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By Jack Weston
1. … with a Capital ‘O’
During the English Civil War, Oxford served as the capital of England after Charles I was expelled from London by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces. The University was a strong supporter of the Royalists (otherwise known as brown-nosers) and the King lived in Christ Church between 1642 and 1646 – Parliament was even assembled in Christ Church Hall (much to Dumbledore’s dismay!).
More recently, researchers at Oxford’s Bodleian Library found records pertaining to Hitler’s plan to invade the United Kingdom, suggesting that the Nazi leader intended to make Oxford the capital of his new kingdom. Because of this, our City of Dreaming Spires was spared being bombed during the Second World War. A welcome compliment but fortunately Operation Sea Lion was abandoned in September 1940 and things went rather downhill for the Führer after that… Not on our watch, Herr Hitler!
2. Mutiny, Captain!
1987’s Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race saw a number of the Oxford oarsmen munity for the second time in 30 years when the Boat Club President, Donald Macdonald (props to his parents), was included in the eight at the expense of an American and a controversial coach choice rocked the boat clean over. This time, however, the insurgent crew members were voted out of the boat and, in an emotional and heart-wrenching struggle, we won the Boat Race decisively against all odds (or so the film True Blue would have us believe).
The lesson? Even if you make an awful, low-budget film with sub-par actors, so long as it’s about Oxford winning the Boat Race, college Boat Clubs will continue to buy it for all eternity.
3. Great Big Knocker
The namesake of Oxford’s Brasenose College is one of the more interesting as college nomenclatures go; Brasenose is certainly no saint I’ve ever heard of, nor any historical figure, nor any surname at all for that matter…
In fact, ‘Brasenose’ is thought to come from the brass nose-shaped (or brazen-nose) door knocker which currently adorns Brasenose Hall. Yet the knocker’s history is a disquiet one. In 1334, violence in Oxford led some clerks from the then-termed Brasenose Hall to make their way to Stamford, Lincolnshire, where they took the famous knocker and established a second Brasenose Hall. By order of the King, many of the students returned to Oxford, but some remained in Brasenose’s Stamford counterpart, where the college’s eponymous knocker too remained, returning only in 1890, after centuries of rivalry between the two Brasenose Halls. Indeed, as late as 1827, new students at Brasenose, Oxford were required to forswear the giving or attendance of lectures at the Stamford institution. Not that they’re ones to hold a grudge.
4. Remember, Remember… wait, who?
Jacobean history aficionados (they get all the girls) will recognise the name Francis Tresham as one of the conspirators in the infamous failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 – or was he instrumental in its downfall? Tresham, thought to be an alumnus or St John’s College or what is now Worcester College (or both), was asked by the leader of the plot to provide his family home and a large sum of money for use by the plotters. But, instead of doing either of these things, some historians believe he sent an anonymous letter to his brother-in-law, William Parker, a letter which proved crucial in foiling the conspiracy and saving the life of King James. Two other conspirators also believed the Oxford-educated Tresham to be the letter’s mystery author and threatened to kill him. Unsurprisingly, he denied it.
So how was our Oxonian hero rewarded for thwarting the plot and preventing high treason? Regrettably, he didn’t live long enough to be executed with the other conspirators and died of a urinary tract infection whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London. Happens to the best of us, Francis.
5. Oxford Mk II
As aggrieved as I am to include a bit of history about The Other Place – freshers, you’ll soon learn what this means – its foundation is something for which we Oxfordites can take some undeserved, ancestral credit (the best kind).
In 1209, riots were taken place in Oxford due to disagreements between town and gown, such as those which plague much of Oxford’s history, but these riots were of a particularly violent nature, sparked by the murder of a local townswoman by students (I’m sure she started it). Fleeing the riots, a group of Oxford students found solace in nearby Cambridge, where they founded a new institution, known as the University of Cambridge Other Place, but we don’t like to talk about it. And so it came to be that, circa 200 years after the English-speaking world’s oldest and greatest university was founded, so was some other dump on the other side of the M1.
6. Through the Sconcing-Glass
With nigh on a millennium in the making and ever-maintaining an unrivalled authority on the English language, it probably comes as no surprise that Oxford boasts more published authors per square mile than any other place in the world.
Only in Oxford could you stumble upon JRR Tolkein’s and CS Lewis’ Inklings meeting spot (a pub, naturally, The Eagle and Child on St Giles), then wander into the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland – after paying £8.50 of course, not that Christ Church is exploiting its history for financial gain or anything. Afterwards you could take a short detour to the Oxford Botanic Gardens to see the bench which forms the setting for the tragic ending of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (this bench actually exists at the back of the Gardens, Lyra + Will carved into it, worth a gander). Don’t be surprised if you see the cast of Lewis filming in/around the famous Randolph Hotel either. Rest in peace, Inspector Morse.
7. All of the Souls (yes, this is a Kanye West reference)
Heard of All Souls College? If you’re a fresher, chances are you haven’t.
All Souls probably isn’t a place that would have come under your consideration when trying desperately to decide whether Worcester’s lake trumps St John’s wine cellar or whether Christ Church’s Harry Potter Hall makes up for, well, the people. Indeed, none of the members are undergraduates; furthermore, being granted admission to All Souls automatically confers a fellowship upon the member. The newly appointed fellow is then given college accommodation and a £15,000 annual salary for seven years to pursue whatever academic path they choose (since this is predominantly disposable income, that a lotta money).
Where’s the catch, I hear you ask? Well, to be considered for entry, you must have attained a first in your degree before you are even permitted to undertake what is termed the “hardest exam in the world”, with questions ranging from “Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?” to writing an essay on the word “water”.
There’s always next year, I suppose.