Sunday 14 September 2014
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
◄ 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
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.
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.