love affair. We stopped at St Michael’s Church at the Northgate which was associated with an incident when a victim was pushed from the top of the church tower. However we also learned that many scenes supposedly filmed in Oxford were actually filmed elsewhere, often on the outskirts of London. This was more convenient for the large numbers of crew involved, and kept costs down.

We were then taken into Exeter College grounds and the college chapel. This was the venue for Morse’s final scene when he heard his favourite piece of music, Fauré’s Requiem. He was then filmed collapsing outside having suffered a fatal heart attack.

We were also told that allowing filming was much more popular with some colleges than with others, although it was a welcome source of revenue. After a brief stop outside Walter’s in the Turl which features in one episode, we finished our tour outside the Sheldonian which played a part in the most watched Morse episode of all.

Summer visit to Buscot Park and Gardens – 14th June 2018

On June 14th a group of members visited Buscot Park for a guided
walk around the house. We were met by the Assistant Curator who
began by giving us a very informative introduction to the origins of the
house, its various owners and their interests.

The original house was built between 1780 and 1783 by Edward
Loveden Loveden who took a great interest in the development of the
Thames and Severn, and the Wilts and Berks Canals. The house
remained in the family until 1859 when it was bought by an Australian
gold trader named Robert Tertius Campbell. His main enterprise was
the setting up of a distillery to create spirit alcohol from sugar beet. This
was not a success and when Campbell died in 1887 the estate was
heavily in debt.

In 1889 Buscot was sold to Alexander Faringdon, later the 1st Lord
Faringdon – a very successful financier who became a leading figure in
the City, specialising in the promotion of railways both in this country
and South America.

In 1898 he entered Parliament and was a strong supporter of Joseph
Chamberlain. His management of Buscot included improvements to the
pedigree stock.

Gavin Henderson the second Lord Faringdon was a member of the
Labour Party, a convinced pacifist who supported the Republican
cause in the Spanish Civil War and served with great courage in the Fire
Service during the 2nd World War.

During his time the house was regularly used as a meeting place for
prominent socialist politicians, but the Arts were also well
represented.The Faringdon Collection, which is to be seen today,
represents the combined arts collections of the first two Lords
Faringdon.

Our tour took us through the ground floor rooms beginning with the
main entrance which was furnished in the Egyptian style made popular
after the Battle of the Nile in 1798. We then moved into the Dutch room
which contained among others Buscot’s most famous painting,
Rembrandt’s portrait of Jan Six. Our guide talked to us in some detail
about the composition of the painting, which added to our enjoyment
and understanding.

The furniture included items from the Chippendale period with the
original gros-point needlework covers signed and dated 1771.
Our next stop was the dining room which held a particularly fine
Sheraton period table and a large set of red-leather covered dining
chairs originally commissioned by the 3rd Duke of Newcastle for
Clumber Park. We were also shown a pair of pictures made from
kingfisher feathers.

We entered the Saloon through fine mahogany doors which were a
survival from the original house. The room contained an exceptional set
of giltwood chairs and a settee all in their original silk upholstery –
almost identical to a suite dated 1808 to be seen at Fontainebleau.
The paintings in the Saloon consisted entirely of a series painted by
Burne-Jones illustrating the story of the Sleeping Beauty. Our guide
spent some time telling us about the symbolism in the pictures and the
history of their purchase and installation.

The final room we visited was the Drawing Room. The furniture dates
from the period immediately after the building of the house – the 1780s
and 1790s, and the paintings were Italian and represented the taste of
the 1st and 2nd Lords Faringdon.

In addition to our tour of the house we had a short time to enjoy the
gardens and grounds which were looking their best in the June
sunshine, and many of us were keen to return to see the rest of the
house and fully appreciate the gardens.