Category Archives: General interest

AGM talk – “Oxford Pubs” (members only)

Speaker: Dave Richardson

Dave Richardson is a freelance journalist and author, and a resident of Kennington for over 30 years. Although he has specialised in travel and tourism for most of his career, he also now writes about pubs and brewing and is editor of the Oxford Drinker, the bi-monthly magazine of the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Through CAMRA, he was approached by Amberley Publishing to write its book Oxford Pubs (one of a series covering many places), which duly appeared in 2015. His most recent book, Let’s Go – a History of Package Holidays and Escorted Tours, came out in 2016.

There will be some copies of Oxford Pubs for sale after the talk at a discounted price of £12.50 (cash only).

Memories of the Vale Before the Railways

On March 8th Julie Ann Godson gave a talk on Memories of the Vale before the Railways . The source material came from two books edited by Julie: Memories of the Vale by Rev. Lewin George Main and The Scouring of The White Horse by Uffington born Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Lewin Main (1828-1897) was curate in Stanford in the Vale from 1859 until 1866 when he became Vicar of St Lawrence Church Reading. He was a town person at heart and had started his professional life as a bank clerk in London. Observation of local poverty moved him to join the church and on completion of his training, he was sent, to his surprise, to the Vale. His first impressions on moving into the Rectory with his wife were not favourable. He observed dilapidated buildings, poorly dressed and downtrodden workers and a relatively primitive way of life in all the local villages. Nevertheless he enjoyed access to all the local families and set about collecting a rich variety of memories and folk lore going back many years, which he described in his book. He regretted the loss of traditional farm clothing of men’s white smocks and women’s bright red cloaks, many of which were family heirlooms.

Main described the daily round of work on the farms starting with the gathering of all the village cattle, summoned by the sound of a cow’s horn at dawn. The main meal of the day was taken at 11.30 and tea in the farmhouses was taken at 3.30.Transport was dominated by horses and every village had a blacksmith. Older farmers still remembered manure being taken to the fields in large baskets carried by horses. They also remembered the dog whipper, paid four shillings a year to keep the large number of strays out of the village church. Village games and pastimes remembered included cock fighting, hockey, skating in winter, marbles and the occasional fox hunt. Churchwardens’ records gave details of charitable work at Whitsun to raise funds for the poor, including the sale of ale in the church, regarded by some as a pagan practice. Local dialect interested Lewin Main and he concluded that in the Vale it was predominantly of pure Anglo Saxon origin. An example cited was the word for a new year gift: a hansel. He also noted that in the years after the civil war Christian names changed dramatically and those based on Old Testament characters became much favoured.

In the second book edited by our speaker, Thomas Hughes described the history and practice of the annual refurbishment of the White Horse known as Scouring. Villagers and visitors would gather to clean the chalk monument, thought in those days to be associated with King Alfred and his wars with the Danes. We now know it was constructed in the bronze age. The local squire provided food and drink for the workers including two eighteen gallon barrels of ale. The event was also embellished by many sporting activities known as  ‘The Pastime’ to which as many as twenty thousand visitors were attracted. Local men complained that men from Somerset had an unfair advantage in the boxing because they had less blood in their heads as a result of excessive cider consumption!

In conclusion Julie Ann told us that the Rev. Main had a somewhat ignominious change of career when he and his wife suddenly fled to Yorkshire in 1874 following a ‘domestic affliction’. When Mrs Main died twenty years later Lewin was joined by the governess from his Reading vicarage and they lived together until his death three years later. She lived on until 1936 when she died aged eighty nine.

The History of Oxford University

On Thursday 8th February we were treated to a very interesting and entertaining talk on the History of Oxford University, by Alistair Lack. The story began in a small house on Merton Street, which was used to house students in the 13th century. The owner of the house was
able to teach them, but not much teaching, or learning, appears to have been done. But in the 1200s the Papal Legate described Oxford as a seat of learning, and the first college – University College – was founded. Thus Oxford became the first English University by date. The Sorbonne in Paris, and Bologna University are the only two older universities in Europe.

