After the upheaval of the First World War, Oxford eventually settled back into its usual rhythms, and from these contemporary recollections a sense of fun and mischief reappears. One major change, however, was the full membership offered to female undergraduates from 1920. 

By Olivia Williams

Gentlemen's fashion
There are teachers of dancing where there used to be teachers of boxing and fencing... Young Oxford now goes hatless; in a distant day, he wore a brown bowler in winter and a white one in summer, and invariably a topper on his visits to town.
The dramatic critic of The Times, 1923 

Asquith's tribute
Oxford is always generous in recognition of what her sons in every walk or calling of life, have done or attempted to do, and on their side. Her sons owe her a great debt which they can never repay... I can only say for myself that there is no place and no company to which I would prefer to think I was worthy to belong
H. H. Asquith at the Oxford Union


Duelling revived
An elaborately planned hoax took place when the editor of the undergraduate journal, The Cherwell, Mr J.M.S. Green of University College, fought a duel in Dead-Man's Walk, Christ Church Meadow, with Mr H.G.B. Eyres-Monsell of Merton College. Mr Eyres-Monsell had apparently taken exception to certain statements published in The Cherwell.

This is how Mr Eyres-Monsell described the affair: 'We stood for action, our rapier points touching. The seconds stood a few feet away. Each of us was in deadly earnest. This duel was a serious affair from beginning to end... Dr Bohl of Munich, a friend of mine, was in England on holiday and consented to act as medical officer.

'Maurice Green and myself were dressed in the regulation duelling costume. I wore white stockings, blue velvet knee breeches, and a white shirt open at the neck. Maurice Green was similarly attired, except that he wore black stockings. Dr Bohl carried a leather handbag, containing rolls of bandages, pads of cotton-wool, and bottles of lotion...

'We parried, thrust and lunged. While it lasted, the affair was highly exciting. The struggle went on for five minutes, when Maurice Green, with  a high lunge and tierce, pinked me with a blow to the shoulder. I winced, naturally, and for a moment staggered with surprise, dropping my sword. I recovered it, but the seconds, contrary to my wishes, declared the duel off, and satisfaction had been gained.' 

It was afterwards admitted that a number of undergraduates had decided to hoodwink the Press, because Oxford was receiving too much attention from Fleet Street... The Proctors stepped in, ordering a report of the affair to be presented to them. The duellists were fined £10 watch and the seconds £5.
Oxford Chronicle, 1928

Rat races
A 'rag' which took the form of a rat hunt in the street caused a good deal of excitement in Cornmarket for about 20 minutes on Monday morning...
A few minutes after eleven, the pavements were full of half-expectant, half-sceptical youth. A moment later, a car drew up outside the Cadena Cafe (below), and its occupants unloaded into the street a sack which certainly moved in an eerie way. A fellow-conspirator cut the string and held the sack the wrong way up, liberating a not very active but well assorted collection of live rats, the captives of a special hunt a day or so before. Cadena
There followed a wild scramble, the older and bigger rates taking their slender chances for what they were worth and getting as far as the pavements; some perhaps, even escaping, but not many. The run of the rat was generally speaking the ratio of his size and age, the smaller ones getting a very short shrift from sticks and boots... Then followed the battle of the dead rats, from the window of two well-known restaurants... From the street they were to be seen flying across from window to window, alighting on the cars and buses which passed slowly through the crowd, and occasionally by a good shot embracing somebody's neck and face... Then the proctors arrived
Oxford Chronicle, 1922

Before wheeled luggage
Henry Hall Turner, Professor of Astronomy, spent many week-ends with Dr Spooner, Warden of New College, who is alleged to have invented the 'Spoonerism'. When Prof Turner had packed a suit-case in preparation for the week-end, the problem of transporting it to New College arose. He usually solved the problem by getting out his wheel-barrow, putting the suit-case on it, and so pushing it to the college.
Oxford MailOxford

This University has been famous throughout all the centuries for its fervent and sometimes passionate loyalty to the throne of England
Lord Curzon 

The Chancellorship
Lord Oxford is the greatest living Oxonian, and if he were a Conservative he would be elected by acclamations, but to reject him because he is a Liberal is to admit partisan prejudices as unkind as they are discreditable
Lord Birkenhead on the Chancellorship of the University  

A painted lady, from whom Labour has nothing to expect
James Ramsay MacDonald 

All images © Oxford University Images


By Dr. Evangelia Sembou

Lord Curzon's comment is correct, but it's more accurate of Oxford in earlier centuries. Politics of all colours has thrived in Oxford, to a large extent thanks to its world-famous debating chamber in the Oxford Union.