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UK - England: Cambridge, London, Oxford
Oxford, England: Quarrel started it all
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford is a unique and historic institution. There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. As you know, England and France were always at loggerheads.
In the 13th century, rioting between town and gown (townspeople and students) hastened the establishment of primitive halls of residence. These were succeeded by the first of Oxford's colleges, which began as medieval 'halls of residence' or endowed houses under the supervision of a Master. University, Balliol and Merton Colleges, which were established between 1249 and 1264, are the oldest. Today, with 39 colleges on campus, Oxford ranks as not only the oldest of the universities but also the most desired to study at. Well, folks from Cambridge may differ.
I was on a day trip visiting the two university towns – Cambridge and Oxford. I had opted to join a day tour organized by Evan Evans Bus Tour Company from London. By 12:30PM I concluded my Cambridge trip and hopped on the bus to come to Oxford. The distance was covered in about 2 hours. There was no much scenery on the road save for large warehouses.
Earlier on, Oxford was a livestock town. Situated between the Y-fork created by two rivers, the location was an ideal to defend against the invaders. Oxen were forded across the shallow rivers to bring them in town. Thus the name Oxford. Talking of defenses, I noticed that almost all buildings built before the war, were still intact… very unusual for English towns. I later learnt that it was Hitler’s personal orders to save Oxford from bombings. He had plans to make Oxford his Capital… had he won of course!
Oxford has a population of about 150,000 of which nearly 20,000 are students. Oxford is a city. Not because it has a reasonable population but because it has a cathedral! Just so you know, all location that have cathedrals are cities… rest are just towns irrespective of the size of the population.
We were dropped off on the corner of St. Aldate’s – a short walk away from the famous Christ Church College & Cathedral. This is one must do when in Oxford. There’s an entrance ticket to visit but that was included in our tour price. I had paid GBP 74 for the day trip. Every visitor is given a little booklet and a route to follow.
The route takes you through The Christ Church Meadow, The Meadow Building, The Dining Hall, The Cathedral, The Tom Quad, The Library, The Peckwater Quad and The Picture Gallery.
The Dining Hall built in 1529 has many connections with Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. High up on the wall, one of the windows shows portraits of Alice and creatures from the book. Lewis Carroll was a mathematics teacher at Oxford. His real name was Charles Dodgson. The hall has a magnificent ceiling. Portraits of many famous members of Christ Church can be seen on the wall, including a few of the 13 Prime Ministers educated here. The dining hall is also the one that was shot in Harry Potter films.
The Cathedral used to extend towards the space now occupied by Tom Quad. Wolsey knocked down 3 bays of the nave to make way for his grand college. Thankfully, the rest of the ancient 12th century church was spared included its great vaulted ceiling which dates back to 15th century. The world famous cathedral choir has sung daily services here since the college’s foundation.
The name Tom Quad comes from the seven-ton bell, Great Tom, which hangs in Sir Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower. Every night Tom strikes 101 times at five past nine. The original college had 101 students and they all had to be inside the walls by 9PM Oxford time – which was five minutes later than Greenwich Mean Time.
We came out into Oriel Square about 200 meters away from High Street. Walking through narrow paved streets and the Holywell Street, we reached Radcliffe Camera – a library building.
It was known that John Radcliffe, physician to William III and Mary II of England, intended to build a library in Oxford at least two years before his death in 1714. It was thought that the new building would be an extension westwards of the Selden End of the Bodleian Library. Francis Atterbury, Dean of Christ Church thought a 90 ft room would be built on Exeter College land, and that the lower storey would be a library for Exeter College and the upper story Radcliffe's Library. The building is the earliest example in England of a circular library.
It is built in three main stages externally and two stories internally, the upper one containing a gallery. The ground stage is heavily rusticated and has a series of eight pedimented projections alternating with niches. The central stage is divided into bays by coupled Corinthian columns supporting the continuous entablature. The pedimented windows stand above mezzanine openings, reflecting the interior arrangement. The top stage is a lanterned dome on an octagonal drum, with a balustraded parapet with vases.
The building was completed in 1748, and a librarian appointed, as was a porter. The opening ceremony took place on 13 April 1749 and soon known as 'the Physic Library'. Despite its name, its acquisitions were varied for the first sixty years, but from 1811 its intake was confined to works of a scientific nature. During the first half of the 19th century the collections included coins, marbles, candelabra, busts, plaster casts, and statues. These collections have since been moved to more specifically appropriate sites. Between 1909 and 1912 an underground book store of two floors was constructed beneath the north lawn of the library with a tunnel connecting it with the Bodleian, invisibly linking the two library buildings.
Walking through campuses, we reached Clarendon building – another location where Harry Potter film was shot. From the square, I could see Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs. I say this because even Cambridge has one. Looks like the original Bridge of Sighs in Venice has severe competition.
We next walked through Broad Street that has Trinity College. It also claims to be the oldest in town. The debate still continues. On Broad Street, Flaggs is one good store to buy Oxford souvenirs – T-shirts included.
Perpendicular to Broad Street is Oxford’s busiest road – St. Aldate’s. One could easily spend a day walking this street that is home to shops, restaurants and theatres. It was nearly 5PM and time to board the bus that was waiting for us on Magdalen Street just near the historic Randolph Hotel.
Here’s a very partial list of Oxford students: Grahame Greene, Nevil Shute, Colin Cowdrey, Zulfikar Bhutto, Lewis Carroll, Edward VII, Albert Einstein, William Gladstone, Marquess of Salisbury, Vikram Seth, Richard Burton, T E Lawrence, Imran Khan, Benazir Bhutto, C S Lewis, John Redwood, Oscar Wilde, T S Eliot, Rowan Atkinson, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Bill Clinton, Bob Hawke, and Rupert Murdoch.
Having visited Cambridge and Oxford the same day, it was but natural to debate as to which was a better university. Opinion was divided. However, the debate ended with the conclusion: Oxford for Arts and Cambridge for Science.
Enriched, I reached London at 7PM.
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