Oxford has a number of advantages as a centre of learning. It is surrounded by water, it is very close to the centre of England, it is on the river Thames – a very good route to London and the Continent, and it is close to Woodstock, where there was a royal hunting lodge, so the King was often close by. University College was founded in 1249 by William of Durham, Bishop of Rouen, to satisfy the need for a Civil Service to run the rapidly expanding English State that extended from the border with Scotland to South West France.

Balliol College was the next to be founded – by John Balliol. This college rapidly became a well-known academic centre and has remained so to this day, with many famous graduates, including Lord Curzon Viceroy of India (“a very superior person”), and Harold Macmillan.

New College was founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham Bishop of Winchester (the richest diocese in the world). The College was rich enough to create a large site on which it could accommodate students. The Bishop also founded Winchester College in Winchester, which became a source of supply of students for New College.

Lincoln College, founded in 1427 by the Bishop of Lincoln, was set up as a centre of religious orthodoxy, to counter the influence of the Lollards, a revolutionary movement looking to reform the Church. In the late 16th century under Thomas Bodley the Bodleian Library
was begun, building on the smaller Duke Humfrey’s Library. In 1610 Bodley persuaded the King to decree that a copy of every book printed in England should be sent to his library – a requirement that continues to this day.

All Souls College is a unique establishment. There are no undergraduates, and all members are automatically Fellows. The fine buildings were designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. A famous ritual connected with the College is the Mallard Dinner, where Fellows wine and dine before setting off round the College to “Hunt the Mallard”. It is not a very frequent occurrence – once every 100 years.

Another more famous ritual occurs every May Day, when the college choristers sing Latin Hymns from the tower of Magdalen College. Mr Lack’s grandson is a member of the Choir and has sung at this event (and his younger grandson says he would also like to).

The Bear Pub is the oldest in Oxford, founded in the 1400s. Christchurch Dining Hall was used as the Hogwarts Hall in the Harry Potter films, though after the first film a mockup was used instead. Queen Victoria loved Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, whose portrait hangs in the Dining Hall. Victoria apparently asked Lewis Carroll if he would send her his next book after “Alice in Wonderland”, and he agreed, sending her his “Principles of Euclidian Geometry”.

John Radcliffe was a noted and important benefactor in Oxford. On his death he bequeathed money to build the Radcliffe Camera, which became the first Science Library in Oxford.
The Sheldonian Theatre was designed by the young Christopher Wren and financed by Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury. In front there is a series of busts on pillars which are the “Terms” – gods protectors of boundaries.

The Clarendon Building, built by Hawksmoor, once housed the printing presses of the Oxford University Press (OUP). The OUP moved in the 1820s to Walton Street, and became the largest
publishing house in the world.

The Natural History Museum was built in the 1840s, and was the venue for the famous debate on “Evolution” – between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce (Soapy Sam). It is also the home for many Swifts who each year, after migrating back to Oxford make their nest in the museum tower.

In about 1680 Elias Ashmole donated his Cabinet of Curiosities to the new museum in Broad Street, which soon migrated to the present building in Beaumont Street and became the Ashmolean Museum – the first public museum in the world.

Oxford has fostered 50 Nobel Prize winners. It also has more religious buildings than anywhere else in England. Oxford was the venue for the breaking of the 4-minute mile in 1954 by Roger Banister, assisted by Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher. The first women’s college, Somerville College, was founded in 1879. Famous women graduates include Dorothy Hodgkin, Nobel Prize
winner in Chemistry, and Margaret Thatcher. The first female head of a former male Oxford College was Marilyn Butler. Women were allowed to take an Oxford degree after World
War 1. The present Vice-Chancellor, number 223, is, for the first time, a woman, Louise Richardson.