The Work of the City Archaeologist – “Looking for King Alfred”

On March 9th we were given a talk by David Radford the Oxford City Archaeologist on his work, with special reference to King Alfred the Great, and his possible connections to the founding of the city of Oxford in the Saxon period.

He explained that the legislation requiring developers to facilitate archaeological excavations on sensitive sites resulted in the need for this work to be monitored by the city Archaeologist. We were told that there were three possible candidates for the founding of Oxford, of whom Alfred was one, but also his son Edward the Elder and Aethelflaed his daughter.

The main focus of the talk was on the various excavations around the city to determine the location of the ramparts defining the boundaries of the early settlement. The best preserved section is near the North Gate and Ship Street. We were shown an interesting Henry Taunt photograph of an excavation on the site of the New Bodleian.

Many excavations took place in the grounds of Oxford colleges during the development of new buildings. These included Wadham, Queen’s, St John’s and Corpus Christi. Remains of the ramparts have also been found in the Castle quarter where evidence shows them leading towards the Tower. The pottery finds in various sites have been difficult to date with any
accuracy as there was no defining style or composition.

The biggest and most recent excavation has been of the Westgate area prior to its redevelopment. This has exposed the largest range of mediaeval buildings yet uncovered in the city, including the remains of a Franciscan priory.

It was shown that it is still quite difficult to determine the dating and location of the early beginnings of Oxford in the Saxon period, but there is still much to be learned from the finds on this extensive site.

Oxford and the History of Medicine

Medicine in Oxford from the 13th to the 21st Century On Thursday 9th February, the History Society heard a fascinating talk by Victoria Bentata on the subject of Medicine in Oxford from the 13th century onwards.

She started with the legend of St Frideswide, whose well in Binsey was said to have healing properties. In Medieval times Science and Religion were very closely linked.

But the first true scientist was Roger Bacon, in the 13th century. He was a Franciscan Friar whose ways of thought were very much ahead of his time. He believed in the importance of experimentation in pursuit of his studies. This approach has relevance today.

The next important figure was John of Gaddesdon, member of Merton College and Doctor of Physik in Oxford, who lived into the 14th century, and was probably the model for Chaucer’s Doctour of Phisik in the Canterbury Tales. He wrote a treatise on Medicine, called Rosa Medicinae, which was widely read, and drew largely on Greek sources.

In the 15/16th Centuries one of the most important Oxford figures was Thomas Linacre. He doesn’t seem to have practised medicine while in Oxford, but later he practised at the Court of Henry VIII, and was one of the founders of the Royal College of Physicians.

Robert Burton, born in 1577, an eminent scholar from Brasenose College, specialised in “Melancholy”, and indeed wrote from personal experience. His treatise on “The Anatomy of Melancholy” was very widely read, But he himself suffered from depression, and is said to have hanged himself in Christ Church.

In the 17th Century, there appeared a group of academics, under the name of the “Oxford Philosophical Society”, led by John Wilkins, Warden of Wadham College. They were very active, conducting many experiments in Wadham College gardens.

William Harvey (b.1578), who was the first to discover and describe the circulation of blood in the body, also became Royal Physician to King Charles the 1st, and 1 accompanied him to Oxford, where he stayed until the city’s surrender to the Parliamentary forces.

Thomas Sydenham (b. 1624) might be regarded as the English Hippocrates, or as the father of English Medicine. He wrote on the best way of treating patients, but he also worked on a drug to cure malaria, among other things.

Thomas Willis (b. 1621) was an early neurologist who performed many dissections, and was a founder member of the Royal Society. His home in Oxford was opposite Merton College, and was notorious for the smells of decaying bodies emerging from it. He worked with the future Architect Christopher Wren, who made a drawing of the human Brain from one of Willis’s dissections. Hogarth, too, included scenes of dissections in his pictures.

Connected with Thomas Willis was the story of Anne Green, who was convicted of the murder of her baby (born after she had been raped), and sentenced to death. The execution was carried out, but the next day she was discovered to be still breathing. Several doctors including Willis set about reviving her, and they were successful. She was pardoned – her revival was seen as an act of God. Later, she married and eventually had three children.

Dr John Radcliffe (b. 1652) graduated from University College, Oxford, eventually became Royal Physician to William and Mary, and became a very rich man. He was said to be an outstanding diagnostician, hence able to choose patients whom he expected to survive – so he enjoyed a very good success rate. When he died he left an enormous fortune, most of which went to charity, and to developments in Oxford such as the Radcliffe Camera and the Radcliffe Infirmary.

