We met up at the Redbridge Park and Ride at 10:15 in good time to get the bus into the city of Oxford for our guided visit which was to start at 11:30. Arriving in central Oxford we had enough time to go to the Weston Library (which is in close proximity to the Bodleian) to have a quick coffee and comfort break. It can be recommended as it is smart and modern with an excellent café and facilities just right to get our trip off to a good start. We walked onto the Bodleian past The Sheldonian Theatre (Sir Christopher Wren’s first commission as an architect given to him by the University of Oxford when he was Savilian Professor of Astronomy at the University).
We carried on passing the Clarendon building which Nicholas Hawksmoor was commissioned to build to house the Oxford University Press (OUP) in 1715, and on past the New College Lane over which the Bridge of Sighs extends. This bridge connects 2 buildings of Hertford College and is a very popular tourist place for photographs. [Click any image to enlarge them all]
The Bodleian Library is regarded as a masterpiece of English Gothic architecture and has a continuous history dating back to 1602, with its roots going back even further. It is the main research library of the University of Oxford and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It derives its name from its founder Sir Thomas Bodley who was an English diplomat and scholar from 1545 to 1613. Holding over 13 million printed items it is the second largest library in Britain after the British Library. Under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 it is one of the six libraries that receives a copy of every work published in the UK and under Irish Law is entitled to request a copy of all books published in Eire.
We met up with our tour guide Robin and were escorted into The Divinity School where Robin explained the history of the Room. The Divinity School is a medieval building in the Perpendicular style built between 1427 and 1483. It is the oldest surviving purpose-built building for university use, specifically for lectures, in the world. Oral exams and discussions on theology, the dominant degree at this time, were held in the room as there were no written exams then. Students were tested in verbal battles with discussions between the two candidates standing on platforms at each side of the room who were judged by a master who sat on a large wooden throne at the end of the room.
We then moved onto the Chancellors court. This was a smaller room set out as a court where any member of the University could be tried for all actions including crimes and actions that were not related to educational activities (e.g theft and fraud in the town etc). The court is not in use anymore as all jurisdiction over non university matters was removed in 1977 by an Act of Parliament. It is now used as a bar or kitchen when weddings are held in the Divinity School, a use not favoured by our guide!
From the Chancellors court we progressed to the Convocation Room which was used for discussion to resolve matters between all the Colleges and the University. It is set out with tiered rows of benches with a throne and seats at one end. The layout is similar to the House of Commons and often doubles for it in films, the most recent being “The Favourite” for which Olivia Coleman won an Oscar.
Finally, we moved upstairs to the Duke Humfrey’s Library named after Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester son of Henry IV. He was a connoisseur of literature and when he died in 1447, he donated his collection of 281 books to the University. This was considered a very generous donation at the time as the university only had 20 books and all classes were taught via oral lectures :this was prior to Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type press in 1450, before then books were hand copied and only available to the very wealthy.
The library was constructed as a second storey to the Divinity School between 1450 and 1480 in order to house the collection. In 1550, during the Reformation, the King's Commissioners despoiled the library in order to destroy the vestiges of Roman Catholicism in the country. The books were probably burnt, and in 1556 the furniture was removed by the university. Today, only three of Humfrey's original books remain in the library.
The library was refitted and restored from 1598 by Sir Thomas Bodley and between 1610 and 1612, the east wing (now the Arts End) was added. The west wing (now the Selden End) was built 20 years later. The books in the oldest part are housed in oak bookcases at right angles to the walls, with integral desks. The ceiling consists of panels painted with the arms of the university. Up until the opening of the new Weston Library in 2015, Duke Humfrey's Library functioned as a reading room for maps, music and pre-1641 rare books; it now serves as an additional reading room for users of the library.
Our guide Robin then pointed out to us his favourite book, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language which was first published in 1755.
All the buildings we had been in have been used in the Harry Potter films a number of times and we all found the visit of great interest.
We then went for lunch with many of us heading to the Ashmolean Museum and their Rooftop restaurant where we all had excellent meals. Some of us then spent some time looking around the museum while others headed for home. A most enjoyable and cultural day was had by all.
Anton u3a Group News
Reports and records of Groups' activities.