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Town and Gown in Oxford


Town and Gown in Oxford

'Town and Gown' stands for the traditional division in Oxford between the University and the other parts of the city. This distinction has existed from the Middle Ages and sometimes led to serious confrontations. More recently the division can also be applied to the academic vs. the 19th and 20th c. industrial parts. A last and contemporary aspect can be the traditional vs. the widespread multicultural face of the city.

This theme offers a wider perspective. 'Town' can be defined as the world outside the 'ivory tower' of academia. How does this privileged garden of thinking and reflection influence the outside world and how is it influenced or even destined itself by developments taking place behind the the walls? This is the basic question we will try to tackle during the course. In the theatrical form of monologues we will articulate some of the relevant voices from the past.



Day 1 (Gown)

We will start from Carfax in the heart of the city. The meaning of the word Carfax - Quatre Fois (four ways) - is symbolic of our programme. Via the Townhall - on the site of the former Jewish quarter - we will walk to the well-known Christ Church College. Here, in the Cathedral of Oxford, we will meet the patron saint of the city, St. Frideswide, and John Locke who can be seen as one of the founders of our political system. We will refer to Lewis Carroll (Alice), whom we will meet again later (in the literature part). In the Hall - dining room - some may think of another literary figure, Harry Potter.

The next stop will be Merton College. Here we will hear the voice of John Wycliffe, the first one who fundamentally questioned the position of the Catholic Church, giving rise to a movement that influenced John Hus (Bohemia) and Luther (Germany).


Below the bridge of Sighs

Turf Tavern, in the ditch of a city wall


Via the Logic Lane we will go to St. Edmund Hall, one of the few surviving 'halls', where students used to be hosted before the building of real 'colleges'. After passing the 'Bridge of Sighs' we will have a look at the Turf Tavern - meeting some other well-known alumni - and peep into the Museum of Science to see a blackboard with original writing by Albert Einstein. Next we will listen to (part of) Haydn's symphony 'Oxford' in front of the Holywell Music Room.

After lunch we will continue to Rhodes House, built by Cecil Rhodes, symbol of the British Empire and in many ways connected to the 'outside' world. From there we will walk back to the centre to visit the Bodleian Library and All Souls College (boasting to give 'the most difficult exam in the world' for prospective fellows). T.E. Lawrence and Isaiah Berlin spent time here, both - in different ways - committed to the fate and well-being of our world.

We will finish in St. Mary's Church, where we will hear three 'other voices', all 'breaking with traditions': the poet Shelley and the priests Cranmer (Oxford Martyrs) and Newman (Oxford Movement). We will end this day in the Covered Market.


Day 2

The second day we will expand our horizon and visit a few places south of Oxford. In the morning we will go to the former pre-Roman and Roman settlement of Dorchester. Not many Roman remains are to be found there, but the fine abbey museum gives an overview of the continuous occupation by man over the last 6000 years. An old (Oxford) story says the name of the river changes here from Isis into Thames.

Near to Dorchester we will then visit Wittenham Clumps, an Iron-age settlement and place of inspiration for poets and painters.

From Dorchester a path along the Thames (or Isis) will bring us to Abingdon. Here we will visit again the ruins of a once famous and powerful abbey. In a performance we will try to bring to life (or 're-enact') a conflict between the Abbey on one side and on the other the city and Church about the (profitable) right to bury the dead. We will skip the part of the story in which 37 corpses were dug up to be reburied in the abbey graveyard.

Abingdon used to be the city where MG cars were manufactured, which was directly related to William Morris (Lord Nuffield - see below, day 3). MG stands for Morris Garage. Production was discontinued decades ago, but in the small and fine city museum we will still find some remains.

We will finish the day with an (exhausting) lesson in 'Morris dancing'. This has nothing to do with William Morris (Lord Nuffield - above). It is a centuries old folk dance in the Coltswold region near Oxford, still practised by devoted groups.


Day 3 (Town)

Starting again from Carfax, we will first have a look at the Castle with the former prison. Next we will walk through what used to be the centre of Oxford's brewing industry, with breweries and malt houses. The parish church is St. Thomas the Martyr church with many outside connections. The name refers to St. Thomas Becket - the stain glass windows show him being murdered; the Oxford Movement held liturgical practices here; the priests were involved in setting up education for children in this working class area. Unfortunately, the future of this parish is uncertain. Next to the church the Jam Factory, where the famous Frank Cooper's marmalade was made.

Crossing the adjacent Frideswide square we see the (modern) railway station and go to the beginning of Oxford Canal. Walking along the canal we will encounter a - still functioning - lock and the rusty remains of a swing-bridge on the original railway track.

We will leave the canal to enter the former worker's quarter Jericho. We will see a former boat yard and the Barnabas Church. Next a visit to museum of the Oxford University Press, where academic production meets typographical workers. From there a few landmarks: Radcliffe Observatory and the Jericho Tavern. We will continue this 'working past' walk with the enormous complex of the Lucy's Eagle Ironworks industries, now a residential area with only a few remains of its former function.

Then we will leave the industrial part for an area symbolic of the Medieval 'commoners', Port Meadow. This area was, according to the 1086 Domesday Book, a common ground for villagers and Oxford inhabitants (burgesses) to graze their horses and cows and has been kept and defended a such for many centuries.

This gives us also a wonderful walk along the Thames river. We will first have lunch in The Perch. Then we will walk to the ruins of Godstow Nunnery where we listen to the story of Rosamunde de Clifford. There are a few other places of interest and we could pay a visit to the grave of Isaiah Berlin on the Wolvercote cemetery.

Walking back to the city across Port Meadow and along the Oxford Canal we will end in Nuffield College. This college was founded by Lord Nuffield - William Morris of the Morris car factory. So here academia and 20th c. car industry meet. Lord Nuffield had in mind a college concentrating on technology and economy. It became an institute for advanced studies in sociology and political sciences, with a strong statistical approach. Lord Nuffleld seemed to have called it 'The red Kremlin' sometimes.


Day 4

Oxford has known a considerable number of great writers and poets, far too many to be just mentioned in one course. On this fourth day we will visit a few places related to some of them and concentrate on a few parts of their work. Selection criterion is - again - the relation they embody between the university and the world outside. During future courses we will change and expand these voices. This first 'try-out' year we suggest to listen to

  • Shelley - romantic revolutionary, kicked out of University College because of atheism), now one of their revered alumni.
  • T.S. Eliot - a short-time American student -, innovating poet, dramatist and critic whose work includes The Waste Land, a long poem on the decay and fragmentation of Western culture, and Murder in the Cathedral, a play on the assassination of St Thomas Becket.
  • Lewis Carroll - life-long inhabitant of Christ Church College (the House) and author of the famous 'children's book' Alice in Wonderland.
  • Seamus Heaney - Northern-Irish born poet, Nobel prize winner, professor of poetry in Oxford from 1989 until 1994.

Day 5

  • Certification
  • Evaluation
  • Poetry translation (A Chain of Poetry): each participant reads his/her own translation of a poem from the host country (see article)

Editor(s): Daniel Zappi, Fokko Dijkstra
Latest revision: 7. December 2015 14:46 

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