Henry Acland (b. 1815) was a life-long friend of John Ruskin, and helped to found the Oxford Natural History Museum. He made a study of the Cholera outbreak in Oxford in 1854, and explored ways of caring for the poor.

William Osler (b. 1849) was a Canadian who spent his early life in Baltimore at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He developed a patient-centred way of working, advising doctors to ‘listen to the patient, who will tell you the diagnosis”. He was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford in 1905, and soon met the young William 2 Morris, who repaired his Renault car. This was the beginning of a long friendship between them. As a result, Morris (Lord Nuffield) endowed 5 new professorships, and created the Iron Lung which he distributed to every hospital in Britain.

Hugh Cairns (b. 1896) was born in South Australia, and came to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. He became the first Nuffield Professor of Surgery, and treated T.E.Lawrence after his motorbike accident. As a result of that, he designed a motorcyclist crash helmet, which was used by despatch riders during the War, and he treated 13,000 servicemen.

Sir Ludwig ‘Poppa’ Guttmann (b. 1899) Although he was a Jew, he was ordered by Hitler to go to Portugal to treat a friend of the Dictator Salazar. Afterwards he came straight to the UK, where he settled in Oxford and carried on his research in Neurosurgery. Later, he worked at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and was a leading force in the development of the Paralympics.

Howard Florey (b. 1898) and Penicillin. With his team, he worked on research into Penicillin, and treated his first human patient (an Oxford policeman) in 1941. By DDay enough penicillin was being produced to use on wounded soldiers. Florey refused to patent Penicillin, or to talk to the Press. A Memorial to the work of the Laboratory is in the Rose Garden in Oxford Botanic Garden.

Dorothy Hodgkin (b.1910) in 1945 she solved the structure of Penicillin.

Richard Doll (b.1912) Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. He made an important study of the effects of Smoking and its connection with Cancer, and revolutionised the organisation of the OU Medical School.

Joshua Silver developed the self-refracting glasses, which enable patients everywhere to benefit from glasses, whether there’s an optician near or not.

Leisure and Entertainment in Victorian and Edwardian Oxford

On January 12th Liz Woolley gave us a most interesting and wide-ranging talk on Leisure and
Entertainment in Victorian and Edwardian Oxford.

She began by explaining that the need for this resulted from the movement of people from rural to urban employment which led to a more regulated working week. She cited the fact that the population of Oxford doubled between 1801 and 1851. In addition Bank Holidays were introduced in 1871 and by 1879 the weekend was a recognised fact. Improved wages also gave people the money to take advantage of the leisure occupations that were offered.

One of the driving factors was the aim to provide alternatives to the public house and the
consumption of alcohol. The Temperance movement was active in this as was a more muscular
Christian influence.

The idea of rational recreation time was a recognised early 19th century development, with the
added benefit of self improvement alongside entertainment. Physical activities included a large and well-equipped gymnasium built in 1858 by Archibald McLaren on the corner of Alfred St and Blue Boar Lane. Football clubs appeared including Oxford City in 1882, and skating was a popular winter activity on Port Meadow, as was horse racing in warmer weather.

Open air spaces were also important, the Parks being developed in the 1890s, and places for
swimming in the river were popular, the first being at Tumbling Bay in 1853 although exclusively for men in the early days. Other river-based amusements included trips on Salters steamers and small boats for hire including punts. Rowing later developed into a more competitive sport with the opening of rowing clubs.

Public baths were a very important feature of life at this time, because they gave people the means to keep themselves and their clothes clean, and people could also relax in the Turkish baths. There had been a serious outbreak of cholera in the 1850s, so this was a useful way of combating dirt and disease in a crowded city.

In addition to physical activity intellectual pursuits were catered for . Circulating libraries were the forerunners of public libraries, the one in Oxford opening in 1854. Literature was produced for working people, and lectures and evening classes were also available.

There was a conscious aim to keep young men occupied and off the streets, which led to the
opening of working men’s clubs. The YMCA in George Street and Temperance Hotels like the one in Queen Street which opened in 1888. Theatres and cinemas were another source of
entertainment. The Ultimate Picture Palace cinema (1911) and the Phoenix cinema (1913) still
operate today. The `New Theatre opened originally in 1886 and housed a popular music hall. The Oxford Playhouse started life in the defunct premises of the Big Game Museum situated opposite Brown’s Restaurant in St Giles.

We saw some delightful pictures taken by Henry Taunt of the crowds enjoying St Giles Fair. This
became an important occasion for family and friends to meet, and special trains were laid on from other cities for people going to the Fair. The attractions on offer included freak shows, bioscopes, pugilists, lady wrestlers and a menagerie. It also saw the first steam-driven ride in 1866 and electric lights in 1882.