These rare black and white images of Victorian Oxford show the University at play - from the boxing at St Giles Fair to cheering on the rowing at Eights Week. 

 

By Olivia Williams
(St Edmund Hall, 2006)

Some recollections of term time from the 1890s:
On Lewis Carroll
Mr Dodgson's beautiful suite of rooms in the north-west corner of Wolsey's great quadrangle, looking over St Aldate's, were at one time a veritable children's paradise. Never did rooms contain such endless stores of fascinating things. These rooms in Christ Church were a veritable Wonderland for many a real child. From Mr Dodgson's cupboards musical boxes, mechanical performing bears, picture-books innumerable, toys of every description, came forth in bewildering abundance before the child's astonished eyes; no wonder, then, that in childish years ag day spend with 'Lewis Carroll' was like a glimpse into a veritable El Dorado of innocent delights. 
Oxford Chronicle, 22nd January 1898

On smoking
In my younger days public opinion had turned completely against smoking. It was not thought comme il fait even in an undergraduate, and in a Don it would have been considered very 'bad form' indeed. But a great change took place. The practice spread among the undergraduates and reached the Dons; and long before I left Oxford the evening generally ended in a quiet cigar at one another's rooms. The Dons and Heads of Houses having been brought up under a different regime were strongly prejudiced against it... I was taking an afternoon walk in Port Meadow with one of my colleagues, and he was indulging in a cigar, when he saw some of our own undergraduates coming towards us. Not liking to be seen by them he put his cigar in his pocked when not having sufficiently extinguished it.  
Our Memories: Shadows of Old Oxford, June 1890

The Thames at Oxford, spectators watch rowing , from Talboy's, on the Monday of Eights Week, 1897
Spectators watching the rowing on Monday of Eights Week in 1897 from Tallboy's

On escaping the Proctors
It became known to a party of undergraduates that a dance was to be held at Eaton, a village near Oxford, and they determined to attend it. This became known to the Proctors, who proceeded on the evening in question to the village, accompanied by Bulldogs and marshals, and surrounded the house at every door. A cry arose -'the Proctors! the Proctors!' - and all was in confusion. The Proctors entered and searched the room, knowing that six undergraduates were implicated, but could only find five. They took the names of these, and after and ineffectual search left the house. 
      A few days after an undergraduate was visited by the Marshal who informed him that the Proctors wished to see him. On reaching the Proctors' presence he was thus addressed - 'I am sure, sir, you would not tell a falsehood, and I will not tempt you to do it: so I will tell you what has come to my knowledge. You were at the ball given a few nights ago at Easton. We could not find you, though we discovered your five companions; you escaped in this way. When the confusion began, you threw yourself on your hands and knees on the floor three of the female dancers sat upon your back, and spreading out their dresses effectually concealed you. You must be aware that you were guilty of serious breach of discipline, but you have made no remark on my statement, and the mode of escape was so ingenious that I am reluctant to punish you, and therefore wish you good morning.'
Our Memories: Shadows of Old Oxford, 1892

On rebuking undergraduates 
Dean Liddell (Dean of Christ Church, 1855-93) once marked that an undergraduate had failed to cap him in the street. 'How long have you been a member of the University, my lord?' asked the Dean. 'A week, sir.' 'I understand! Puppies cannot see till they are eight days old.'
Oxford Chronicle, 22nd January 1898

On punishment
Each Scholar was to be assigned by the President to a tutor, namely, the same Fellow whose chamber he shared. The tutor was to have the general charge of him; expend on his behalf the pension which he received from the College...watch his progress and correct his defects. If he were neither a graduate not above twenty years of age he was to be punished with stripes... Other punishments - short of expulsion - were confinement to the library...sitting alone in the midst of hall whilst the rest were dining, at a meal of dry bread and beer or even bread and water. 
       Gating, in one sense, could hardly exist, as the undergraduates at least were not free to go outside the walls, except for scholastic purposes, without special leave, and that would doubtless have been refused in case of any recent misconduct. 
Corpus Christi, Thomas Fowler, 1899  marching down Cowley Road, Oxford, in May, 1897 Soldiers marching down Cowley Road in May, 1897 

On the Oxford University Dramatic Society
It is characteristic of the authorities at Oxford that they should consider a month too little preparation of a boat-race, and grudge three weeks to the rehearsals of one of Shakespeare's plays. The performance of Romeo and Juliet by the Oxford University Dramatic Society naturally did not, under these circumstances, approach the level of skill attained on the Thames...
    Let members devote two nights a week all the year round to reading Elizabethan plays, and let it be a rule that no member shall be allotted a principal part without a very high average of attendances. A tradition of skill and practice in what is one of the finest of physical accomplishments will soon be established; and the OUDS will in course of time become popular as a club of artistic athletes instead of being ridiculed, as I fear it is at present, as a set of unrepresentative aesthetes.
    The company was under-trained and under-rehearsed to a degree of which, I think it had no suspicion... Mercurio, when illustrating Tybalt's accomplishments as a fencer, fell and put his knee out. He rose, with his knee-cap visibly in that excruciating condition, and continued his performance with undiminished dash.
George Bernard Shaw, The Saturday Review, 1898 

On love of the University 
To call a man a characteristically Oxford man is, in my opinion, to give him the highest compliment that can be paid to any human being. I fear I do not and cannot accept such a compliment. But one part of it I will accept, and it is this, that, apart from every subject of controversy, there is not a man that has passed through this great and famous University that can say with more truth than I can say, 'I love her from the bottom of my heart'.
Mr Gladstone at the Union, February 1890

See more Oxford galleries:

All images © Oxford University Images

Comments

By Dr J P C Toalster
on

I think Thomas Fowler wrote "gating", not "gaiting". The punishment consisted in being forbidden to be out of college after Tom had struck 101 times; about 9.15 p.m., as I remember.
After the Second World War, several men, who had served in the armed forces and had thus automatically kept the 21 terms required for proceeding to the degree of M.A., returned to finish their degree courses, but as Masters were no longer subject to college discipline. The penalty of gating therefore lapsed.
Kipling has a poem, "The Scholars", written in 1919, about men who had served in the Royal Navy returning to Cambridge.

Add new comment