Home   Diary 2014   September



Oxford Open Doors

Sunday 14 September 2014


On Sunday 14 the Oxford Preservation Trust held an Open Doors day, when many of the city’s tourist attractions were opened up to the public for viewing free of charge in support of various charities.  There were over 40 venues to choose from, and from these, with respect to time and shoe-leather available, we chose to visit Oxford Castle, St John’s College, Keble College, and the Sheldonian Theatre.  Helen joined us for the day, and Jay for the morning only.


Oxford Castle


We regularly walk through the environs of Oxford Castle on the way to the car park, but on this occasion we were allowed into the Malmaison Hotel, which is the latest incarnation of the old prison buildings.  Following the castle’s slighting after the Civil War, the castle was used as a prison until 1996.  The hotel conversion has preserved the long galleries, steel stairs and walkways characteristic of British prisons in the main two wings of the hotel – just like a scene from Porridge!


The original earthwork mound at the centre of the castle was also open:  a steep climb (and a potentially precipitous descent) in return for a splendid view over the city.  Teresa and Jay undertook the challenge.


◄ Looking north from the castle



Meanwhile, Roger and Helen explored at ground level.  Here they are in front of the central tower – the surviving structure of the Norman fortifications 











In the courtyard, car enthusiasts were showing a selection of iconic Morris cars through the years.  The Morris factories were once located in Cowley and their successive family saloons were sold as the ‘Oxford’, while their sports cars and some up-market models were badged as MG.



  Roger was particularly interested to see this Morris Minor from the early ’50s.  In the convertible version, it was the first car the family ever possessed, and the one he learnt to drive in. 




Jay left us at this point, as we headed north towards St John’s, stopping en route to buy sandwiches and snacks for lunch.





St John’s College


This large college occupies substantial grounds between St Giles and Parks Road, and, for the day, had opened up several areas not normally seen by the public.   We made a tour of the college in a roughly clock-wise direction, taking in the traditional architecture of the Front Quad, the Hall, and the Chapel, before bending our way through some of the magnificent modern additions – among them the Beehive, and the Thomas White Building designed by Ove Arup (of Sydney Opera House fame) – in order to reach the gardens, where we were peppered regularly with conkers falling from the great horse chestnut trees.  We then sought out an exhibition by three Finnish photographers, which turned out to be in a separate building through a separate entrance.   When we emerged from that we were in striking distance of the University Parks and lunchtime, so we headed off, found a bench, refreshed ourselves and rested our feet.  It was only then we realised that, in so doing, we had missed the final turn of our circuit of the college, which would have taken us through Canterbury Quad, the most spectacular of all.  Ah well, maybe another day.



Keble College


Within its Victorian walls, Keble has acquired its own modern additions, more modest in scale than at St John’s, but no less interesting.  But first we visited the Chapel, and were most impressed with the overall effect in this totally different idiom – Prokoviev to St John’s Bach, as Teresa put it.  However, the much vaunted Holman Hunt masterpiece, ‘The Light of the World’ in the side chapel, was somehow disappointing.





  Chapel – the chancel


Chapel – ‘The Light of the World’ 












Above from left to right:  the dining hall, Roger in Liddon Quad, Roger and Teresa leaving Newman Quad



As at St John’s, one of the new buildings housed a photography exhibition, this one by various Bangladeshi artists, illustrating the different, and often desperate, strands of life in this struggling country.








Sheldonian Theatre


Our final call was at the Sheldonian Theatre, where we had spent a somewhat fraught afternoon three years ago when Jay graduated.  Then the whole area was filled to bursting point with gowns and guests, and Roger, Teresa and Helen sat rigid for hours on the hard seats as the seemingly endless stream of graduands doffed and dived into their BA finery.  So it was interesting to see the hall in more relaxed circumstances, before we headed off back into town, and, for Helen, her train back to London, and, for Roger and Teresa, the drive home.  A long and tiring, but very pleasant and interesting day.


Home   Diary 2014   September